In with the new…

I watched his brain fry and his eyes glaze. Lsd has that effect on the uninitiated.

“It damned near is psychedelic…” said my son as I explained its mysteries. The complexity of working with the pounds, shillings and pence of pre-decimal currency… which we wrote as ‘L’, ‘s’ and ‘d’ in our primary school maths lessons… is enough to boggle any mind unused to adding and subtracting in anything other than units of ten. The ‘L’ was actually supposed to be the traditional pound (£) sign, the ‘s’ was for shillings and the ‘d’ for the old Roman denarius stood for the pennies.

I could understand his reaction… as I demonstrated how bizarre the mathematics of ‘old’ money seems to modern eyes, even while I marvelled at how deeply ingrained those early maths lessons had become. Decimalisation here took place in 1971, the ‘old’ money disappeared, and I haven’t had to do anything more complicated than straight maths since.

At school, from the earliest age, we had learned both standard mathematical addition, subtraction, division and multiplication and the same operations with the ever-so-slightly more convoluted requirements of our archaic but much-loved currency.

Where now we have a simple one hundred pennies to the pound and no non-numerical sub-divisions, before decimalisation, each pound consisted of twenty shillings of twelve pence each. Or you might find things priced in guineas, which were units of twenty-one shillings.

To make things even more interesting, in addition to pennies, shillings and pounds, when I was born there were farthings, of which there were four to the penny, ha’pennies or half pennies, ‘thruppenny bits’ which were worth three pence, sixpences or ‘tanners’, florins (two shillings), half crowns (two shillings and sixpence) and crowns (five shillings). That was without the ‘ten bob’ or occasional pound note that granny sipped into your birthday card if you were very lucky.

“I know why you are good at mental arithmetic now,” said my son.

Quite apart from the mind-boggling mathematics involved in any kind of accounting, the coinage was, for the most part, large, unwieldy and heavy. On the up side, you were always aware of what money you had… there was none of this flashing of plastic back then. You knew what you had to play with every week and I think the physical weight of the coins reminded you to value the fact that you had them at all, while plastic distances you from that understanding.

The change to decimal currency was not liked. The ‘new’ money was catechised as play money…there was neither weight nor substance to the coinage and your purse and pockets felt light. There were awful and expensive anomalies where traders, not understanding the new currency…or trying to make a fast buck from those who didn’t… simply changed to the same price in new currency… making, for example, a one shilling purchase cost twelve new pence, the equivalent of around two shillings and fivepence. Many people, used to working with the maths of old money, could not get to grips with the simplicity of the new coinage or the value conversions.

The conversation with my son had started with the trend towards a global and digital currency that seems to be a logical next step and with which many organisations are already experimenting.  As we are already using ‘virtual’ money daily, with credit and debit cards being flashed over readers and purchases being made online, it seems inevitable that, at some point, the process of transferring funds between banks and businesses behind the scenes will be simplified. Perhaps coinage will disappear altogether in favour of sci-fi -esque ‘credits’.

Although I eventually welcomed the change to a simpler system back in the seventies, I did love the old coins. They had presence and character… and a lot of folklore attached to them. I showed my son the one old coin I carry everywhere in my purse, one of a pair of coins my grandmother gave me on my wedding day to put in my shoe.  One was a silver sixpence that I passed on to my erstwhile daughter-in-law on her wedding day, the other a silver threepenny piece from 1878, bearing the head of the young Queen Victoria. Granny’s gift was a bit of sympathetic magic… if you walk on silver, you will never be completely without money. The same logic applied to bringing in a silver coin with the coal and Christmas cake at New Year or placing a coin in the pocket of every new coat or purse.

Although we still have coins, many of those old traditions are now dead or dying, which seems a shame to me. Change is inevitable as the world turns, and many of the changes that we anticipate with dread turn out to be positive… like the simplified maths and relative weightlessness of the abhorred ‘new money’. What we tend to forget, though, is the domino effect that accompanies any change… like the loss of traditions and the sense of value in this case. Many of the changes we encounter in life are imposed upon us and we can do nothing except accept and adapt, but the domino race of small changes that follow the main event is often within our control and we can choose how we carry them forward. We can assure the future by carrying a metaphorical coin in our purses, or find our pockets empty.

As for me, I have carried my silver thrupenny piece for forty-five years now… and cannot see that changing any time soon.

