Sunday 16 April 2023

P is for Pounds, Shillings and Pence!

Welcome to Day 16 of my April A to Z Blog Challenge!


A Victorian Scotland theme...

P is for Pounds, Shillings and Pence! In the United Kingdom...and the Penny Post!

Ah, yes that old money that lasted in nearly the same form from 1850 till the 15th February, 1971, when decimalisation took place.

The money system in the United Kingdom pre-decimalisation was quite a complicated one. The older generations (at 71, I name myself one of them) remember what it was like to have to count money in your head. As a mid-teenager in 1967, working in a shop in the city centre of Glasgow, there was a large till to add cash to, or remove change from, but the calculations had to be done in my head. People handled cash with care and attention since every penny, and half-penny counted!

My character, Margaret, in Edinburgh 1851, had only a couple of extra coins to work with than in my pre-decimalisation days. I'll make an attempt to show the differences below with references to 1851 in BOLD. 

Paper Notes in 1951

Notes above £20 were rare in circulation for most of the public, though not unheard of (£50; £100). £20 notes were around, but were of high value and only used occasionally. The £10 note was in circulation though more often transacted were the paper £5 (Fiver), £1, and 10 shilling notes.


Before 1844, in England and Wales, privately owned banks issued their own notes. Pre-1844/1845 the bank notes tended to be white. They were a promissory note between the person receiving the money, and the person 'handing over' the amount from their bank account. [A similar system existed in Scotland and Ireland]

After the Bank Charter Act 1844 was passed, exclusive powers for note issuing were handed to the Bank of England. [This did not apply in Scotland and Northern Ireland but, in 1845, a Bank Charter Act allowed three different Retail Scottish Banks, and four different Irish Retail Banks to issue their own notes, pegged to the values of the Bank of England.]

By 1855 (England and Wales) bank notes were all printed by Bank of England and were able to be transacted more widely with the promise of the bearer receiving the money without their personal name being on the transaction note, as before. The money could change hands more freely with the Bank of England having the responsibility of sorting out accounts when notes were issued to a customer, on demand. 

[A similar system was established in Scotland and Ireland]

During the second half of the 1800s, a £2 and a £1 note were issued by the Bank of England but not on a regular basis. 

At the outset of WWI, the British government issued a £1 note and a 10/- note (a ten shilling note; a ten ‘bob’ note). These notes replaced the £1 sovereign, and the half-sovereign coin, which were no longer minted.

Back to 1951. 


There was a nominal value still in use for a Guinea, though there had been no note or coin in circulation for this for more than a century. A 'Guinea' was worth £1 and 1 shilling (21 shillings). Originally a Guinea was a gold coin of specified purity and weight. Around 1815, the coinage was recalibrated and the guinea was no longer minted as its value had fluctuated so much during the centuries of use, due to the changes in the price of raw gold.

p.s. When I worked in Birrells, a sweet shop in Glasgow in 1967, some very large boxes of chocolates were still priced at one Guinea. Larger boxes of chocolates; baskets of fresh fruit; flowers; were items that I learned to gift wrap in coloured foil, adding a pretty bow as a flourish. The Glasgow Royal Infirmary was just along the road and there were quite a few very lucky patients who received those gifts. (along with some lucky ladies who may not necessarily have been the wives of the businessmen who shopped at Birrells on Buchannan Street!)

Before 1851 Guinea coins may still have been in circulation, though new minting had long ceased. In the late 1700s, there had been a 5 Guinea coin (worth 100 shillings), though it's debatable how many of these would have been tendered in 1851. 

£5 Coins

A special £5 coin was issued in 1821, and there were further issues, sporadically, till just after the death of Queen Victoria in 1901. Any £5 coins during this time (and later) were mainly collectables and would rarely have been tendered.

Early in Queen Victorian's reign the 'Una and the Lion' coin (image above) became famous among collectors of this value coin. The obverse side has the head of Victoria facing left, and the reverse side facing left shows Victoria leading the lion. 

Back to Coins in 1951

There was no pound coin in 1951, but the coins were as follows, from highest to lowest:

[1 pound (sovereign) = 20 shillings]

1 crown = 5 shillings (4 crowns = 1 pound) [2 crowns to a 10 shilling note] n.b. crowns were discontinued in 1965, though remained mainly commemorative for some years.

1 half-crown = 2 shillings 6 pence  (8 half-crowns = 1 pound)

1 florin  = 2 shillings (10 florins in 1 pound) [not minted after 1968] [a two-bob bit, two-shilling piece]

Scottish shilling reverse 1966

1 shilling = 2 sixpences (40 sixpences in 1 pound)

1 sixpence = 2 three-penny bits (pronounced thrupp’nny) [80 three-penny bits in a pound]

thrupp'nny bit

silver threepence 1899

n.b. There had been a silver three-penny coin, replaced by a brass one.

1 shilling =12 pennies (240 pennies in £1)

1 penny = 2 half-pennies (pronounced ha’penny) [480 ha’pennies in £1]

1 half-penny = 2 farthings (960 farthings in £1)

Victoria farthing 1893

For some of Queen Victoria’s reign half-farthings were issued but they were not popular as they were so tiny and easy to lose.

Complicated? It definitely was. And I've not covered what else might have been in circulation, though extremely rare, when my character Margaret goes to Edinburgh in 1851. 

Charles Dickens was a master at showing just how tortuous calculations could be. Click HERE to read of some of the exploits of Dicken's characters when discussing money! The site also has loads of other coinage information.  

I'm tagging in a little about the Penny Post! Before the Victorian era, there had long been a postal system for sending letters and documents around Great Britain. It had it's moments, though, and was inefficient. The 'Penny Post' of novels and journals set up towards the end of the 1600s only served to send paper communication within the city of London, and some of its immediate suburbs, for the price of one penny. 

Early in Queen Victoria's reign things changed. 1839/ 1840 saw major reforms to the postal service. Across the whole of the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Ireland letters could be sent for a uniform price of 'One Penny' for pre-paid post; and two pence (the plural of penny) if the recipient paid on delivery. The first adhesive postage stamp, THE PENNY BLACK (attributed to Rowland Hill), came into use, making it the world's first-ever postage stamp.

After only months of using the PENNY BLACK, it was decided that it was not a good colour choice as the franking marks were difficult to see, so in 1841, the colour was changed to bright red. Thus the PENNY RED came into use and was used for decades during Victoria's reign. As with coinage, her image changed on the stamp as she grew older.

Penny Red- probably post 1871
edge perforation was a development

The short duration of use of the PENNY BLACK has what made it so....incredibly valuable now. 

Decimalisation in 1971 made counting money a whole lot easier in the UK. And yet, in 2023, a shop assistant will obediently count out what the till tells them is the correct change! It is, however, even easier in 2023 to make a purchase using 'plastic' (credit card type), or via a mobile phone account, as in contactless transactions. 

There are too many numbers above to list what notes and coins are presently changing hands in the UK but, as one who has used both systems, a number system based on ten is so...much easier.  

I need a rest after that, so till next time…enjoy! 

p.p.s. Any mistakes are my own, though I hope I didn't make any!


No comments:

Post a Comment

Thank you for reading my blog. Please pop your thoughts about this post in the comment box. :-)