Old money - pounds, shillings and pence

Pounds, shillings and pence

"Old money" or pounds, shillings and pence was the non-decimal system of currency we used in the UK from Saxon times until 15 February 1971. On that day Britain switched to the decimal system we use today, where one hundred pence make one pound.

How did the pre-decimal system work?

There were three units of currency, the penny, the shilling and the pound. There were 12 pence in a shilling and 20 shillings in a pound. So there were 12 x 20 = 240 pence in a pound.

Originally a troy pound in weight of silver was 240 pennyweights. A Saxon penny weighed a pennyweight, so there is a connection between pounds as a unit of weight and a pound as unit of money.

What coins did we use?

Farthing

Farthing

1/4d

Halfpenny

Half Penny

1/2d

Penny

Penny

1d

Threepence

Threepence

3d

Sixpence or tanner

Sixpence

6d

One Shilling

One Shilling

1s or 1/-

Two Shillings

Two Shillings

2s or 2/-

Half Crown - Two Shillings and six pence

Half Crown

2s 6d or 2/6


British pre-decimal coins in the twentieth century were:

  • Farthing (¼d) - quarter of an old penny (not legal tender after 1960)
  • Halfpenny (½d) - half an old penny
  • Penny (1d)
  • Threepence (3d)
  • Sixpence (6d)
  • Shilling (1s or 12d)
  • Two shillings or florin (2s or 24d)
  • Half crown ('Two and six' 2s 6d)

Farthings, halfpennies and pennies were bronze. The threepenny bit was brass. Before 1937 they were silver. There was a tradition of putting a threepenny bit in a Christmas pudding for a lucky child to find.

The sixpence, shilling, two shillings and half crown coin were silver. They were real silver before 1920.

There was also a crown, but the Royal Mint issued them only on special ocassions, such as coronations (1937 and 1953) and to commemorate the life of Sir Winston Churchill (1965). They were quite large and people kept them as momentos, rather than used them as money. Before the First World War there were also soveriegns (worth 1) and half soveriegns minted in gold.

The British system used the abbreviations £ for pound (as we do today) and 's' for shilling and 'd' for a penny. The abbreviations come from latin, Libra, Solidus, Denarius: Libra for pound, Solidus for shilling and Denarius for penny. So hence LSD.

People said 'what's that in LSD?' when asking the value of something.

The other common abbreviation was the '/' symbol to divide amounts in shillings and pence. So 15 shillings and 6 pence was 15s 6d or 15/6. If there were no pence /- was used for a quantity in shillings, so 5/- for 5 shillings.

For example, a jar of instant coffee might cost 2/3. (2s 3d or two shillings and three pence).

10 shilling note 1966

After 1914, there were no soveriegns and half soveriegns. There were £1 and 10s notes instead.

1967 appears to be the last year in which the old coins were minted. However, the Royal Mint had pulled a trick to stop people hoarding the last of the old money. All coins minted in old denominations from 1967 to 1970 were dated 1967.

After 1971 the sixpence, shilling and two shilling pieces were still legal tender. Sixpence was 2½ new pence, one shilling 5 new pence and two shillings 10 new pence. Other coins disappeared. Many older people mourned the disappearance of the half crown and kept examples as souvenirs.

The sixpence remained in circulation until June 1980 and has been sadly missed ever since.

How much did things cost in old money?

So how much was a can of baked beans?

These are some typical prices from 1965:

English butter per lb 3/-
Baked beans lb 9d
Kellogs Cornflakes 12oz 1/5
Nescafé 2oz 2/3
Omo washing powder per lb 1/11

So what is that in today's money? Translating the prices at face value, they work out at 15p for a lb of butter, 4p for the baked beans, 7p for the cornflakes, 11p for the coffee and 10p for the Omo.

But what about inflation? According to the retail price index, prices have gone up by a factor of twelve since 1965. So taking inflation into account, these prices would have been 1.25 for a lb of butter, 48p for a lb of baked beans, 84p for 12oz of cornflakes, 1.32 for 2oz of Nescafe and 1.20 for a 1lb of Omo.

What about the guinea?

One guinea was 21 shillings - that is one pound and one shilling. There were no guinea coins in the twentieth century, but you still received bills in guineas from solicitors, accountants and other professionals. If you went on holiday you might have to settle your hotel bill in guineas. It was a way of sounding posh and also making a bill seem a little bit smaller than it actually was - a bit like 9.99 instead of 10.

