A few weeks ago we posted about the new British Pound coin, rated as the safest coin in the world. This week's post is also dedicated to the British Empire coins, specifically about its monetary system. Do you know how many pennies are in a pound? Most people would not hesitate to answer 100! While this is true today, it has not always been that way. Read on to discover an oddity about British coins.
The UK coin is one of the best known coins in the world. Its closest rival is the euro and the yen currencies, right behind the US dollar.
Although the term British pound is commonly used, that is not its official name. The official one is "Pound sterling". “The sterling” is an old Sterling silver English coin, an alloy of 92.5% silver and 7.5% copper and / or other metals, and with a mass of 1,555 grams or 1/240 of a troy pound. The pound was originally worth the weight of a sterling Sterling Pound Tower (hence the name "pound sterling"). Although in English the pound is denominated pound, the symbol is an “L” £ because it derives from the Latin libra.
Now that we know the pound a little better, we are going to focus on its fractional values, that is the fun fact that brings us to write this post.
It is well known that the English have been and still remain quite peculiar with their measurement systems, as they do not use kilometers but miles, pounds instead of kilograms or pints instead of liters. Why would they use the decimal system for monetary fractions?? Exactly…
Before decimalization, the pound was divided into 20 shillings, and the shilling at 12 pence, making a total of 240 pence in a pound. However, the complexity does not end here, because the variety of coins was considerable. The pennies were divided into half and quarter pence (farthings). Not only that, there were coins of three, four (groats) and six (half shillings) pence. In addition, there were the guilder (2 shillings), the half-crown (2 shillings and 30 pence) and the crown (5 shillings or 60 pence). In this way, you could have a pound divided into:
This simple system created very picturesque situations, for example, prices had two commas instead of one to indicate pounds, shillings and pennies.
This system was not only used in the United Kingdom. In Australia, New Zealand and Ireland, it was used during the same periods of time as well. It was not used in Canada, due to the influence of the US and its dollar, nor in other parts of the British Empire that depended on commerce, like Hong Kong.
After Decimal Day (February 15, 1971), the value of the pound remained intact, but became divided into 100 pennies instead of 240 pennies. Each decimal penny had the value of 2.4 of the pre-decimal pennies. The coins of the denominations ½p, 1p, 2p, 5p, 10p and 50p all had the inscription "New penny" until 1982.
As a last fun fact, note that the new mintages of pennies are a collection in themselves, being able to form the coat of the United Kingdom joining the reverse of the coins.