The pound was so named because it was the value of one pound (weight) of "sterling silver". This is why it is called "pound sterling". "Sterling silver" means mixed metal that has 92.5% or more real silver. The sign for the pound is £ which is similar to a capital L because libra is the Latin for pound. The symbol for pennies is "p" (pronounced "pee" like the letter). The British write 50p or £0.50 and say it "fifty pee".
Today's coins are 1 penny, 2 pence, 5 pence, 10 pence, 20 pence, 50 pence, £1 and £2. The notes are £5, £10, £20 and £50.
The old system [change]
The pound has only been divided into 100 pence since 1971. Before this time it was divided into 20 shillings. Each shilling was divided into 12 pennies.
The symbols for shilling and penny came from Roman coins: "s" for shilling (from the Latin word "solidus") and "d" for penny (from the Latin "denarius"). The penny was divided into 4 farthings. The farthing became obsolete (was no longer used) in 1961 because it was worth so little.
Coins just before the change in 1971 were: 1/2d (ha'penny), 1d (one penny), 3d (threepence; the coin was called a "threepenny bit" or "thrup'ny bit"); 6d (sixpence); 1s (one shilling, also called one "bob"); 2s (a florin); 2s6d (half a crown).
How prices were written and pronounced in the old system [change]
- ½d (half a penny) was pronounced "haypenny" (spelt: ha'penny)
- 2d (two old pennies) was always pronounced "tuppence"
- 3d (three old pennies) was pronounced "threpence or thrupence" (spelt threepence or thruppence)
- One shilling was written "1/–" (sometimes called a "Bob").
- Prices in shillings and pence were pronounced like this: 2/6 (or: 2s6d) "two and six" (or: "two shillings and sixpence").
- The price £4 6s 3¾d was pronounced: "four pounds six shillings and threpance three-farthings"
There was also a "guinea". Originally the guinea was an old gold coin. Although the coin had been obsolete for a long time, prices were still sometimes given in guineas. A "guinea" was 21s (or £1 1s 0d). A price of 58 guineas was, in fact, £60 18s 0d, which sounds more than "58 guineas".