About Sue Vincent

Sue Vincent is a Yorkshire-born writer and one of the Directors of The Silent Eye, a modern Mystery School. She writes alone and with Stuart France, exploring ancient myths, the mysterious landscape of Albion and the inner journey of the soul. Find out more at France and Vincent. She is owned by a small dog who also blogs. Follow her at scvincent.com and on Twitter @SCVincent. Find her books on Goodreads and follow her on Amazon worldwide to find out about new releases and offers. Email: findme@scvincent.com.
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46 Responses to In with the new…

  1. barbtaub says:

    I remember visiting England before the new currency. Figuring out how to use the money was just a nonstarter. My technique was to hold out a handful of coinage and ask the vendor to pick out what they needed. Was I ever cheated? If so, I never figured it out. Must’ve been the effect of the LSD!

    Liked by 1 person

    • Sue Vincent says:

      I can only imagine how unusual our complicated currency must have seemed to anyone used to a more rational system 😉 It was bad enough when I moved to France and found that the French used a nice, clean decimal system… but spoke about their currency in values that belonged to another era…

      Liked by 2 people

  2. jenanita01 says:

    I have a halfpenny in my purse, one with the galleon on one side. I kept it because it had the year of my birth on it…

    Like

  3. V.M.Sang says:

    I have pennies, ha’pennies, a half crown and a crown from Queen Victoria’s diamond jubilee. I used to have a silver sixpence, but who knows where it has gone.
    Yes, it was a pain doing calculations in the old money.(and the old weights and measures. 16 ounces to the pound, 14 pounds to the stone, 28 stones to the hundredweight and 20 hundredweights to the ton). But I understand these are still used in the US! It’s so much easier now.

    Like

  4. Reblogged this on Chris The Story Reading Ape's Blog and commented:
    Memories for some, interesting historical facts for others 😃

    Liked by 1 person

  5. Mary Smith says:

    My son had the same reaction as yours! His grandfather had boxes of old coins and I was explaining the system to him. And silver threepenny pieces in Christmas puddings! I was a Saturday girl in Boots when we went decimal and someone was sent from head office to train us in the ‘new money’ system so I learned it well. I still sometimes do a conversion to old money when I want to understand the value of something – like a chocolate creme egg!

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  6. gmvasey says:

    Great memories – except the math! Md Dads Dad used to save his coins every year in three plastic bags – one each for me and my two brothers. It would be 2 – 3 pound in old coins to take on our holiday in the summer but it weighed a tin and I felt soooo rich!

    Like

  7. scifihammy says:

    I enjoyed reading about the old money – as I too had to do those difficult calculations in pounds, shillings and pence as an eight year old. I really don’t think kids today could do it!
    And we played with old farthings too – with the little robin on! 😀

    Like

  8. fransiweinstein says:

    I always put a penny in a new purse or wallet. It was something I remember even my great grandmother doing. Haven’t done it in years though as we no longer have pennies.

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  9. Sadje says:

    This is very interesting! Thanks for sharing Sue.

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  10. Now that was a trip down memory lane, Sue. Used to get such a thrill if someone gave me thruppence or sixpence (it was only after they were gone I learned to call them tanners). And I do remember the confusion that came about from the change to decimal. An awful lot of rounding up too place…

    Like

  11. joylennick says:

    Thanks, Sue. That brought back some fond memories. I remember receiving one pound and five shillings in my first wage packet (aged fifteen!). I gave a pound to Mum and was amazed at what I could buy with the five shillings. Fancy buying a pair of ear-rings in the market for sixpence! Wow.
    Going further back, those little farthings came in handy if you fancied any ‘chews.’ x

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  12. I miss the old money, tanners, bobs, florins and half crowns. They all had a charm of their own. I still convert today’s money to pre decimal. It’s like a reality check on how much things have gone up and changed since 1971. I still have a few ‘bun’ pennies, and a florin dated 1956, my year of birth, on my keyring.
    Best memory was working in the bank and a guy came in with passbook that needed making up….. from 1922! In-house data only went back 15 years, and the account was dormant, so it was a bit of a game….. especially adding up in pounds, shillings and pence!

    Like

  13. Widdershins says:

    One of the good memories I have from my childhood was getting thrupenny ‘bits’ in my slice of Christmas pud … which was probably where my lifelong affinity for custard came from. 😀

    Like

  14. Dale says:

    What a fascinating read! And like your son, my eyes surely glazed over as I tried to understand the maths involved back in the day!

    Like

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