The standard circulating coinage of the United Kingdom is denominated in pounds sterling (symbol "£"), and, since the introduction of the two pound coin in 1998, ranges in value from one penny to two pounds. Since decimalisation, on 15 February 1971, the pound has been divided into 100 (new) pence. From the 16th century until decimalisation, the pound was divided into 20 shillings, each of 12 (old) pence. British coins are minted by the Royal Mint in Llantrisant, Wales. The Royal Mint also commissions the coins' designs.
The first decimal coins were circulated in 1968. These were the five pence (5p) and ten pence (10p), and had values of one shilling (1/-) and two shillings (2/-), respectively, under the pre-decimal £sd system. The decimal coins are minted in copper-plated steel (previously bronze), cupro-nickel and nickel-brass. The two pound coin is bimetallic. The coins are discs, except for the twenty pence and fifty pence pieces, which are heptagonal. All the circulating coins have an effigy of Queen Elizabeth II on the obverse, and various national and regional designs, and the denomination, on the reverse. The circulating coins, excepting the two pound coin, were redesigned in 2008, keeping the sizes and compositions unchanged, but introducing reverse designs that each depict a part of the Royal Shield of Arms and form the whole shield when they are placed together in the appropriate arrangement. The exception, the 2008 one pound coin, depicts the entire shield of arms on the reverse. All current coins carry a Latin inscription whose full form is ELIZABETH II DEI GRATIA REGINA FIDEI DEFENSOR, meaning "Elizabeth II, by the grace of God, Queen and Defender of the Faith".
In addition to the circulating coinage, the UK also mints commemorative decimal coins (crowns) in the denomination of five pounds (previously twenty-five pence). Ceremonial Maundy money and bullion coinage of gold sovereigns, half sovereigns, and gold and silver Britannia coins, are also produced. Some territories outside the United Kingdom, that use the pound sterling, produce their own coinage, with the same denominations and specifications as the UK coinage but local designs.
In the years just prior to decimalisation, the circulating British coins were the half crown (2s 6d), two shillings or florin, shilling, sixpence (6d), threepence (3d), penny (1d) and halfpenny (½d). The farthing (¼d) had been withdrawn in 1960.
All modern coins feature a profile of the current monarch's head. The direction in which they face changes with each successive monarch, a pattern that began with the Stuarts. For the Tudors and pre-Restoration Stuarts, both left and right-facing portrait images were minted within the reign of a single monarch. Medieval portrait images tended to be full face.
From a very early date, British coins have been inscribed with the name of the ruler of the kingdom in which they were produced, and a longer or shorter title, always in Latin; among the earliest distinctive English coins are the silver pennies of Offa of Mercia, which were inscribed with the legend OFFA REX "King Offa". The English silver penny was derived from another silver coin, the sceat, of 20 troy grains weight, which was in general circulation in Europe during the Middle Ages. In the 12th century, Henry II established the Sterling Silver standard for English coinage, of 92.5% silver and 7.5% copper, replacing the earlier mediæval use of fine silver. The coinage reform of 1816 set up a weight/value ratio and physical sizes for silver coins. Silver was eliminated in 1947, except for Maundy coinage.
The history of the Royal Mint stretches back over 1100 years. For many centuries production took place in London, initially at the Tower of London, and then at premises nearby in Tower Hill. In the 1970s production was transferred to Llantrisant in South Wales. Historically Scotland and England had separate coinage; the last Scottish coins were struck in 1709 shortly after union with England.
Coins were originally hand-hammered – an ancient technique in which two dies are struck together with a blank coin between them. This was the traditional method of manufacturing coins in the Western world from the pre-Hellenic Greek era onwards, in comparison to Asia where coins were traditionally cast. The first milled (that is, machine-made) coins were produced during the reign of Elizabeth I (1558–1603) and periodically during the subsequent reigns of James I and Charles I, but there was initially opposition to mechanisation from the moneyers who ensured that most coins continued to be produced by hammering. All British coins produced since 1662 have been milled.
The English penny first appeared in Anglo-Saxon times, as a silver coin. It was derived from another silver coin, the sceat, of 20 troy grains weight, which was in general circulation in Europe during the Middle Ages. The weight of the English penny was fixed at 22.5 troy grains (about 1.46 grams) by Offa of Mercia, an 8th century contemporary of Charlemagne. The coin's designated value, however, was that of 24 troy grains of silver (one pennyweight, or 1⁄240 of a troy pound, or about 1.56 grams), with the difference being a premium attached by virtue of the minting into coins. Thus 240 pennyweights made one troy pound of silver in weight, and the monetary value of 240 pennies also became known as a "pound". (240 actual pennies, however, weighed only 5400 troy grains, known as tower pound, a unit used only by mints. The tower pound was abolished in the 16th century.) The silver penny remained the primary unit of coinage for about 500 years.
