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British coinage

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Decimal coinage was adopted as the official currency of the United Kingdom (Sterling) on February 15, 1971.

Description of current British coinage
Denomination Diameter Thickness Weight Composition Edge
One penny
20.03 mm
1.65 mm
3.56 g
Copper-plated steel smooth
Two Pence
25.90 mm
1.85 mm
7.13 g
Copper-plated steel smooth
Five Pence
18.00 mm
1.70 mm
3.25 g
Cupro-nickel milled, wire or flat edge
Ten Pence
24.50 mm
1.85 mm
6.50 g
Cupro-nickel milled, wire or flat edge
Twenty Pence
21.40 mm
1.70 mm
5.00 g
Cupro-nickel smooth, seven-sided
Fifty Pence
27.30 mm
1.78 mm
8.00 g
Cupro-nickel smooth, seven-sided
One Pound
22.50 mm
3.15 mm
9.50 g
Nickel-brass milled with inscription
Two Pound
28.40 mm
2.50 mm
12.00 g
Inner: Cupro-nickel
Outer: Nickel-brass
milled with inscription

Table of contents
1 Pre-decimal system
2 On the value of British money...
3 External link

Demonetized Coins

  • Half Penny (0.005), 1971-1984 - also known as a ha'penny, pronounced "haypnee".

Pre-decimal system

£1 = 20 shillings.
1 shilling = 12 pence.

Thus: £1 = 240 pence (though it was rarely expressed in this way)
and a penny was further subdivided at various times, though these divisions vanished as inflation made them irrelevant:
1 penny = 2 halfpennies and (earlier) 4 farthings.

As the symbol, £, for the pound is derived from the Latin pound, the libra, so the old abbreviation for the penny, d, was derived from the Roman denarius, and the abbreviation for the shilling, s, from the Roman solidus. The shilling was also denoted by the slash symbol, also called a solidus for this reason. The English penny was derived from a small silver coin minted by Charlemagne which was in general circulation in Europe during the middle ages. The weight of this coin was originally1/240th of a troy pound, a weight known as a pennyweight[?] - around 1.555grams.

From the time of Charlemagne until the 12th century, the silver currency of England was made from the highest purity silver available. Unfortunately there were drawbacks to minting currency of Fine Silver[?], notably was the level of wear it suffered, and the ease withe coins could be "clipped", or trimmed by those dealing in the currency. In the 12th century a new standard for English coinage was established by Henry II, the Sterling Silver[?] standard of metal -- 92.5% silver and 7.5% copper used in coinage. This was a harder and longer wearing alloy , yet was still a rather high grade of silver. This went some way to discouraging the pactice of "clipping", though this practice was further discouraged and largely elimiinated with the introduction of the milled edge we see on coins today.

The standard way of writing shillings and pence is

5/6 for 5 shillings & sixpence
5/- for 5 shillings only, with the dash to stand for zero pennies.


Some pre-decimalisation coins became commonly known by slang terms. Perhaps the most well known being 'bob[?]' for a shilling, and 'quid' for a pound. Quid remains as popular slang for one or more pounds to this day in Britain.

Denominations of pre-decimal coins and their years of production.
Note that the value of some coins fluctuated at different times in their history, particularly in the reigns of James I and Charles I. The value of a Guinea fluctated between 20 and 30 shillings before being fixed at 21 shillings in December 1717.
Note that these are denominations of British, or earlier English, coins -- Scottish coins had different values.

Note: * = denomination issued for use in the colonies, usually in Ceylon, Malta, or the West Indies, but normally counted as part of the British coinage.

Note that the medieval florin, half florin, and quarter florin were gold coins intended to circulate in Europe as well as in England and were valued as much more than the Victorian and later florin and double florin. The medieval florins were withdrawn within a year because they contained insufficient gold for their face value and thus were unacceptable to merchants.

All British coins produced since 1662 have been milled, i.e. produced by machine; the first milled coins were produced during the reign of Elizabeth I and periodically during the reigns of James I and Charles I, but there was opposition to mechanisation from the moneyers who ensured that most coins continued to be produced by hammering.

In medieval times, the penny was a sterling silver coin. English silver pennies are a collectible, and are now quite rare.

On the value of British money... In 1999 the House of Commons Library published a research paper (http://www.parliament.uk/commons/lib/research/rp99/rp99-020.pdf) (PDF document) which included an index of the value of the Pound for each year between 1750 and 1998, where the value in 1974 was indexed at 100. Reading this document, one is struck by the fact that the value of the Pound remained remarkably constant for the whole of the period until the First World War, allowing for inflationary fluctuations in wartime and with many periods when prices declined. The value of the index in 1750 was 5.0, increasing to a peak of 16.0 in 1813 before declining very soon after the end of the Napoleonic Wars to around 10.0 and remaining in the range 8.5 - 10.0 at the end of the nineteenth century. The index was 9.6 in 1914 and peaked at 24.8 in 1920, before declining again to 15.5 in 1933 and 1934 i.e prices were only about three times higher than they had been 180 years earlier. Inflation really kicked off during and after the Second World War - the index was 20.0 in 1940, 32.9 in 1950, 46.4 in 1960, 68.2 in 1970, 243.0 in 1980, 458.5 in 1990, and 592.3 in 1998.

External link

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