Slang terms for old money

You might hear the term bob for a shilling. The Boy Scouts did 'Bob a job' week. In my day the Scouting Movement discouraged the term as they wanted more than a bob a job in the high inflation days of the 1970s.

A tanner was a sixpence.

Why use a non-decimal system?

The advantage of the system over decimal, was that is was easy to divide. You could divide a pound into:

  • Half - 120 pence
  • One third - 80 pence
  • One quarter - 60 pence
  • One fifth - 48 pence
  • One sixth 40 pence

In the days before computers and calculators, this was useful for trading.

How do you convert from old to new money?

To convert a price in pre-decimal to decimal:

Work out the amount in old pence. E.g. half a crown is 2s 6d = 2 x 12 + 6 = 30d

Then divide by 2.4. 30 / 2.4 = 12½p. So half a crown is 12½p.

Other quick conversions:

Sixpences is 2p or 2 and a half new pence

One shilling is 5p.

One guinea is £1.05

Buy old money

If you want to buy a set of 'old money', the best way is to buy a complete set from a specific year. They can make great birthday present, especially if you can find a set dating from the year the person was born. They are not as expensive as you might think. A complete set of coins from a specific year from the 1950s or 1960s should cost no more than £25 and often a lot less. Look for:

New money

From 1968 onwards, the Royal Mint started to mint 'new money'. They started with coin denominated in 'New Pence' of values 5 and 10. These fitted in well with the old system as they were direct replacements for the one and two shilling pieces. In those days today's pence were 'new pence'.

More on old money

Add your comments

"what is six pence in the 60s" kymcoats 29/05/2012
"Six pence was 6d or six old pence in the 60s. In today's money it would be 2 and a half pence." Steve 29/05/2012
"Can anyone tell me what "The Horizon" means in old money please?" bill street 28/06/2012
"The only thing I can think of is the horizon on the one penny piece, where the sea meets the sky behind Britannia." Steven 28/06/2012
"i have alot of pence 1955 and older. just would love to know if can sell them i am from Antigua. would u like me send you some pictures." Deno Chritian 28/01/2013
"Does anyone know where online we can see the official conversions that the Government published at the time? I remember well that they had this available everywhere - there was a table of exactly how you should convert every penny value up to a shilling, and of course they had to include the new halfpenny. I know we can calculate it, but I'd love to see what was actually published at the time." Nevilley 05/04/2013
"My father was a coin collecter for years an has a lot of very old coins an book sets of coins do you know were the best place for me to get a guide to what they would be worth or where I should try to sell them. Thanks may" may 05/07/2013
"Please let me know how can someone exchange old chilling money to get current currency?" Fatema Miah 22/07/2013
"I think you are a little too late for that. We've had decimal currency in the UK since 1971. More than likely pre 1971 coins and banknotes are worth more than their face value anyway to collectors." steven 22/07/2013
"I am looking to buy a few pennies from 1959 as it was the year of my birth. Are you able to help me please?

Kind regards,

Penny Main" Penny Main 12/09/2013
"Funny you should mention baked beans being 9d because it's one of the things I will never forget post decimalisation, was how a tin of beans started cost 9p instead of 9d..." Bob 01/05/2014
"Is there such a thing as a half crown note?It was on the quiz show 15 to 1,William G Stewert asked the question,which was the lowest british bank note printed,the contestant answered,the 10 shilling note,he replied,no it was the half crown note,is this true as i cannot find any information on this." Janet Walyon 23/02/2015
"I was about to say I've never heard of half crown notes, but it appears they do exist. It looks like they were issued in the US. In the 18th Century. However, I believe 10 shillings was the smallest note issued by the Bank of England." Steven 23/02/2015
"1968 was a special year for me and I have searched many times to find a pre-decimal penny as a token reminder of that time with no luck. No wonder! Its only now, after all this time,that I`ve found out it doesn't exist thanks to this site. Search over....." Mike Jones 26/03/2015
"I have paper Money Rands,coin mony old Money I'm in south Africa how can I sell it" mbuso 06/09/2015
"I have paper,and coin old Money" mbuso 06/09/2015
"Have a pound note serial number H55H 156639 no idea if it's worth anything" Caroline 30/10/2015
"what would 80 shillings per quarter be?" nathan 27/11/2015
"That would be £4 per quarter, i.e. £4 every three months." Steven 28/11/2015
"For an article on the price of a particular cookbook printed in 1796, I would appreciate knowing what Two Shilling Three Pence would be worth in American money today." Elise Bernard 01/12/2015
"Hi Elise,
Two Shillings three pence would have been 11.25 pence (in UK money). There are many ways you could convert this. According to the Bank of England's inflation calculator 11.25p in 1796 would be worth £11.36 today. Converting to USD at today's rates gives you $17.04. Best regards" Steven 02/12/2015
"Hi Elise,
Two Shillings three pence would have been 11.25 pence (in UK money). There are many ways you could convert this. According to the Bank of England's inflation calculator it 11.25p would be worth £11.36. Converting to USD at today's rates gives you $17.04. Best regards" Steven 02/12/2015
"I like old money" Ethan 03/12/2015
"Thank you, Steven." Elise Bernard 14/12/2015
"Where u name the old coins,u named 1 wrong and missed 21st, the 2shilling piece was known as a florin, you also forgot the farthing a quarter of a penny came before the halfpenny and after the threepence the funny shaped one,you then have a silver threepence which came before the sixpence which was also commonly known as the tanner" Mr malcolm kirkwood 01/01/2016
"I'm a film maker and have been trying to find what a cup of coffee would have cost in 1971. I remember it increased beyond reason in a local Milk Bar the day after decimalisation but cant remember the actual price - 5p? 6p? from a pre Feb '71 price of about 4d?
Please help!" Michael Alley 26/03/2016
"You make it sound so complicated and it really wasn't.

