We’re now in the 45th anniversary year of Britain going decimal and thinking about it I realised how much the old money system changed the language.
In old money there were 20 shillings to a pound. A shilling, ‘a bob’ comprised 12 pennies which were halved into a halfpenny, always called a ha’penny. On the reverse was Sir Francis Drake’s flagship the Golden Hind.
The penny could, until January 1, 1960, be divided into quarters, farthings – 960 farthings to a pound.
A penny was always referred to as a copper and blue bags supplied by banks used to have ‘five shillings copper’ printed on them. Sixty coppers were put in the bags. Four bags made a pound.
Old money was also referred to as LSD which came from Latin. The pound sign – L – came from L for libra, S for solidus and D for denarius.
Anyone under 50 would now have a problem with old money so long after D-Day – February 15, 1971.
There was also a threepenny, 12-sided coin called a thruppenny bit, nicknamed a Joey.
Then came the sixpenny coin, always called a tanner which mum wrapped in greaseproof and put in her Christmas puddings.
The sixpence was also called a ‘kick’ as in two shillings and sixpence, two and a kick.
A crown was five bob and went out of circulation some time before decimalisation, but a half-crown, 2s 6d, was called half-a-dollar.
I believe this goes back to when there were four US dollars to the pound. A half-crown was a good sum to give as a tip to taxi drivers and porters.
Smaller than a half-crown was the florin worth two bob.
This was, perhaps, the first attempt at decimalisation as there were 10 to a pound. It was always known as a two-bob bit.
Prices were written as, say, £2-6-4d, but if it was just shillings and pence it would be written 6/4d. A shop assistant would ask for ‘six and four please’.
Paper money came in smaller units than today with red ten-bob notes (10s or 50p today) and a green pound note.
If you had a wallet full of ten-bob notes you would have been a lot richer than having a pocketful of 50p coins today.
We then come to the guinea or one pound one shilling which is still in use today.
Auctioneers and horse dealers were, and I believe still are, paid in guineas.
I am glad to say that me and my mates still use the word ‘notes’ such as: ‘I put in twenty notes of fuel’ or ‘that suit cost me a hundred notes’.