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GOLDEN AGE AND DECLINE OF THE BRITISH COINAGE

The United Kingdom introduced the pre-decimal system in its currency in 1967. The golden age of British coinage came to an end that year.

Why considering that the application of the decimal system to English currency led to its decline ? Because trough that choice, admittedly rational since it was in the air at that time, Britannia turned her back on a tradition which had been maintained for several centuries. According to this tradition, twelve pennies were necessary to equal a shilling, thus twenty shillings were worth a pound. The penny was the basical coin. These monetary equivalences were instituted in the Middle Ages. In the West, 12 denarius or deniers equalled a sou or shilling, and 20 sous made a pound or a besant. The denarius was in bronze, the sou in silver and the pound (or besant) in gold. Likewise, in the nineteenth century England, the penny is in bronze, the shilling in silver and the sovereign was in gold. The English currency couldn't be more traditionalist. Nevertheless, under the reign of George VI, the sovereign was struck only once, in 1937. It may have been considered giving the sovereign up. It reappeared in 1957, at the effigy of Queen Elizabeth II. In 1937, the three silver pence is reformed and struck in an aluminium and bronze alloy. From 1947, English coins which were made of silver were made of coppernickel from that year. Their design remained the same. In 1956, the farthing, small bronze coin, worth a quarter of a penny, was considered obsolete and was abandonned. Thus, when the decimal system was adopted between 1967 and 1971, this currency was already uninteresting. The entrance of the pound sterling in the decimal system was the deathblow of a currency whose golden age ended in the thirties.

Table of equivalences in the Middle Ages. As the denarius was the unity, we have the following diagram :

½ denier = 1 maille

denier

12 deniers = 1 sou

240 deniers = 20 sous = 1 pound (or besant)

Table of monetary equivalences between the main English coins* until 1971 :

½ penny

and

¼ of a penny = 1 farthing

penny

12 pennies = 1 shilling

240 pennies = 20 shillings = 1 pound (or sovereign)

* I don't mention the three pence, the six pence, the florin, the half crown nor the crown, which are all made of silver.

 

Below a table representing the last predecimal English coins :

Below a scan of those same coins :

 

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