One thing which has always annoyed me since D-Day is this: The singular was previously "one penny" and the plural was "two pence", "three pence", "four pence" (usually pronounced "tuppence", "thrippence"), "fourpence" all the way up to "elevenpence". That is just standard English. It has nothing to do with currency and therefore nothing to do with decimal conversion.

Where, oh, where did that awful expression "one pence" come from????? Will someone PLEASE explain and put me out of my mysery? No-one says "one cars" or "one houses" (thank goodness) so how can there possibly be "one pence"? There can, of course, be "twenty-one pence", "thirty-one pence" since 21 and 31 are plural but 1 is singular (isn't it??)" Pete 02/04/2016
"I agree with you Pete - I think it annoys many people. However it is not the only abuse of our great language these days!
Can anyone help with my query above about an accurate price for a cup of coffee - when there was mainly just black or white coffee!!" Michael Alley 11/04/2016
"In 1970 Little Chef charged 9d for a cup of tea or 4p. A cup of coffee was 1/3 or 9p. At Golden Egg, earlier in the 60s coffee was 1/- and tea 6d. However, they charged 1/3 for coffee and 9d for tea on Saturday after 6pm and all day Sunday.

I hope this helps." Steven 11/04/2016
"I've just found an old receipt from my Grandmothers belongings. It is for £32'10'0 can anyone tell me what that may be in todays money?" BeckyBbythesea 10/05/2016
"Hi Becky,That is £32 and 10 shillings or £32.50 in modern currency. It would have been quite a lot of money in those days." Steven 11/05/2016
"How much would 26 guineas in 1952 be worth now?" Brendan Rossiter 19/07/2016
"It depends on what you are asking exactly. To convert into modern currency, it would be £26 and 26 shillings. I.e. £27 6s or £27.30 in new money. How much it would be worth in today's money taking account of inflation is another matter. Using the RPI it would convert to about £650. Best regards" Steven 21/07/2016
"In 1913 our local council spent £29 5s and 10d on park maintenance for the month. How much would this be now? Can anyone help please?

