Pre-1971 British and Irish Currency

Teaching Assistant: Patrick Mooney
English 150
Fall 2013

Prior to 15 February 1971 (Decimal Day in the UK and Ireland), the British and Irish pounds were subdivided not into 100 pence, but into 240, though it was more common to express this in terms of pounds, shillings (120 pound) and pence (112 shilling). For much of its time as a British colony, Ireland used the British pound (notably through much of the 19th and early 20th centuries), though the Irish pound was at many times a separate currency. The history of the exchange rate between the Irish pound (when it was in use) and the British pound (or pound sterling) is complex, and the currencies were not always exchanged in a 1:1 ratio.

Nevertheless, the two currencies were subdivided in the same way and often used the same names to denote the same fraction of the currency in question. This table shows common coinages and vocabulary into which the pound was subdivided, as well as some slang terms for various coins and brief notes on usage. This table is not comprehensive, but should (I hope) make discussions about money more comprehensible.

AmountValue equivalentsNotationPronunciationNames for the unitNotes
1 pound and 1 shilling21 s. or 252 d.£1 1 s. guineaThe value of the guinea actually fluctuated a fair amount over its history, and this history is rather complex. No longer issued as money after 1816, though some luxury goods have their price quoted in guineas to this day. James Bond has been known to bill clients in guineas, for instance. More commonly, horses and other livestock may have their prices quoted in guineas. The value quoted is the contemporary understanding of a guinea’s value (£1.05).
£120 shillings20/- pound, pound sterling, quidThe sign £ comes from the Latin phrase libra(e), scale
 240 pence240 d or (informally) 240 p   
1 sovereign £ 1  Equivalent to the pound, but usually issued as a commemorative, rather than a circulating, coin.
1 shilling (1 s.)£ 1201 s.  s. from Latin solidus.
 12 pence (12 d.)12 d. or (informally) 12 p   
1 penny (written 1d.)£ 12401 d. or (informally) 1 p. penny, pence; often, informally, pead. from Latin denarius. Originally, 240 silver pennies weighed one pound, which is the origin of the division of a pound into 240 pence.
three shillings plus six pence 3/6 or 3 s. 6 d.three and six  
ten shillings plus six pence 10/6 or 10 s. 6 d.ten and six 10/6, if you recall, is what is written on the Mad Hatter’s hat in Lewis Carroll's Alice in Wonderland. The joke, often lost to modern readers (and viewers), is that he has not removed the price tag from his hat.
five shillings exactly 5/- or 5 s.five shillingscrown
five shillings exactly£ 14, or 60 d.5/- or 5 s. crown, dollarOften a commemorative, not a circulating, coin.
two shillings sixpence£ 182/6 or 2 s. 6 d. half-crown, half-dollar, two and a kick 
two shillings exactly£ 110, or 24 d.2/- or 2 s. florin 
one shilling£ 120, or 12 d.1/- or 1 s. shilling, bob 
sixpence£ 1406 d. tanner, kick 
threepence£ 1803 d. or 3 pthree pence; three pennies; occasionally thruppencejoey; threepenny bit 
twopence£ 11202 d. or 2 poften tuppence  
one penny£ 1240, or 112 s.1 d. or (informally) 1 p.   
one half penny£ 1480, or 124 s.12 d.often hay-pennyha’pennyNo longer legal tender in Britain as of 1969.
one quarter penny£ 1960, or 148 d.¼ d. farthing, magNo longer legal tender in Britain after 31 December 1960.