A sixpence. Called testone (teste, a head) because it
was stamped on one side with the head of the reigning sovereign.
Similarly, the head canopy of a bed is called its tester (Italian,
testa; French, teste, tête). Copstick in Dutch means the
same thing. Worth 12d. in the reign of Henry VIII., but 6d. in the
reign of Elizabeth.
“Hold, there's a tester for thee.” —Shakespeare: 2 Henry
IV., iii. 2.
Testers are gone to Oxford, to study at Brazenose.
When Henry VIII, debased the silver testers, the alloy broke out in
red pimples through the silver, giving the royal likeness in the coin a
blotchy appearance; hence the punning proverb.
Source: Dictionary of Phrase and Fable, E. Cobham Brewer, 1894
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