Many thanks" Kate 08/08/2016
"I'm writing a story set in the 1960s and trying to find out how much a B&B / Guest House would have cost for a night. Can anyone help please? All I can find online is how much shopping cost, or the cost of a house or car!" Annalise 13/08/2016
"How many pounds would 25 shillings be?" Julicia 15/08/2016
"£1.25 in new money
best regards" Steven 17/08/2016
"i have old money lebannesse since 1952" joe antonios 03/09/2016
"The reason why we had 240 pennies to the pound, indeed the reason we call them pennies, can be attributed to the Vikings. Their name for the silver penny, the single and only unit of currency back then, was peninga, (pronounced pen-ing-ga). Apparently I am reliably informed that the Iclandic word for money is peningar, which is obviously from the same root as the old Norse. When coins were minted back then, just over a 1000 years ago, a person licensed to make coin had to get 240 pennies from a pound weight of silver, hence 240 pennies to the pound. They were very accurate at this, despite not having modern tools and equipment. A quarter penny was known as a fourth thing, a fourth part, hence farthing." Fiona 22/09/2016
"Hello, my mum still has a one shilling postal order sent by her nan for me when I was a year old in February 1958 ! - we have no intention of trying to cash it in at our local post office but we did wonder what it's worth ..." Laurence Sully 22/09/2016
"why was it called L S D for pounds shillings and pence why the L and D understand the S" paddy 20/10/2016
"It means Libra Solidus Denarius. They are Latin words meaning Pounds, shillings and pence." Steven 21/10/2016
"Hi there.
This is a very useful site, though I see that no questions have been asked since 2015.
A vintage clock I bought recently had a label inside which said that it had been purchased for 18 shillings in 1955. The clock is late 19thc, and I thought that 18/- was not a lot to pay in 1955. What would that be in today's money?
Thanks." Mike 28/01/2017
"I have only just printed. I am 83yrs old but am sure it will prove interesting. something to peruse with a grandson." arthur stevens 25/02/2017
"I have lots of old notes ranging from German Spanish English al sorts. Just trying to see if they are worth keeping?" Adam Townsend 25/02/2017
"Reading album notes from the Pink Floyd boxed set, I saw that their Album, UmmaGumma sold for 57/6 ("1 pound less than the usual double album!"). From this article, I see that means 2 pounds, 17 shillings and 6 pence. Just what would that have equalled today?" roger cox 19/08/2017
"It would have been £2.87 1/2. 17 shillings is 17 x 5p and 6d is 2.5 new pence.

If you bought the album at that price in 1969, it would have been £32 in today's money.

All the best" Steven 19/08/2017
"Sirs Converting LSD to decimal and vice-versa .. for example 4/6d; call this 46 and divide by 2 = 23 new pence. Or ... 38 new pence X 2 = 76 or 7/6d. How does this work" Gordon Davies 02/11/2017
"What does '[I wonder whether any fellow would buy these] for five shillings in the pound?' mean? It comes from a dialogue in a Trollope novel. Does it mean that it is a bargain, and if so, how precisely?" Marijke Loots 20/11/2017
"Hi Marijike, The quote is about IOUs. I think he (Sir Felix) is doubting the ability of the person to pay the IOUs and is asking if anyone would by them for 5 shilling (25p) for £1 of IOU. He is saying they are worth only 25% of their face value. In this context I think he is joking that the IOUs are worthless. Best regards, Steven" Steven 04/12/2017
"Hi Marijike, The quote is about IOUs. I think he (Sir Felix) is doubting the ability of the person to pay the IOUs and is asking if anyone would by them for 5 shilling (25p) for one pound of IOU. He is saying they are worth only 25% of their face value. In this context I think he is joking that the IOUs are worthless. Best regards, Steven" Steven 04/12/2017
"does anyone now how much a three shillings and a ninepence is?" trixie 13/12/2017
"Just under 19p. [Exactly 18.75p]" Graham 25/12/2017
"Dear Sir.I have some coins for sell. like 6pence 1842.3pence 1843.2shilling 1965.10pence 1970. 2new pence 1981." rehana bibi moussa 14/01/2018
"Britain and Ireland should not have decimalized the pound into 100 new pence; it should have been 200.
Australia, New Zealand and South Africa got this right. The only difference is, since their respective pounds weren't as important to the world as the British pound was, they were able to start with a clean slate.
What Britain should have done is decimalize the shilling into 10 new pence. By then no-one would grieve the loss of the sixpence; it'd be five new pence. Same value, different name.
How could the bigwigs get this wrong?" Josep 13/02/2018
"I'm reading a script, set in 1971, where they mention money, specifically " 2 and 6"

Anyone know what this is ???


thanks!" Abi Smith 20/02/2018
"2 and 6 is two shillings and sixpence. It is worth 12.5 pence today. This is also half a crown. All the best" Steven 22/02/2018
"Thanks for the help" Fox 28/03/2018
"When did new pence cease to be "new" and become called simply pence?" Jane Wilson 13/05/2018
"1982. Best regards" Steven 13/05/2018
"I have a 100 shilling coin from Uganda date 2015 is this worth anything in today money. ?? Can anyone help me" daz2020 06/06/2018
"At face value it's worth 2p. It might be worth a bit more to a collector. Ones from the 1970s sell for £5 to £10 on eBay. However, 2015 is a bit modern." Steven 07/06/2018
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