Having a drink recently with some colleagues, we got to talking out the ‘old money’ – LSD. Pounds, shillings and pence. Of course, my colleagues laughed when I referred to it as LSD; they were younger than I and were thinking of something else.

The UK changed from LSD to decimal currency on 15 February 1971. I was struggling to remember the origins of the old coinage. I remember ha’pennies and my Mum used to talk about farthings. And, of course, there is the brides’ rhyme for their wedding day:

Something old, something new
Something borrowed, something blue
Silver sixpence in your shoe

We had LSD in this country since the Norman Conquest, but it was Henry II who introduced the system we had up until 1971. We called it LSD because the pound (L or £) was derived from the word Libra, a Roman unit of weight. The s was a shilling, denoted /- (the slash is also known as a solidus). The d was for the pennies, from a Roman coin called the denarius.

When Henry II introduced this system, it was based on Troy weights, an old system of weighing precious metals. A penny was one pennyweight of silver, and 240 pennyweights of silver. Thus, there were 20 shillings to the pound, and 12 pence to the shilling, 240 pence to the pound, but it didn’t stop there, as in most currencies, there were other coins, and some of them had nicknames:

Farthings (a corruption of “fourthings” – a quarter of a penny)
Ha’pennies (a corruption of “half pennies”)
Threepenny bits (three pence. I was rather fond of these 12 sided coins with a portcullis on one side)
A groat (Fourpence)
A tanner (a six penny piece)

A shilling was also known as a “bob” (has anyone heard of “bob a job week?”)
Florin (two shillings)
Half a crown (two shillings and six pence)
A crown (five shillings)
A 10 shilling note, before that a half Sovereign coin.
£1 was called a Sovereign aka a “quid.”
A Guinea (£1 1/- or £1 and 1 shilling, it was called a Guinea because it was originally a gold coin, made from gold from the Guinea coast)

Even when we changed to decimal currency, we still had nicknames, some of which had been around since LSD:

Currency Nickname Cockney Rhyming Slang
6d tanner Tartan Banner
£1 nicker
£5 fiver Lady Godiva
£10 tenner Paul McKenna or Ayrton Senna
£25 pony
£50 Half a ton
£100 Ton
£500 a monkey
£1000 a grand

Adding up in the old currency was fun – you had to add the penny’s column in 12s, the shillings column in 20s. I am sure it improved our maths. Will we revert to LSD after Brexit? I doubt it. It would be an added complication. Alas, I fear, libra and denarius, as well as shillings, are lost to us forever.

© Susan Shirley 2018


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