Predecimal Currency: The Nightmare in Your Pocket (2023)


Ever wondered what a "shilling" actually was? Now you know.

(The fake coins are the Armani and the Denique)


If you watch any film set or made in the UK before 1971, and you might catch some very strange phrases, relating to money.


You clever boy! Here’s, a shilling for you!” “There’ll, be some change, then!”, “Oh, crikey, two and eleven put three farthings” “If I, give you a farthing.

You can give me three, bob, right?”, “Oh, yeah”, “Ten, shillings, Sir”, “Sorry, I, haven’t got anything smaller” “I’m still trying to figure out your that alright?” That’s because for centuries, the UK and Ireland used a different system of money to the rest of the world.

Whereas today.

You have the Pound Sterling made up of one hundred pence each, before there was a pound sterling, made up of twenty shillings.

And each shilling was worth twelve pence.

This is because in ancient times, a “pound sterling” comes from a pound of sterling, or silver, and a “shilling”, meaning, the shaving off of bits of the metal to make it easier to carry.

So for hundreds of years, people living in Britain or its territories had to work with this convoluted system of base-12, then base-20, then base-10 way of handling money.

The coins of this system.

Were; The, farthing, The, halfpenny, The, penny, Threepence, Sixpence, the Shilling, the Florin The, half-crown, The, crown, The Half, sovereign The, pound, The, groat, The, Angel, The, Armani, the Fine Sovereign The, guinea, The Denique, the three farthing The, half groat I made a couple of those up, see if you can guess which one.

It’s even worse, if you lived in Medieval Scotland, who had even more coins like the pistole, the dollar, ryal, lion, ducat, merk, unicorn, bawbee, bodle, and plack.

Those are all real names for coins in Scotland before the Union.

Wales was the only sensible one of the three by just having one coin;, the penny.

Thankfully by the Victorian Era.

Most of these coins had gone out of fashion, and most people before then were so poor, they never actually saw half of these coins.

Imagine being an accountant in the 17th century, though.

Have fun with that job.

No, by the 1900s, only a handful of these coins where left; the halfpenny, which was half a penny and sometimes called the “haipny” for short, making this word, the longest one-syllable world in the word.

It’s, pronounced “Haipths”., The, penny, self, explanatory.

Threepence, or “thruppence”, three, pence Sixpence, which was six pence.

The shilling, which was 12 pence.

This was also known as the “Bob”.

The Florin, which was two shillings, or 24, pence.

The, half-crown, two shillings and six pence.

The crown, which was 5 shillings, or a quarter of a pound.

And, the Pound, twenty shillings, or 240 pence.

And, although there wasn’t a coin for it.

There was a “guinea”, which was just a more friendly way of saying, “One pound.

And one shilling” - this was so shops could make it seem like it only costed a pound when they were actually scamming you out of an extra 12 pence.

Also, every single one of these coins had a ton of slang and nicknames.

So an American or European moving to the UK or Ireland would not only have to learn this ridiculous counting method.

But also all of the slang that goes with them.

Let’s say, you’re in the queue for the shop, and you have two items.

One costs, Three pounds, sixteen, shillings, and eleven pence.

And the other costs Five pounds.

Fifteen shillings, and ten pence.

Now in the minute or two.

You’ll be waiting in the line.

You’ll need to work out in your head;.

What is the total cost of both my items,? And what is the minimum number of coins I can use to pay for it? Eleven, plus ten is 21.

And because there are 12 pennies in a shilling, that makes one shilling and 9 pence.

So you carry the one shilling, adding up the shillings to make 32.

There are twenty shillings in a pound.

So that’s one pound and twelve shillings, carry that to the pounds column, and you get...four plus five is nine…making, in total, nine, pounds, twelve shillings, and nine pence.


So now you’ve worked that out.

You need to find it in your coins to make that amount.

What’s the minimum number of coins and notes.

You need to pay for this in exact change?.

The answer is A, five pound, note, Four pound notes or coins, A, two crowns, which is 10 shillings total, and a half-crown, which is 2 shillings, sixpence and a threepence to make nine pence.

