A Conversation for Old English Money
clzoomer- a bit woobly Started conversation Nov 30, 2002
Any idea why, when the rest of Europe seemed to generally be using a decimal system, the British had the rather bizarre pounds, shillings, and pence relationship?
Researcher 212347 Posted Dec 20, 2002
I know this topic was a bit old but, if you're still wondering, the British pre-decimal currency system emerged, like most other very old ones, from the comparison of the values of amounts of different metals.
The pound was originally a Roman unit representing the value of a pound (weight) of bronze.
The Normans had adopted a system called the "Carolingian" which established the silver "Sol" coin already in use at a fixed value of 20 to one pound.
The Denier, a copper coin used in ancient Rome, was also adopted in this system and, comparing the relative values of the amount of copper in a Denier with the silver content of a Sol, they set a rate of 12 denier per Sol.
These were originally more like fixed exchange exchange rates between alien monetary forms which became the local standard.
The original English Guinea was a gold coin with value equivalent to a pound (therefore 20 shillings). The trouble started in 1694 when the value of silver began to fall as the metal became more common.
By June 1695, you could ask as 30 shillings for a guinea. The relative values of the two coins continued to fluctuate until 1717 when it was fixed by law at 1 Guinea = 21 Shillings.
None were minted after 1817 but the value persisted.
Hope this helps.
animekenji Posted Jul 18, 2005
Old topic, but in case you're still looking for a reply, here it is!
The old LSD (pounds/shillings/pence) system formerly used in the UK and former British Empire countries used the penny, not the pound, as the standard unit of measure. Before it was a copper coin the penny was formerly a silver coin that was used for centuries in England. The silver content changed several times but finally it was settled that the silver content should be .925 (sterling) silver and 240 of which should comprise one troy pound, hence pound sterling. It is unusual in that the relationship between pennies and pounds was never stated as being 240 to the pound. Instead it was more commonly stated that 12 pennies equalled one shilling and 20 shillings equalled a pound. You always had to have the relation of the shilling to the other two in the middle there for some reason.
All the different coins and denominations were unusual. Farthings (1/4 penny), half pennies (hay penny), pennys, two pence (tuppence), three pence(thruppence), four pence (groat), sixpence (no other name that I know of, but I am sure there must be a slang term for it), shilling (12 pence), florin (24 pence), half crown (30 pence), crown (60 pence), sovereigns (20 shillings), guineas (21 shillings) and literally dozens of other obsolete gold and silver denominations that would make your head spin if you saw them all gathered in one place. British colonial coinage also included even more subdivisions of the penny. 1/16, 1/8, 1/3 penny coins were circulated outside the UK at various times as well as coins in the denominations of 3 farthings and 1.5 pence and others. These denominations were not intended for circulation in the UK as their value was too low or too odd to be useful at home.
It strikes me as being rather strange that two coins such as the florin and half crown should exist side by side for so long given the closeness of their values without one of them falling out of favor with the public. In the United States something similar was tried for a three year period when 20 cent and 25 cent pieces were both circulated. The 20 cent coin proved unpopular with merchants and the public in general and it was dropped. A three cent coin was also tried for a much longer term, but proved to be a disaster as well. Being midway between the 1 cent and 5 cent coins, which were much more popular, and that counting change in threes was more difficult, and the closeness in size and color to the 10 cent coin, made the case for a 3 cent coin difficult. There was also a 2 cent coin, similar to the modern UK 2 pence coin, but large size coins weren't popular as they were cumbersome to carry and it was also dropped.
So I hope I've answered some of your questions and I also hope that if anything I said proves to be false that someone will step up with the correct information. Apologies to those of you who get peeved when someone revives an old thread.
Is mise Duncan Posted Jul 19, 2005
wahiba Posted Nov 24, 2006
The two bob bit, or florin, was a result of a half hearted attempt at decimalisation in the 1800s. Not sure if was going to be a 10p piece as it later became or what the idea was. The half crown was of course one eight of a pound. If we had had a quarter crown we might have had a hexadecimal coinage system that would have fitted in with digital technology better than the decimal!
Mat Posted Sep 9, 2008
Taff Agent of kaos Posted Sep 10, 2008
sergeanthalkyard Posted May 10, 2009
I was taught that the original reason there were 240 pennies to the pound was that this was the number of silver pennies that could be struck (when coins were minted by being "hammered" between two bronze dyes) from a pound of silver. These pennies had a cross on the reverse so that they could be cut in half (half pennies or "ha'pennies") or into quarters ("fourthings" or "farthings"). At this time there were no other silver coins in circulation, no copper or bronze coinage at all and gold coinage of any country was legal tender based on its weight and gold content.
The florin was originally a Dutch coin that corresponded to the weight of 24 pennies (and was one tenth of a pound of silver as the "low countries" around what is now Holland used a decimal system). This came into use when William III (William of Orange) was given the throne of England in 1689.
Copper coinage (later becoming bronze) was introduced in the reign of one of the Georges (George III?) when a scarcity of silver was caused by people hoarding precious metals due to the uncertainty and instability of the period.
I hope (and pray!) that my information is correct and is of some use to other members.
HitamDam Posted May 11, 2009
Its important for those used only to dealing in today's pounds and pence to realise that we didn't use pounds very much in pre-decimal times except for large purchases. We generally worked in shillings and pence on a daily basis as a pound was a huge amount of money. My father bought our house for £140 in 1953!
The One Pound and Ten Shilling notes weren't issued until 1914 and didn't become legal tender until 1954. By 1965 I'd receive a new blue five pound note in my weekly pay packet, along with four or five one pound notes, perhaps a ten shilling note or two and some coinage. When the ten pound note came into use around 1968 I received one in my pay packet (£12/10/6d) and was unable to spend it as no-one had change for it. I had to change it into one pound and ten shilling notes at the bank.
For most daily needs prices were in shillings and pence and today's pound coin is worth no more than a 1960's shilling in buying power. Today's ten pound note would equate to a ten shilling note and a twenty pound note would buy what a pound used to get you. A 1960's fiver would be worth a hundred 2009 pounds; you can imagine the reception you'd get in the pub if there were such a thing as a £200 note and you tried to buy a pint with one. The same as I got when tendering a £10 note instead of a two shilling coin in 1968!
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