Old money UK - pounds, shillings and pence

Pounds, shillings and pence

Before 1971 the UK used a pre-decimal currency system. There were farthings, pennies, shillings and half crowns. On 15 February 1971 Britain switched to the decimal system we use today.

The old system became known as 'old money'. People used to say 'how much is that in old money?'

How did old money work?

There were three units of currency: the penny, the shilling and the pound.

The penny was a large bronze coin, but worth a fraction of today's 1p. The shilling was a silver coin. It was the same size as the old 5p.

There were 12 pence in a shilling and 20 shillings in a pound.

That made 240 pence in a pound.

Pounds, shillings and pence
The old money system was based on the pound, the shilling and the penny. (Images not to scale)

How did you write amounts in pounds, shillings and pence?

You wrote £ for pound, 's' for shilling and 'd' for pence.

They are short 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 slash or oblique symbol ('/'). People used it to divide amounts in shillings and pence.

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/- was 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?

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:

10 shilling note 1966
People remembered the old ten shilling note with affection. This is the last style issued from 1961 to 1969.

Farthings, halfpennies and pennies were bronze. The threepenny bit was brass. It had twelve sides.

Before 1937 the threepenny bit was silver. There was a tradition of putting a silver threepenny bit or a 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 a ten shilling note (worth 50p in decimal) £1, £5 and £10 notes.

What about the guinea?

Spade guinea coin, 1798
Spade guinea coin, 1798 Image by Classical Numismatic Group, Inc. www.cngcoins.comlicensed under Attribution-ShareAlike 3.0 Unported.

One guinea was 21 shillings or one pound and one shilling. There were no guinea coins in the twentieth century.

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.

What about the sovereign?

Gold sovereign, 1959
Gold sovereign, 1959 (image public domain)

Gold sovereigns with a face value of £1 and half-sovereigns with a face value of 10 shillings (50p) were legal tender in the 1960s. They remain so today. Although you would be extremely lucky if someone gave you a gold sovereign instead of a pound coin.

In the 1960s only collectors with a licence were allowed to own sovereigns.

How much did things cost in old money?

Callers shop window, Newcastle, 1968
Callers' shop window, Newcastle, 1968 (image public domain)

1970 was the last full year of old money. Britain's pound had much more buying power.

For 1970 prices, think of one shilling as 50p, two shillings as £1 and half a crown as £1.25.

In earlier times, money was worth more. When the war ended in 1945, one shilling was 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 lb3/-
Baked beans lb9d
Kellogg's corn flakes 12oz1/5
Nescafé 2oz2/3
Omo washing powder per lb1/11

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.

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.

Read more:

Slang terms for old money

Bob-a-job
Remember Bob-a-job week? Bob was a slang term for a shilling Image by *Kaye's Imagery*licensed under Attribution-ShareAlike 3.0 Unported (Cropped and enhanced).

You might hear the term bob for a shilling. The Boy Scouts did 'Bob-a-job' week.

Bob-a-job week started in the UK in 1949. Then one shilling was worth £1.30 in today's money.

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.

Bob-a-job week officially ended in 1992.

Another common slang term was a tanner for a sixpence. For more see slang terms for old money


When were £sd coins and notes no longer legal tender?

The Royal Mint withdrew the farthing on 1 January 1961, well before the UK Government made any decision on decimalisation.[1]

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[2] and the half crown from 1 January 1970. [3]

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 [4], 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.

What were the oldest coins in circulation?

One shilling coin 1816
The one shilling coin from 1816, in the reign of George III, was oldest legal tender shilling when Britain went decimal in 1971

Before Britain went decimal in 1971, the oldest legal tender coins were 1816 silver half crowns, shillings and sixpences from George III's reign. The shilling remained legal tender until 1990.

The oldest legal tender florin was the first one from 1849.

Pennies, halfpennies and farthings from 1860 were the oldest bronze coins still legal before 1971.

Why use a non-decimal system?

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

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

Did other countries used old money?

Kenyan shilling, 1966
Kenya still uses the shilling today as its main unit of currency

Yes. Many countries in the British Commonwealth and former Empire used the pounds, shillings and pence system at some point in the past. The Republic of Ireland also used pounds shillings and pence until 1971.

The shilling lives on as the official currency of some African nations. Kenya, Somalia, Somaliland, Tanzania and Uganda all use the shilling. The Kenyan shilling is divided into 100 cents, but no coins are minted today for amounts below 1 shilling.

The Somaliland one shilling coin carries the old style abbreviation 1/-.

Read more about:

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, to be ready for decimalisation, the Royal Mint started to mint decimal coins.

The Mint 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'.

References

[1] The Guardian 31 December 1960 [1]

[2] The Times 30 July 1969, page 20 issue 57625

[3] The Times 31 December 1969, page 1, issue 57755

[4] The Times 3 August 1971, page 4, issue 58240


By Steven Braggs, February 2003, latest update June 2021

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Jakrooster

Hi Steven. The price listed on the dust cover of an old book I have says “25s. net”. What did the net refer to? Tax?

Steven

This is a really good question. It does not refer to tax or VAT and is not related to pounds, shillings and pence. It refers to the Net Book Agreement. Publishers fixed the price and retailers had to sell the book for that price. There were no discounts. The agreement came to an end in the 1990s.

Winston E Lee
Regarding the discussion from 23/02/2015 about the half crown note, I found this link: https://www.mintageworld.com/media/detail/11536-half-crown-banknote-of-king-george-v/
Carol
How much would £30 8s 6d be worth today?
Steven
Hi Carol, In new money it would be £30.42 1/2p. In terms of buying power I'd need to know when what year you are talking about. If it was 1970, a year before decimalisation, then it would be approximately £340. best regards
Steven
Hi Walter, It was the 1/2d that was withdrawn in 1969. Not the 1/2p. The old halfpenny was part of a system where there were 240 pence in the pound. It was replaced by a decimal system in the UK in 1971. A new decimal 1/2 p was introduced in 1971. It was withdrawn in 1984. So you would have seen prices marked with half pennies in the UK in 1983. I hope this helps. Best regards
 
 
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