Nine, twelve and nine.


You found that too easy, here’s the same puzzle.

But pretend these are the only coins you have in your pocket.

Have fun with that.


If you grew up with it you’d be a bit faster than this.


It’s still an awful lot of mental work that everyone had to go through, virtually every single day.


You have British.

Grandparents, go ahead and ask them what it was like.


This system is ridiculous., It’s, overly complicated, an unhelpful way of pricing things.

And with the advent of computers, it was going to make the digitisation of money.

A lot more difficult.

It was time to change.

Plans for the decimalisation of the Pound go back as far as 1824 and various attempts at it had been done since then – by the 1860s, most of the world’s countries and colonies had switched to decimal currency;.

But as with all things we had to do it differently to those smelly Europeans because we’re British and we’re a special island., So Britain.

And most of her colonies continued using a currency system from the medieval times..., UNTIL, NINETEEN, SEVENTY, ONE., In, the 1960s, a parliamentary commission on how to improve and streamline the UK financial system returned with the suggestion of switching to a base-10 currency.

Ireland did the same, because after Irish Independence in 1922, they had decided to peg the Irish pound to the British pound for...reasons.

We will discuss another time.

Some considered changing the name of the currency entirely, to the Britannia, or the Royal, or the Noble.


It didn’t catch on.

The initial plan was for there to be 100 pennies in a pound and keeping the shilling with there.

Now being five shillings to a pound.

Then, they realized how they could just turn the shilling into a 5, pence pence coin and deleted.

The shilling from their plans to make it even easier., The, new pound would stay equal to one pound.

A crown would be 25.

Pence., The Florin would be 10.


The shilling would be worth five pence., Three and sixpence would be withdrawn; they’d be replaced by one p and two p, coins.

And with that.

The date was set; on the 15th of February 1971, the UK and Ireland would switch to decimal money, like the rest of the world.


People resisted;.

They thought the new system was too complicated.

And nobody would understand base-10 currency.


Suppose that’s true if you struggle to count to ten., Side, note:, A, similar thing is happening more recently as the UK has begun to adopt the metric system for driving;.

Some road signs are now printed in kilometres instead of miles.

And some boomers have taken it upon themselves to tape over these new signs, because they think the metric system is too difficult to learn.

Some things, never change.


The months leading up to decimal day, both old and new currencies were circulated in parallel.


You could solve that problem from earlier, using even more types of coins.

That must have been a fun year for retail, workers.

Some of the more silly coins were withdrawn from circulation to make things easier, like the half-crown.

And the half-penny.

Shops began to display their prices in the new system, booklets were sent to every household with information on how to convert to new money.

And there was even a radio jingle to help people remember.

This was until Decimalisation Day or D-Day.

When the old money was no longer accepted in shops.

You’d expect there to be chaos or old people causing a fuss, but no.

It went by without a problem.


Only major change is that the halfpenny was withdrawn from circulation in 1984, because inflation was too high for it to be of any use.


The shilling has apparently beaten inflation and would have more buying power now than the five pence coin does today.


Maybe we need to get rid of some more coins and bring back the shilling? Anyway.

That’s the end of the story.

Aside from Nigeria in 1973, the UK and Ireland were the last countries to make the switch.

Most of the UK’s.

Former Empire had made the switch decades or even centuries, ago., Madagascar and Mauritania are the only countries who don’t use base-10 currency;, their currency works in base five.

But inflation is so high that the base-5 coins are never used.


Some really old UK banks, still use computers from the 60s that work out everything in pounds, shillings, and pence.

So it’s nice to know, your entire life’s savings are in safe hands.


If you’re ever watching an old British film, or you’re ever transported back in time to London in 1872, at least now you’ll know what the shopkeepers are talking about when they list off all those strange numbers.


What can you do with pre decimal coins? ›

If you have old, pre-decimal coins at home you can cash them in with the Britannia Coin Company. We offer competitive prices and instant valuations for your pre-decimal coins. Enter the amount you have into our online valuation calculator and sell your pre-decimal coins today.