Over the years the penny was gradually debased until by the 16th century it contained about a third the silver content of a proper troy 24 grain pennyweight.
The medieval penny would have been the equivalent of around 1s 6d in value in 1915. British government sources suggest that prices have risen over 61-fold since 1914, so a medieval sterling silver penny might have the equivalent purchasing power of around £4.50 today, and a farthing (a quarter penny) would have the value of slightly more than today's pound (about £1.125).
From the time of Charlemagne until the 12th century, the silver currency of England was made from the highest purity silver available. Unfortunately there were drawbacks to minting currency of fine silver, notably the level of wear it suffered, and the ease with which coins could be "clipped", or trimmed, by those dealing in the currency.
In the 12th century a new standard for English coinage was established by Henry II — the Sterling Silver standard of 92.5% silver and 7.5% copper. This was a harder-wearing alloy, yet it was still a rather high grade of silver. It went some way towards discouraging the practice of "clipping", though this practice was further discouraged and largely eliminated with the introduction of the milled edge we see on coins today.
By 1696 the currency had been seriously weakened by an increase in clipping during the Nine Years' War to the extent that it was decided to recall and replace all hammered silver coinage in circulation. The exercise came close to disaster due to fraud and mismanagement, but was saved by the personal intervention of Isaac Newton after his appointment as Warden of the Mint, a post which was intended to be a sinecure, but which he took seriously. Newton was subsequently given the post of Master of the Mint in 1699. Following the 1707 union between the Kingdom of England and the Kingdom of Scotland, Newton used his previous experience to direct the 1707–1710 Scottish recoinage, resulting in a common currency for the new Kingdom of Great Britain. After September 15, 1709 no further silver coins were ever struck in Scotland.
As a result of a report written by Newton on September 21, 1717 to the Lords Commissioners of His Majesty's Treasury the bimetallic relationship between gold coins and silver coins was changed by Royal proclamation on December 22, 1717, forbidding the exchange of gold guineas for more than 21 silver schillings. Due to differing valuations in other European countries this inadvertently resulted in a silver shortage as silver coins were used to pay for imports, while exports were paid for in gold, effectively moving Britain from the silver standard to its first gold standard, rather than the bimetallic standard implied by the proclamation.
The coinage reform of 1816 set up a weight/value ratio and physical sizes for silver coins.
In 1920, the silver content of all British coins was reduced from 92.5% to 50%, with a portion of the remainder consisting of manganese, which caused the coins to tarnish to a very dark colour after they had been in circulation for a significant period. Silver was eliminated altogether in 1947, except for Maundy coinage, which returned to the pre-1920 92.5% silver composition.
The 1816 weight/value ratio and size system survived the debasement of silver in 1920, and the adoption of token coins of cupro-nickel in 1947. It even persisted after decimalisation for those coins which had equivalents and continued to be minted with their values in new pence. The UK finally abandoned it in the 1990s when smaller, more convenient, "silver" coins were introduced.
All coins since the 1600s have featured a profile of the current monarch's head. The direction in which they face changes with each successive monarch, a pattern that began with the Stuarts, as shown in the table below:
|Facing left||Facing right|
|Cromwell 1653–1658||Charles II 1660–1685|
|James II 1685–1688||William and Mary 1689–1694
William III 1694–1702
|Anne 1702–1714||George I 1714–1727|
|George II 1727–1760||George III 1760–1820|
|George IV 1820–1830||William IV 1830–1837|
|Victoria 1837–1901||Edward VII 1901–1910|
|George V 1910–1936
Edward VIII 1936
|George VI 1936–1952||Elizabeth II 1952–|
For the Tudors and pre-Restoration Stuarts, both left- and right-facing portrait images were minted within the reign of a single monarch (left-facing images were more common). Medieval portrait images tended to be full face.
There was a small quirk in this alternating pattern when Edward VIII ascended to the throne and was portrayed facing left, the same as his predecessor George V. This was because Edward thought that to be his best side. Many saw this break with tradition as portent of a bad reign. However, Edward VIII abdicated a short while later and his coins were never put into general circulation. When George VI came to the throne, he had his coins struck with him facing the left, as if Edward VIII's coins had faced right (as they should have done according to tradition). Thus, in a timeline of circulating British coins, George V and VI's coins both feature left-facing portraits, although they follow directly chronologically.
All UK coins are produced by the Royal Mint. The same coinage is used across all countries of the United Kingdom (England, Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland). Unlike banknotes, local issues of coins are not produced in these regions. The pound coin until 2008 has been produced in regional designs, but these circulate equally in all parts of the UK (see UK designs, below).
