Old money - pounds, shillings and pence - an introduction
"Old money" means the pounds, shillings and pence system we used in the UK 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 old 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 that made:
12 x 20 = 240 pence in a pound.
How did you write amounts in pounds, shillings and pence?
The British system used the abbreviations £ for pound, 's' for shilling and 'd' for pence.
They are abbreviations for the Latin words libra, solidus and denarius, or LSD. You could say 'how much is that in LSD?'.
Libra meant pound, solidus meant shilling and denarius meant penny. Solidus and denarius were Roman coins, libra was a Roman pound. The origins of pounds, shillings and pence go back to ancient times.
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 you could use /- 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.
What were the old money coins?
1s or 1/-
2s or 2/-
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 or ha'penny - pronounced ˈheɪpni'
- Penny (1d)
- Threepence (3d) - or threepenny bit or 3d bit - pronounced thruppence or thruppenny bit
- 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 the threepenny bit was silver. There was a tradition of putting a threepeny bit or a silver sixpence in a Christmas pudding for a lucky child to find.
The sixpence, shilling, two shillings and half crown coins were silver. They were real silver before 1920.
There was also a crown coin which the Royal Mint issued on special occasions.
For larger amounts, there were banknotes. There was also a ten shilling note (worth 50p in decimal) £1, £5 and £10 notes.
How much did things cost in old money?
In 1970, before the UK changed to decimal currency, money had much more buying power. For 1970 pricers, imagine one shilling as 50p today, two shillings as £1 and half a crown as £1.25.
In earlier times, they were worth more. When the War ended in 1945, one shilling would have been worth £1.50 in today's money and in the 1930s between £2.30 and £2.50.
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|
|Kellogg's corn flakes 12oz||1/5|
|Omo washing powder per lb||1/11|
So what is that in today's money? Translating these 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 got 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. They wanted more than a bob a job in the high inflation days of the 1970s.
A tanner was a sixpence.
When were £sd coins and notes no longer legal tender?
- Farthing withdrawn on 1 January 1961
- Halfpenny withdrawn on 1 August 1969
- Half crown withdrawn on 1 January 1970
- Ten shilling note withdrawn on 22 November 1970
- Penny withdrawn on 1 September 1971
- Threepenny bit withdrawn on 1 September 1971
- Sixpence withdrawn on 1 July 1980
- Shilling (and original 5p) withdrawn on 1 January 1990
- Two shillings (and original 10p) withdrawn on 1 July 1993
The Royal Mint withdrew the farthing on 1 January 1961, well before the UK Government made any decision on decimalisation.
When the Government decided to introduce decimal currency, the Royal Mint withdrew a few of the £sd coins.
The halfpenny was no longer legal tender from 1 August 1969 and the half crown from 1 January 1970. 
The Bank of England called in the ten shilling note on 22 November 1970. This meant it was no longer legal tender, but you could still can take it to the Bank of England and change it for 50p.
The penny and threepence were still legal tender on D-Day (Decimal Day), 15 February 1971. You could still use them to pay for goods in new and old money until 1 September 1971 , when they were withdrawn. This worked because 6d was 2½ in decimal.
The remaining £sd coins had a much longer life. The sixpence continued in use until 30 June 1980 and was no longer legal tender from 1 July 1980.
The Royal Mint withdrew the shilling and florin (two shillings) coins when it introduced the new smaller 5p and 10p coins. The shilling remained legal tender until 30 December 1990 and the florin or two shilling piece until 30 June 1993.
So the last day you could legally spend a £sd coin or note was 30 June 1993.
The two shilling piece or florin was first struck in 1849 in Queen Victoria's reign as a small step towards decimal currency. The first florins were marked 'One tenth of a pound'. So it was both Britain's first decimal coin and the last pre-decimal coin.
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.
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:
From 1968, to be ready for decimalisation, the Royal Mint started to mint decimal coins. They started with coins denominated in 'New Pence' of values five and ten. They worked 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'.
 The Guardian 31 December 1960 
 The Times 30 July 1969, page 20 issue 57625
 The Times 31 December 1969, page 1, issue 57755
 The Times 3 August 1971, page 4, issue 58240
Add your comments
Penny Main" Penny Main 12/09/2013
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 Â£11.36 today. Converting to USD at today's rates gives you $17.04. Best regards" Steven 02/12/2015
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 Â£11.36. Converting to USD at today's rates gives you $17.04. Best regards" Steven 02/12/2015
Please help!" Michael Alley 26/03/2016
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
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
I hope this helps." Steven 11/04/2016
Many thanks" Kate 08/08/2016
best regards" Steven 17/08/2016
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
If you bought the album at that price in 1969, it would have been Â£32 in today's money.
All the best" Steven 19/08/2017
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
Anyone know what this is ???
thanks!" Abi Smith 20/02/2018
Interesting article and comments.
When did the predecimal coins and paper money become, as legal tender, worthless?
Thanks" James 22/06/2018
There will be more coming on banknotes soon. Apart from the 10s note the other denominations were still legal tender as they were in round pounds and not affected by decimalisation.
However, the Bank of England issued a new series of bank notes £20( 1970), £5 (1973), £10 (1975), £1 (1978) and £50 (1981). The original £1, £5 and £10 (there weren't £20 or £50 notes) were still legal tender in 1971." Steven 22/06/2018
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