How Much is a Shilling? The Currency of 1940s Britain - Churchill Central (2023)

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Have you ever wondered how much is a shilling worth? Are you curious about what money was like in decades past? Have you ever thought about what day-to-day expenses were in the days before the Iron Curtain fell across Europe?

The currency of Churchill’s England was a far cry from the currency you use today. Understanding how money worked in the 1940s can help you and other modern readers reconnect with the world as it was in Churchill’s day.

Explore the history of British currency, what was it like before the advent or decimalisation and discover the buying power of the British shilling.

What was Old British Currency Like?

How Much is a Shilling? The Currency of 1940s Britain - Churchill Central (1)

The current decimal system relies on units of ten to divide currency. Today, one pound is worth one hundred pence or pennies, easily divisible by powers of ten. But the decimal currency system was only adopted by the United Kingdom in the 15th of February 1971. That date was known as Decimal Day and officially marked the end of the old British currency.

Before Decimal Day, British was a lot more complex. The old British currency system was in use even long before Churchill’s early years. So what was money like in the 1940s? In the days of Winston Churchill, British currency was littered with coinage. Although old British currency was based on the pound sterling as it is today, there were dozens of denominations for values above and below it.

Above the pound were the guinea and the five-pound note. A guinea, named after the gold-rich Guinea coast, was worth a pound and a shilling. The five-pound note was a large stiff piece of pure white paper. It wouldn’t fit inside a wallet unless folded and was worth five pounds.

The pound itself came in two ways. A single pound coin was made of gold and known as a sovereign. In paper form, the pound was more commonly known as a quid. Sovereigns and quids were equally hard to come by for working class people in the 1940s.

Below the pound where the shillings and pennies, although a dizzying variety of coins combine these two.

These sub-divisions of the pound include the following:

  • A half-sovereign was worth 10 shillings
  • A crown was worth five shillings
  • A florin was worth two shillings
  • A sixpence was worth six pennies
  • A groat was worth four pennies

The penny itself was colloquially known as a copper because it was made of the metal. The penny itself could be further divided into the farthing, worth a fourth of a penny and a halfpenny, worth exactly what it says. Old British coins used to contain actual precious metals if they weren’t made completely form them, stemming from its ancient origins.

This system of currency may seem archaic, complicated, and dizzying but British people used it for centuries without difficulty. The old system of currency had its roots in the Roman Occupation of Britain. In those days, a literal pound of silver was divided into 240 denarii, the Roman equivalent of a penny. All subsequent denominations were derived from this division.

But what about the shilling? How did it fit into this seemingly confusing currency system?

How Much is a Shilling Worth?

How Much is a Shilling? The Currency of 1940s Britain - Churchill Central (2)

The shilling’s name originates from the term scilling or scylling. A scilling was an Old German coin made of gold. Other etymologists claim the shilling comes from a word that meant “to divide.” If so, this is appropriate considering the shilling’s place in the old British currency.

But how much is a shilling exactly? How many shillings are there in a pound?

A pound was worth twenty shillings and each shilling was worth a dozen pennies. Today, a shilling from Churchill’s England has the purchasing equivalent of 5 pence in the decimal currency system. Of course, this isn’t reflective of the worth of rare coins.

The shilling itself could be further divided into lesser denominations.

For example, if you wanted your shilling broken down by the shopkeeper, you could ask for it in the following combinations:

  • Three groats
  • Two sixpence
  • Four threepenny bits
  • Twelve coppers or pennies

Because the pound was more than most people could earn in a week in 1940s currency, if you were to travel back to Churchill’s time, you’d see more people use old British coins than paper money.

It was more common for people to carry coin purses rather than wallets because paper currency was rare. Only the wealthy and the well-to-do used the pound and the five-pound note, and even then, these people preferred to put their purchases on credit. The regular people of 1940s Britain used coins. Specifically, the shilling and its various companions below the pound.

But the true test of a currency’s worth is its purchasing power. How much is a shilling worth if you were going to buy something with it? If you were to travel back in time and go into a dry goods store or a grocery, what could you buy with a shilling?

What Could You Buy with a Shilling?

How Much is a Shilling? The Currency of 1940s Britain - Churchill Central (3)

When discussing life in 1940s Britain and the history of British currency at the time, it’s inevitable that the discussion will include the hardships imposed on the country by World War II.

In a session of parliament as early as April 1940, almost a year since the United Kingdom joined the conflict in 1939, a member of parliament declared certain controlled foodstuffs were so costly that “large numbers of the population are unable to obtain their requirements.” And this was only at the start of the conflict.

If you were to walk in a grocery in Britain during the 1940s, intent on spending an entire shilling, you could leave with a shopping bag with the following items:

  • A quarter pound of cocoa, worth 5 pennies
  • A bar of soap, worth 3 pennies
  • A packet of pudding, worth 3 pennies
  • And a packet of gum, worth 1 penny

Keep in mind that in today’s currency, a single shilling is worth only 5 pence and you can see how robust the difference is between the economy of Britain in the 1940s and Britain today.

If you wanted to buy more luxurious items, you’d have to really stretch your shilling. This became truer as the war dragged on through the early 40s. By 1944, a quart of milk was worth 9 pennies, almost an entire shilling. This was a horrifying increase in price, given that in 1939, the same amount of milk was worth 3 pennies. In four years, the war had managed to triple the price of milk.

Although the prices may seem trivial, 1940s currency was worth a lot more than today. In 1940, the average annual salary in the United Kingdom was 185 pounds, or 3,700 shillings in a year. It would have been shocking to see prices go through the roof. Watching an entire shilling disappear just to buy a quart of milk is downright terrifying when you’re living in a fixed income during a war.

