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David Ashton

3/4/2013 5:38 PM EST

@antedeluvian - yep I remember them, remember some of the old ones were silver ...

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EVVJSK

2/25/2013 1:23 PM EST

The system name was LSD, and the Pound symbol like of looks like a script "L" is ...

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Pounds, Shillings, and Pence

2/18/2013 10:17 AM EST

I was just reflecting on the fact that things are so much easier these days now that there are only 100 pennies in the English pound.

The reason for my ruminations is that, when I was a young lad, I used to read an electronics hobbyist magazine called Practical Electronics. One of the articles was called "Take 20" because of these projects required 20 or fewer components and cost 20 shillings or less.

Now, when I'm explaining things to my American friends (or to younger folks from England), this is the point where things start to become a little confusing, because someone will invariably ask "What's a shilling?" This opens the door to a mind-boggling discussion on one of the currencies of yesteryear.

Prior to 1971, the British used a currency system based on “pounds, shillings, and pence.” This was also written as LSD, where the “L” comes from the Latin word libra and the D comes from the Latin word denarius, which was a type of coin in Roman times.

The way in which this worked was that there were 12 pennies in a shilling and 20 shillings (240 pennies) in a pound. This system was actually instigated as far back as the 8th century by the first Holy Roman Emperor, Charlemagne.

The advantage of such a system was its use in mental arithmetic, as it afforded many factors and hence fractions of a pound such as tenths, eighths, sixths and even sevenths if the guinea of 21 shillings was used (see below). When dealing with items in dozens (which was very common in those days – in fact, we still purchase eggs by the dozen to this day), multiplication and division are straightforward; for example, if a dozen of something cost four shillings, then the individual items would each cost four pennies.

Of course, it’s also easy to see the problems involved with such a scheme; for example, let’s assume that, when I was a young lad, something in a shop was priced at 1 pound, 8 shillings, and 9 pence... how much would it cost for three of the little rascals?

And, in fact, things were a tad more complicated than the brief overview above might lead you to believe, because there were a variety of other coins. For example, there was a farthing (a quarter of a penny) and a half-penny that was known as a ha-penny [prior to the reign of Edward 1 (1272-1307), half-pennies and farthings were made by cutting a real penny into two or four pieces, respectively.]

There was also a two-penny piece (although admittedly this was only made in 1797) and a three-penny piece that was known as a threpney bit (this was made in silver until 1945 at which point the government started making them in brass).

Then there was the groat, which was worth four pennies and was made from 1836 to 1888. Also the sixpence (worth six pennies), which was known as a tanner, and the shilling (worth twelve pennies), which was known as the bob. But wait, there’s more! There was also the florin, half-crown, double-florin, crown, half-sovereign, sovereign, and guinea.

These coins are discussed in more detail in The History of Calculators, Computers, and Other Stuff document provided on the CD-ROM accompanying one the book How Computers Do Math. Suffice it to say for the moment that, in February 1971, Great Britain retired the concept of pounds, shillings, and pence and officially adopted a decimal system in which a pound equaled 100 pennies (they were called “new pennies” at the time), much like the American dollar equals 100 cents.

Strange as it may seem, however, the majority of British citizens fought this move toward decimalization tooth-and-nail claiming that the new scheme was far too complicated and would never catch on! Long after the transition had taken place, I remember little old ladies standing in shops muttering to each other as to how complex the new currency was and how we should have stuck with good old pounds, shillings, and pence because that was so much simpler!

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betajet

2/18/2013 12:47 PM EST

I liked the old system -- much more fun. Especially the difference between a pound (20 shillings) and the guinea or sovereign (21 shillings). The difference came about because the value of the paper pound floated with respect to the gold sovereign. They finally standardized the sovereign to 21 shillings.

The one pound coin is an interesting animal. It's a fairly small brass-colored coin, but very thick so rather heavy. This makes it easy to distinguish from all the other coins, but it does "tend to make holes in one's pockets".

The one pound coin came out when Margaret Thatcher was Prime Minister. The new coin was called "The Maggie" because it's "hard, brassy, and thinks it's a sovereign".

So when is the USA finally going to come up with a successful dollar coin? My opinion: at the very least they need one on which George Washington looks exactly like he does on the one-dollar bill. It would also help to have it gray on the front and green on the back.

antedeluvian

2/19/2013 3:56 PM EST

"It would also help to have it gray on the front and green on the back."

