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Money: English

Money: English
Spring 2000 and Revised: 6 Jan 2000

What the heck is a shilling?

Suppose you stop by a McDonald's in San Francisco for a soft drink. After receiving your order, the clerk (born in England and having a sense of humor) says, "that will be 6 bob, please." Assuming a penny has the same American value as its English cousin, how much does he want?

The following material comes from an article previously published by Julia M. Case
and Myra Vanderpool Gormley, CG, Missing Links, Vol. 5, No. 1, 5 January 2000. RootsWeb:

British coinage was not as badly confusing as some people think. We, too, were confused by watching American films. They talked of pennies, cents, nickels, dimes, quarters, bucks, dollars, bits, etc. We thought they only had two types, dollars and cents, what were we to make of such bewildering names?

Of course our coinage was for about three centuries in the Saxon period the penny. We had no other coinage. The D denoting a penny was from the Denarius of the Roman occupation which they tried to emulate in an attempt to keep the civilisation of Rome going. When the Saxon pennies were weighed it took 240 of them to make a pound in weight, hence our pound sterling.

In the Tudor period the shilling was coined although strangely the amount itself as a twentieth part of a pound was used on paper long before a coin of that value was minted. That was the bare bones of our numismatic system. All others were merely fractions of those three levels of money, pounds, shillings and pence as we used to call it.

L for pound (Libra, = weighing scales), s for shilling, and d for pence.

Forget about pounds, think of multiples of shillings and pence.

We had a half-penny coin (1/2d)
a penny coin,(1d)
a three penny coin. (3d)
a six penny coin. (6d)

Next was double the sixpence, in other words, a shilling equal to 12 pence (1s).

There was a 1 shilling coin = 12 pence (12 penny coins)
a two shilling coin = 24 pence
a 2 1/2 shilling coin = 30 pence. It was known as a half crown but the crown had disappeared a long time ago.

Above that value all were banknotes.

We changed to the decimal system in February 1971.

Happy Hogmanay.
Joe of Gateshead of the Clan Armstrong Trust


I thought it might possibly be useful to you in future to add just a little to Joe's excellent explanation.

First, the name "sterling" for British currency originated from the use of a small star on some early Norman silver pennies, leading them to be called sterlings. Large sums were then measured in pounds (weight) of sterlings. This became over the years reduced to pounds sterling. The word sterling then also came into use to signify the purity of silver when used for other purposes.

Second, many other coins have been used over the years, and are sometimes encountered by genealogists (mention of them, not the actual coins!). The gold coin called a sovereign was last minted for currency use in 1914, and was worth one pound. They are still sometimes minted for commemorative purposes, nominally worth one pound but actually worth their weight in gold at the current rate. There was also a half-sovereign coin of similar design but exactly half the volume, weight and value.

An earlier coin was the gold guinea (worth 1 pound 1 shilling), still used to mark prices on goods up to 1971 and even occasionally beyond. It was last minted in 1817, when the sovereign replaced it. Even earlier were the groat (4 pence) and the mark (originally 8 ounces of silver, then 13 shillings and 4 pence, and later other values), and probably others.

Third, just like in the U.S.A., semi-slang words and genuine alternatives have been used for coins, especially pre-1971. The half crown (2 shillings and sixpence) was often called a half-dollar (its value in U.S. dollars until the 1939-45 war), the two shilling piece was called the florin (marked as such in some issues), the shilling was a "bob" and the six-pence a "tanner".

E. J. (Jim) Fisher in Luton, Beds, UK

If you have any corrections or additional information, please contact us at dewald@prenticenet.com.

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