Historic British Coinage
All units cited here belong to the British Imperial System or are SI except where stated.
Decimalisation of the British currency occurred in Great Britain in February 1971. Decimal coins of equivalent values to the “old” money had been in circulation for some time, the most unusual at that time being the 50 (new) pence piece. The pound had 240 old pence, 100 new pence. Although the word new has been dropped for some time, for the purposes of this article it will be retained. There were twelve old pence to the shilling, and 20 shillings to the pound. There were, of course, other divisions, and these are dealt with below.
The abbreviations for the pound remains at ‘£’, for the shilling ‘s’ and for the old penny, ‘d’. The d is for denarius, the medieval English silver penny. Common expressions for the metal that coins were made from were from appearance: copper for bronze coins and silver for cupronickel. Various grades of gold were used for gold coins because of the cost of the metal.
|Farthing||Bronze, copper in normal parlance||Wren on reverse, value a quarter of an old penny, out of use 1961.|
|Halfpenny or ha’penny||Bronze, copper in normal parlance||Value half an old penny, out of use 1971.|
|Penny||Bronze, copper in normal parlance||There are 2.4 old pennies to the new penny, out of use 1971.|
|Penny Ha’penny(?)||Silver, probably||We have one dated 1849.|
|Threepenny bit||Originally silver, latterly nickel-brass||Three old pence, silver was circular, nickel bronze (brassy colour) twelve sided. Out of use 1971.|
|Groat||Silver||Four old pence. out of use 17th Century|
|Sixpence||Cupro-nickel, silver appearance||tanner||six old pence (or 2.5 new pence). Last minted 1970.|
|Shilling||Cupro-nickel, silver appearance||bob||cupro-nickel, silver appearance, 12 old pennies, equivalent of five new pence.|
|Florin||Cupro-nickel, silver appearance||two bob||two shillings, 10 new pence.|
|Half crown||Cupro-nickel, silver appearance||Two shillings and sixpence. Commonly the largest coin when we were growing up – useful for pocket money and the most often found coin in pre-decimal Church collections!|
|Double Florin||The Double Florin (4/-) was one of the shortest-lived British coin denominations ever, only being produced between 1887 and 1890 (Credit Tony Lewis)|
|Crown||Cupro-nickel, silver appearance||Legal tender but rarely used, nowadays for commemorative coins (e.g. royal weddings (but not royal divorces) and D-Day etc.)|
|Half mark or merke||Out of use in medieval times. One third of a pound, six shillings and eightpence.|
|Third guinea||Gold, or alloyed gold.||Seven shillings. Older coins have much more than their face value in gold content. Weight of 1804 George III example weighs 2.72g.|
|Half sovereign||Gold, or alloyed gold.||Ten shillings. Older coins have much more than their face value in gold content. Weight of 1913 George V example weighs 4g.|
|Ten Shilling||Note||ten bob||Ten shillings, or 50 new pence.|
|Half Guinea||Gold||Ten shillings and sixpence. The Mad Hatter’s hat in Alice was valued at this price.|
|Mark or merke||Out of use in medieval times. Two thirds of a pound, thirteen shillings and fourpence. Oft quoted in the captivity (the minstrel Blondel bit) and ransom of Richard I of 150,000 merkes. It’s about the value of the Euro when originally introduced.|
|Sovereign||Gold, later alloyed gold.||One pound sterling. Weight of 1911 George V example weighs 8g.|
|Pound||Note||quid||One pound, obviously.|
|Guinea||Gold||Taken out of circulation 1813. Now found in racehorse prize money or professional fees. One pound one shilling. (£1.05). Weight of 1787 George III example 8.35g.|
Representations – many variations apply
|Two pounds, fourteen shillings and fivepence||£2/14/5 or £2/14s/5d|
|Ten pounds||£10/-/- or £10/0/0 or 10/0/0|
|Five shillings and tenpence||5s/10d or 5/10|
|Three pounds eight shillings||3/8/- or £3/8/- or 3/8/0|
|Half a guinea, ten shillings and sixpence||10/6 or 10s/6d|
There were a variety of ways that prices were marked, but there was very little misunderstanding.
Table of Equivalents
|Denomination||£||s||d||£ (new)||p (new)|
There are no exact decimal equivalents to many pre-decimal coins, the recurring decimal being used. In accounting and summing up old mine returns we have had to revert to school-learned methods of columnar addition and carrying. It is almost impossible efficiently on a spreadsheet without this methodology.
Adding up old money
This example is taken from the account returns of the Levant Mine, for 16 weeks ending January 2nd 1904.
|By Copper Ore Sold, and Carriage||4091||16||2|
|” Subsist Advances &c||50||0||0|
|” Balance in favour of Mine at Bank||962||6||10|
|” Bills receivable||112||1||10|
Add up pence (d) column, divide by 12 and the remainder is the number of pence. Carry shillings into shillings column. (i.e. 32 pence, divide by 12 gives 2 shillings and eightpence).
Add up shillings (s) column including the carry of whole shillings from pence column, divide by 20 and the remainder is number of shillings (i.e. 27 plus 2 carried, 29 divide by 20 gives 1 pound and nine shillings).
Add up pounds column, include carry. That’s it.