I don't know if other countries do it, but Canada has managed to produce quarters with different colours. I have seen them with red and blue, but googling promises some with multiple colours like this blus jay (http://www.google.ca/search?q=canadian+quarter+with+blue&hl=en&tbo=u&tbm=isch&source=univ&sa=X&ei=0-UjUYpQj9XSAf2ugbgN&sqi=2&ved=0CDcQsAQ&biw=1294&bih=811#imgrc=UTfuTP9J90W2dM%3A%3BpVBTOYmE5Qqb5M%3Bhttp%253A%252F%252Fwww.talismancoins.com%252Fcatalog%252FCanada_2010_Blue_Jay_Quarter_Pkg.jpg%3Bhttp%253A%252F%252Fwww.talismancoins.com%252Fservlet%252FDetail%253Fno%253D1268%3B563%3B600) or one that even glows in the dark (http://www.dailymail.co.uk/news/article-2129084/Canada-rolls-new-dinosaur-quarter--glows-dark.html). I have yet to see either of those two.

David Ashton

2/18/2013 4:38 PM EST

During the beginning of the days of hyperinflation in Zimbabwe, a note came out which was red, I think it was \$ 50 000. We used to call them Ferraris, 'cos they were red and went fast.....

Frank Eory

2/18/2013 5:45 PM EST

Thanks Clive, the old system was even more complicated than I thought!

By the way, the speed of light can be expressed as 1.8026*10^12 furlongs per fortnight.

Thankfully there are no British units for electricity & magnetism :)

Max the Magnificent

2/19/2013 12:41 PM EST

LOL

antedeluvian

2/19/2013 10:19 AM EST

When I (and David, I guess) was growing up in (then) Rhodesia, the penny had a hole in the middle. We used to collect a "penny string" which was obviously a stack of pennies on a string. When you got to 240 of them, you hopped on your bicycle and went to town to a bank to get a one pound note in exchange for about 3 lbs of coins. This was a LOT of money even when I was a teenager. 240 US cents or even 240 new pence is chump change today.

Max the Magnificent

2/19/2013 12:42 PM EST

I remember as a kid when having a "threpney bit" in your pocket made you a rich man (well, boy on his way to the candy store)

David Ashton

3/4/2013 5:38 PM EST

@antedeluvian - yep I remember them, remember some of the old ones were silver in colour - made of a nickel alloy I think. As far as I know Zim does not even use coins now.

We used to call payphones "Tickey-boxes" as they accepted a minimum of 3d for a call. It would also buy you an ice lolly - hence we called them "tickey lollies".

"Sixpence" and "Tickey" were also widely used first names among the African population...

antedeluvian

2/19/2013 3:08 PM EST

I always thought that "bob" was Southern African- shows you!. The boy scouts used to fund raise by offering their services for "bob-a-job". We used to call the "threpny bit" a tickey. Doubled well as a makeshift screwdriver! There was a "little person" clown at the circus who called himself "Tickey".

Max the Magnificent

2/21/2013 5:31 PM EST

We used to have "bob a job" in the UK

vapats

2/19/2013 4:38 PM EST

OK, but what's a "quid"?

antedeluvian

2/19/2013 5:37 PM EST

One pound.

cshore

2/20/2013 4:56 AM EST

I remember doing endless exercises at school involving pounds (currency), shillings, pence, pounds (weight), ounces, pints, fluid ounces, quarts and gallons. Life was fun in those days!

And as well as being called a "Thatcher", I remember people calling it a "Scargill" (after the firebrand trade unionist) because it was hard, brassy and a weight in the tax payers pocket. A fify pence piece (half a pound), then became an "Arfur Scargill".

Chris

Max the Magnificent

2/21/2013 5:31 PM EST

I'd not heard the "Arfur Scargill" one before -- good one!

David Brown

2/24/2013 10:07 AM EST

Guineas where used in auction houses. When an item was priced at "10 guineas", the buyer paid 10 guineas, but the seller received 10 pounds. The 5% difference was the auctioneers fee.

As far as I know, horse auctions still often use guineas in their prices. (And the horses' heights are measured in hands!)

EVVJSK

2/25/2013 1:23 PM EST

The system name was LSD, and the Pound symbol like of looks like a script "L" is that coincidence of did the symbol for Pound come out of the letter "L" used to start the name of the system ?