Mercifully, under Churchill’s leadership, the United Kingdom managed to weather through the war, weary but unbroken. Prices soon stabilized and people were able to acquire necessary supplies thanks to rationing efforts. Eventually, Britain was back in form, but the prices would never be the same again. And less than 30 years after the war ended, so too did the days of the shilling.

Old British Coins Today

How Much is a Shilling? The Currency of 1940s Britain - Churchill Central (4)

Today, old British coins are now only valuable to collectors and antiquarians. Museums sometimes display their collections of old coins and the shilling still has pride of place and value to certain individuals. However, it’s days as a means of transaction are long past and it belongs in the annals of history.

But when you ask how much is a shilling, you’re not only asking for its monetary price. The value of the shilling has transcended its monetary status. Today, a shilling is a way for you to connect with the past to examine history and find wisdom in those days of adversity.

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How Much is a Shilling? The Currency of 1940s Britain - Churchill Central? ›

A pound was worth twenty shillings and each shilling was worth a dozen pennies. Today, a shilling from Churchill's England has the purchasing equivalent of 5 pence in the decimal currency system. Of course, this isn't reflective of the worth of rare coins.

How much was a British shilling worth in US dollars? ›

North America

After the United States adopted the dollar as its unit of currency and accepted the gold standard, one British shilling was worth 24 US cents. Due to ongoing shortages of US coins in some regions, shillings continued to circulate well into the nineteenth century.

How much was a British shilling? ›

Pence (d) – 12 pence = 1 shilling. 240 pence = 1 pound.

What is the equivalent of a shilling? ›

shilling, former English and British coin, nominally valued at one-twentieth of a pound sterling, or 12 pence.

What was a shilling in old money? ›

Until 1971, British money was divided up into pounds, shillings and pence. One pound was divided into 20 shillings. One shilling was divided into 12 pennies. One penny was divided into two halfpennies, or four farthings.

How much was a shilling worth in 1940? ›

A pound was worth twenty shillings and each shilling was worth a dozen pennies. Today, a shilling from Churchill's England has the purchasing equivalent of 5 pence in the decimal currency system.

How much is a 1 shilling piece worth? ›

The British one shilling predecimal coin has the same value as a modern 5p coin. It is the equivalent of 1/20 of a Pound Sterling. The 1 shilling coin was often referred to as a 'bob'. The notation of a one shilling was '1/-'.

How much are old British shillings worth? ›

The shilling prior to 1920 contains 0.1682 oz of silver, and this gives a bullion value of about £2.22 or US$2.78. Shillings from the period 1920 to 1946 contain 0.0909 oz of silver and thus have a bullion value of £1.20 or US$1.50. Please note that the silver price and exchange rates fluctuate.

What is a British shilling? ›

A shilling is an old British coin, roughly equal to a nickel. Twenty shillings were equal to one pound. The shilling isn't used any more in Great Britain, although other countries, like Uganda and Kenya, still use shillings.

Is a shilling rare? ›

The first shillings

Extremely rare, they are of the nature of experimental or presentation pieces and it was not until the 1540s that testoons became a permanent part of the circulating coinage, a product of the debasement of the coinage by Henry VIII.

Was a shilling worth a lot? ›

It had the same value as 5p or 5 new pence. The new 5p coin was exactly the same size and weight as the one shilling coin. In real terms, a shilling or 5p was worth a lot more in 1970 than it is today. For a quick comparison imagine one shilling as 50p today.

Can you still spend a shilling? ›

The shilling is a classic among British coins, and was adopted as currency by many countries. Today, there are few states that are still using the shilling as their legal currency. Those states are: Kenya, Uganda, Tanzania, Somalia.

Is a shilling more than half a crown? ›

The shilling, equal to twelve pence, becomes the common base for the larger denominations. A crown equals five shillings. Situated between these two units is the half crown equal to two shillings and six pence. During colonial times the value of an item was often expressed in crowns.

How much is an old shilling in usd? ›

Conversation Table (with latest exchange rate)
SH [Shilling]USD [US Dollar]
0.1 Shilling=0.003110 US Dollar
1 Shilling=0.031100 US Dollar
2 Shilling=0.062200 US Dollar
3 Shilling=0.093300 US Dollar
7 more rows

Why is a pound called a quid? ›

"Quid" is a slang expression for the British pound sterling, or the British pound (GBP), the currency of the United Kingdom (U.K.). A quid equals 100 pence, and the nickname may stem from the Latin phrase “quid pro quo,” which translates as "something for something."

Is a shilling half a penny? ›

1 shilling = 12 pence.

The penny was further sub-divided into two halfpennies or four farthings (quarter pennies).

What is the value of a shilling in 1776? ›

Although a British shilling was about ¼ of a dollar in silver, the value "One Eighth of a Dollar" is clearly printed on this 1776 Colonial New York one shilling note. Image courtesy of the Coin and Currency Collections at Notre Dame.

What is 5 shillings worth today? ›

The Churchill Crowns were denominated as five shillings as this was before decimalisation (in February 1971) and it is equivalent to 25 pence in today's money.

How much was a shilling worth back in the 1800s? ›

For most of the 1800s a shilling was approximately a day's wage for a labouring man. about22. 68 grams(~0.73troy oz) of 92.5% silver(Ag){~366.1mg, 0.1177 oz Gold, Au}. (~modern$0.42 US[just post_world war 2], maybe ~$80 of mid-1980s~ late1900s).

How much is 20 uk shillings in us dollars? ›

20 Shilling is 0.624507 US Dollar.

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