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The 'nana bunch

Celebrating Forty Years of Pounds and Sense

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by , 24 Feb 2011 at 4:00 am (1769 Views)
Tanner, shilling, florin, half-sovereign... These names and many more besides have been with the British public for centuries, still used today by many people in their forties or older, as well as in films and programs where directors attempt to recreate the 'authentic' feel of street markets and raggedy urchins.

This month, Britain celebrates 40 years since decimalisation. February 15th 1971, the UK "went decimal" and 2000 years of everyday currency was turned into history overnight. Shoppers had help signs pinned up in shops to help them convert from one system to the other, and the money in your pocket suddenly wasn't worth what it had been the night before.

The system that was used seems confusing to those of us who've grown up in the eminently sensible era of 100 pence to a Pound. Why on earth was there the seemingly random of 240 pence to a Pound previously? The 'old money' links right the way back to ancient times, with the Romans having decided on such a system which they then introduced to Britain. The idea hung on into the Anglo-Saxon period, which gave us the first penny. The lasting legacy of the Roman denarius can be seen in the use of "d" as the abbreviation for the British penny up until decimalisation: .s.d for Pounds, shillings and pence. This is sometimes listed as L.s.d.

Farthings, halfpennies, groats, crowns and guineas... it's like any of our old measurement systems, it just seems unnecessarily confusing. I know that if you're brought up with an idea of how it works then you get used to it, but decimalisation definitely seems easier to deal with. I have been to places where 'old money' is still in 'circulation' like Victorian re-enactment exhibits, and been totally lost by it all.

I talked about this with my parents and they said that while they know how the current system works and they are more than comfortable with it, they still find themselves thinking in old money even now. Having to change solid notions of the value of things isn't something that comes easy, and I hope an easier unit doesn't come along in my lifetime, as I know I wouldn't want to deal with the change.


  1. Katajainen's Avatar
    Thank you for the entry!

    I have had several random encounters with U.K. "old money" in my life, including when I read "Charlie and the Chocolate Factory" (probably in the late eighties) and when I got to arrange dad's less valuable old stamps (possibly a bit earlier). It was pretty confusing for a child to see similar queen profiles, some of them marked with a number and a d, others with a number and a p and then hear that both were abbreviations of pence. Nobody around knew where the d could have come from.

    The idea of 1 pound = 20 shillings = 240 pence was easier to digest, offering a taste of an exotic logic from a different era -- almost like something in a fantasy book.
    Updated 6 Mar 2011 at 1:03 pm by Katajainen
  2. hinarei's Avatar
    thanks for the reply! It feels like an entirely different world to me, even though it happened only ten years before I was born. References to old currency crop up everywhere...

    being of the decimal age, anything not expressed in terms of percentage just gives me a headache.

    now you know where the d came from
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