Pre-decimal British Money

“Mr. Cole!” bellowed Colonel Fitzwilliam. The farmer had already passed into the public house, but Mr. Cole dutifully came back outside.

“Yes,” he nodded, though he did not look pleased.

The Colonel was fishing through his waistcoat pockets. “Mr. Cole…I will pay you,” he looked down at the assortment of coins in his hands. “I will pay you a crown and a half,” coins clinked, “…two bob, and…” Fitzwilliam attempted to count through the pennies but then shook his head. “…assorted pence to drive us to Netherfield Hall right now.”

“Just to drive you up to the Hall?” Mr. Cole asked in astonishment; his entire demeanor changed.

“To Netherfield, yes!” agreed Colonel Fitzwilliam.

“I will,” answered the farmer, eager now. The Colonel passed over the three half-crown coins, two shillings, and assorted pence in his hands to the astonished Mr. Cole. He and Elizabeth climbed up behind him in the trap and began riding the short distance to Netherfield Hall.


When I wrote the above scene, a snippet from All’s Fair in Love and War and Death, I didn’t anticipate spending half a day researching pre-decimal British money. But I found myself first having to understand the rate of pennies to shillings and shillings to pounds (or guineas) and then learning about the different coins.

But I wanted it to sound authentic as Fitzwilliam was in a hurry and needed to induce Mr. Cole to immediately drop his focus on a tankard and take Elizabeth and him to Netherfield. I also needed to understand what a basic daily wage was for the time (two shillings a day). So the seventeen shillings and assorted pennies offered is a bonus of eight times Mr. Cole’s daily wage. Not bad for merely delaying his drink.

German postcard detailing the various British coins from early 20th century.

Equivalents

20 shillings to a ‘pound,’ or sovereign

21 shillings in a guinea

12 pennies in a shilling

Shillings and pence are written as s/d (‘d’ comes from the Roman denarius)

Example: 2 shillings, 4 pence would be 2s/4d or 2/4

Coin denominations

(Note: not all coins were in circulation together at any given time)

Guinea=twenty-one shillings

Sovereign=twenty shillings

Half-guinea= ten shillings, sixpence

Half-sovereign= ten shillings

Seven shillings= 1/3 of a guinea

Crown= five shillings

Half-crown= two shillings, sixpence

Florin= two shillings (equivalent to 24 pennies)

Sixpence= six pennies

Groat= four pennies

Threepenny/ threepence/thr’pence= three pennies

Half-groat= two pennies

Penny/pence= one penny

Halfpenny/ halfpence/ha’penny= half a penny, i.e. 2 halfpence=1 penny

Farthing= quarter penny, i.e. 4 farthing = 1 penny

Nicknames

penny = “copper”

sixpence = “tanner

shilling = “bob”

paper pound = “quid”

threepence “joey”

florin = “two bob bit”

“pound” = “A pound sterling thus weighed 240 pennyweights, or a pound of sterling silver.” Old English Money.

References

Chard, Lawrence. (2019 August 20). A Brief History of Coinage in Britain. Chards. https://www.chards.co.uk/blog/brief-history-of-british-coins/464/713

Old English Money. ProjectBritain. http://projectbritain.com/moneyold.htm

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