How many shillings were in a pound? ›

Shilling (s) – 20 shillings = 1 pound. Pence (d) – 12 pence = 1 shilling. 240 pence = 1 pound. Farthing (f) – 4 farthings = 1 pence.

What are the benefits of Decimalisation? ›

The great advantage of converting to a decimal system, it argued, was "money calculations of all kinds would be simplified and shortened, and a great deal of time and trouble would be saved by industry and commerce".

What was the UK currency before Decimalisation? ›

Before decimalisation in 1971, the UK sterling currency was divided into pounds, shillings and pence (£:s:d). One pound was made up of 240 pence, with 12 pence to the shilling and 20 shillings to the pound.

Should you clean pre-decimal coins? ›

Put down the scrubber. It's never bath time for coins. No matter how dirty, worn or tarnished they are, the filth is part of their charm (aka value). Over time, coins go through a natural process called 'toning'.

Are old pre-decimal pennies worth anything? ›

Pre-Decimal Coins

Thus, they have little numismatic value unless, in the case of copper coins, they were minted pre-1900 or in the Victorian era. However, condition is still a consideration; for example, a worn 'Bun Penny' will still have little value unless it is one of the very few rare dates.

How much is a shilling worth today? ›

Today, a shilling from Churchill's England has the purchasing equivalent of 5 pence in the decimal currency system.

How many shillings equal a US dollar? ›

1 USD = 141.45 KES Jul 14, 2023 10:58 UTC.

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.

Why did we go decimal in 1971? ›

What is decimalisation? Our current decimalised system of currency was introduced to make the tendering of money much simpler, and to bring it in line with similar currencies around the world, easing the process of international trade.

What year did we change to decimal currency? ›

Within two weeks of Decimal Day, the old penny (1d) and old threepence (3d) coins had left circulation, and old sixpences had become somewhat rare. On 31 August 1971, the 1d and 3d were officially withdrawn from circulation, ending the transition period to decimal currency.

What are shillings used for? ›

shilling, former English and British coin, nominally valued at one-twentieth of a pound sterling, or 12 pence. The shilling was also formerly the monetary unit of Australia, Austria, New Zealand, and Ireland. Today it is the basic monetary unit in Kenya, Somalia, Tanzania, and Uganda.

Why was old money called D? ›

Pennies were, confusingly, abbreviated to 'd'. This is because the Latin word for this coin was 'denarius'.

How many old pennies make a pound? ›

The pre-decimal system of pounds, shilling and pence, with 240 pennies in the pound, had been around for centuries before the UK moved over to the decimal system with just 100 pennies in a pound just fifty years ago.

How much is a farthing? ›

A Farthing has a nominal value of one quarter of a Penny. The first Silver farthing was issued in 1279 under Edward I, however they are commonly associated more so with later milled Copper issues, especially that of Charles II, Anne and Victoria.

Can you pay in pre decimal coins? ›

Pre-decimal coins, such as shillings and sixpences, are no longer made and can't be spent in stores - but that doesn't mean you can't sell them. Before decimalisation - the switchover to the currency system we use now - many British coins were made of precious metals.

How do you get rid of old pennies? ›

A Penny Saved is a Penny Earned

You'll need to get coin rollers from the bank or stationery store, and roll up your pennies, fifty per roll, and then you can get cash for them from your bank. Some banks have machine coin counters in their lobbies, but keep in mind that some of those coin counters charge a service fee.

Are novelty coins worth anything? ›

Provided proof of authenticity, these coins will sell for thousands, if not millions. However, not everyone collects novelty coins to make a fortune. Some get the satisfaction of being the proud owner of such collectibles. However, most collectors would put them on display for others to marvel at.

How much can you get for old coins? ›

Small Cents
Coin TypeAverage CirculatedTypical Uncirculated
Indian Head Cent – 1859-1909$0.25 – $10$15 – $30
Lincoln Cent – 1909-PresentFace value – $10Face value – $50
Lincoln Cent – Steel w/ zinc plating – 1943Face value – $0.05$1 – $3
Lincoln Cent – Copper – 1943$20,000 – $50,000$80,000 – $110,000
2 more rows

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