Small change, big history with currency

Nick Wilson is a counsellor and therapist who to coincide with National Mental Health Day is offering drop in sessions for free
Nick Wilson is a counsellor and therapist who to coincide with National Mental Health Day is offering drop in sessions for free

This week I’m going delve into my past because I feel it is of some interest (maybe boring to the young ones) Libri Solidi Denarii - LSD. Not the stuff that has you thinking you’ve got a pair of wings, but Pounds Shillings and Pence. Good old fashioned sterling, English currency. The words are of Latin descent and Solidus and Denarius were both Roman coins. Libri was a pound in weight.

In those days silver was divided into 240 pennyweight or 12 ounces.

Before you ask, “What has ‘L’ got to do with pounds”? A pound in weight is represented by the letter ‘L’. In those days a Pound (£) was also represented by ‘L’. What the ‘L’ that has to do with anything is anyone’s business.

Now can I get on?!

OK, a Penny (1d) was worth a lot to me when I was a child. There were 240 of these critters to a £1, and they weren’t small, that’s a good excuse not to give us many of them as pocket money. To coin a phrase (pun intended there), “Money burns holes in your pockets” is an understatement. If you had too many 1ds in your pocket then it would be the weight of them that causes your pocket to bottom out not the fact they catch fire and burn your legs off.

I almost forgot the 1/2d, two of these made a penny! And 480 made a £1. This is heavy going isn’t it? It is for me because I’m trying to work it all out. If it wasn’t for the internet I’d be here for ever and a day.

Threepence was a coin to the value of 3d. It was a multi-edged object and smaller than the other two coins mentioned. I recall at nine years old my pocket money was increased to 3d. I was rich. I would run down the street to our local sweet shop and I would blow it on all kinds of tooth rotting goodies.

A ‘Tanner’ was equivalent to sixpence (6d) and it was silver and similar in size to a present day 5p coin. A ‘Bob’ was 1 Shilling, equal to 12d; this was also silver and a bit smaller than today’s 10p. A ‘Florin’ was worth two shillings or 24d it was also silver. A ‘Half Crown’ was worth 2s6d or 30d, this was again silver. A ‘Crown’ was worth 5s or 60d; I never saw one of these as they were more commonly minted for special occasions.

Notes came in at 10 shillings, £1, £5 and £10. If you were lucky enough to have a £10 note you were deemed to be well loaded. Consider a new car selling at £500, you can imagine what damage you could do with a tenner. Another term used in pre-decimalisation (and still is at cattle auctions) is the ‘Guinnea’, this is 21s or £1.s1 or £1.05.

All this confusing nonsense came to a historic end on the 15 February, 1971. The UK changed from the century’s old tradition of using 12 pence to the shilling and 20 shillings to the pound to a new decimal 100 new pence to the pound.

Currency as you see it today was phased in over a number of years. When the transition took place you could see the ‘rip off’ effect this had on the working classes, especially us kids. Instead of buying a sweet for 1d it then cost us 1p which was equivalent to 2.4d.

And dear reader that is all there is to pre-decimal currency, a lot of working out, a migraine and no money left to buy any paracetamol.