Pound sterling

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The pound sterling (GBP; £ or ) is the official currency used in the United Kingdom. It is also used in British overseas territories, Isle of Man, Bailiwicks of Guernsey and Jersey. The pound is divided into 100 pence.

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.

Etymology[change | change source]

A pound coin originally weighed one troy pound of sterling silver. This is why it is called "pound sterling". "Sterling silver" means mixed metal that has 92.5% or more real silver. One pound sterling was originally divided by 240 sterling pence. This was because there are 240 pennyweights in a troy pound. So a single one–pound coin weighed one troy pound and a single 1–penny coin weighed one pennyweight.

The Latin word for "pound" is libra. The £ or ₤ is a stylised writing of the letter L, a short way of writing libra. This is similar to how a pound of mass is abbreviated "lb". Up until around the 1970s, especially on typewriters or keyboards without a "£" symbol, it was common to write "L" instead of "£".

The symbol for pennies is p (pronounced "pee" like the letter). The British write 50p or £0.50 and say it "fifty pee".

The old system[change | change source]

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:

  • 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".

Coins[change | change source]

(Following the Great Recoinage of 1816)

Units Pence Shillings Pounds
Quarter Farthing 116d 1192/- £13,840
Third Farthing 112d 1144/- £12,880
Half Farthing 18 196/- £11,920
Farthing 14 148/- £1960
Halfpenny 12 1124/- £1480
Penny 1d 112/- £1240
Threepence 3d 14/- £180
Groat 4d 13/- £160
Sixpence 6d 12/- £140
Shilling 12d 1/- £120
Florin 24d 2/- £110
Half Crown 30d 2/6 £18
Double Florin 48d 4/- £15
Crown 60d 5/- £14
Half Sovereign 120d 10/- £12
Sovereign 240d 20/- £1
Double Sovereign 480d 40/- £2
Quintuple Sovereign 1,200d 120/- £5

Notes[change | change source]

(Following the Great Coinage of 1816)

Units Pence Shillings Poundst
Ten Shilling Note 120d 10/- 12
One Pound Note 240d 20/- £1
Two Pound Note 480d 40/- £2
Five Pound Note 1,200d 120/- £5
Ten Pound Note 2,400d 200/- £10
Fifteen Pound Note 3,600d 320/- £15
Twenty Pound Note 4,800d 400/- £20
Twenty Five Pound Note 6,000 520/- £25
Thirty Pound Note 7,200d 600/- £30
Forty Pound Note 8,400d 800/- £40
Fifty Pound Note 9,600d 1000/- £50
One Hundred Pound Note 16,600d 2000/- £100
Two Hundred Pound Note 33,200d 4000/- £200
Three Hundred Pound Note 49,800d 6000/- £300
Five Hundred Pound Note 120,000 10,000/- £500
One Thousand Pound Note 240,000d 20,000/- £1,000

Decimalisation[change | change source]

In circulation before 1971 were the halfpenny, penny, threepence, sixpence, shilling, florin, crown, sovereign, ten shilling note, and the one, five, 10, 20 and 50 pound notes.

The crown and sovereign were legal currency before 1971. By then they were commemorative coins and not commonly found in circulation. They are both still legal currency at a value of 25 pence and £1 respectively.

In 1971, the pound sterling of the United Kingdom and the Irish Pound of Ireland were decimalised (divided into 100). Most coins were de-monetised. £1 was equal to 100 pence after then. One shilling became 5 pence, remaining 120 of £1. £1 stayed the same.

Decimal currency[change | change source]

Units Value Mintage Notes
Halfpenny 1/2p 1971-1984 No Longer Legal Tender
Penny 1p 1971-present
Two Pence 2p 1971-present
Five Pence 5p 1968-present Equal to Shilling (1s)
Ten Pence 10p 1968-present Equal to Florin (2s)
Twenty Pence 20p 1982-present Equal to Double Florin (4s)
Fifty Pence 50p 1969-present Equal to Half Sovereign (10s)
One Pound £1 1983-present Equal to Sovereign (£1)
Two Pounds £2 1988-present Equal to Double Sovereign (£2)
Notes Value
One Pound Note £1
Five Pounds Note £5
Ten Pounds Note £10
Twenty Pounds Note £20
Fifty Pounds Note £50