Every year, newly minted coins are checked for size, weight, and composition at a Trial of the Pyx. Essentially the same procedure has been used since the thirteenth century. Assaying is now done by the Worshipful Company of Goldsmiths on behalf of HM Treasury.
As of March 2007, the total value of coinage in circulation is estimated at three and a half billion pounds, of which the £1 and £2 coins account for over two billion pounds. The 1p and 2p coins from 1971 are the oldest standard-issue coins still in circulation.
Coins from the British dependencies and territories that use the pound as their currency are sometimes found in change in other jurisdictions. Strictly they are not legal tender in the United Kingdom and tend not to be accepted by UK traders and some banks. However, since they have the same specifications as UK coins, they are sometimes tolerated in commerce, and can readily be used in vending machines.
UK-issued coins are, on the other hand, generally fully accepted and freely mixed in other British dependencies and territories that use the pound.
An extensive coinage redesign was commissioned by the Royal Mint in 2005, and new designs were gradually introduced into the circulating British coinage from summer 2008. The pre-2008 coins will remain legal tender and are expected to stay in circulation for the foreseeable future.
Since decimalisation on 15 February 1971 the pound (symbol "£") has been divided into 100 pence. (Prior to decimalisation the pound was divided into 20 shillings, each of 12 (old) pence; thus there were 240 (old) pence to the pound. The value of the pound itself was unchanged by decimalisation.)
The first decimal coins — the five pence (5p) and ten pence (10p) — were introduced in 1968 in the run-up to decimalisation in order to familiarise the public with the new system. These initially circulated alongside the pre-decimal coinage and had the same size and value as the existing one shilling and two shilling coins respectively. The fifty pence (50p) coin followed in 1969, replacing the old ten shilling note. The remaining decimal coins — at the time, the half penny (½p), penny (1p) and two pence (2p) — were issued in 1971 at decimalisation. A quarter-penny coin, to be struck in aluminium, was proposed at the time decimalisation was being planned, but was never minted.
The new coins were initially marked with the wording NEW PENNY (singular) or NEW PENCE (plural). The word "new" was dropped in 1982. The symbol "p" was adopted to distinguish the new pennies from the old, which used the symbol "d" (from the Latin denarius, a coin used in the Roman Empire).
In the years since decimalisation a number of changes have been made to the coinage. The twenty pence (20p) coin was introduced in 1982 to fill the gap between the 10p and 50p coins. The pound coin (£1) was introduced in 1983 to replace the Bank of England £1 banknote which was discontinued in 1984 (although the Scottish banks continued producing them for some time afterwards; the last of them, the Royal Bank of Scotland £1 note, is still in production as of early 2006). The designs on the one pound coin change annually in a largely five-year cycle.
The decimal half penny coin was demonetised in 1984 as its value was by then too small to be useful. The pre-decimal sixpence, shilling and two shilling coins, which had continued to circulate alongside the decimal coinage with values of 2½p, 5p and 10p respectively, were finally withdrawn in 1980, 1990 and 1993 respectively.
In the 1990s the Royal Mint reduced the sizes of the 5p, 10p and 50p coins. As a consequence, the oldest 5p coins in circulation date from 1990, the oldest 10p coins from 1992 and the oldest 50p coins come from 1997. Since 1997, many special commemorative designs of 50p have been issued. Some of these are found fairly frequently in circulation and some are rare. They are all legal tender.
A circulating bimetallic two pound (£2) coin was introduced in 1998 (first minted in, and dated, 1997). There had previously been unimetallic commemorative £2 coins which did not normally circulate. This tendency to use the two pound coin for commemorative issues has continued since the introduction of the bimetallic coin, and a few of the older unimetallic coins have since entered circulation.
There are also commemorative issues of crowns. Before 1990 these had a face value of twenty-five pence (25p), equivalent to the five shilling crown used in pre-decimal Britain. However, in 1990 crowns were redenominated with a face value of five pounds (£5) as the previous value was considered not sufficient for such a high-status coin. The size and weight of the coin remained exactly the same. Decimal crowns are generally not found in circulation as their market value is likely to be higher than their face value, but they remain legal tender.
In 2008, UK coins underwent an extensive redesign, which changed the reverse designs, and some other details, of all coins bar the £2. The original intention was to exclude both the £1 and £2 coins from the redesign because they were "relatively new additions" to the coinage, but it was later decided to include the £1 coin. This was the first wholesale change to British coinage since the first decimal coins were introduced in April 1968, in keeping with an unwritten convention that the coin designs should be changed every 40 years to keep the coinage fresh. The new coins were initially to be put into circulation in late spring of 2008, although they did not actually start to appear until the summer of 2008.
The major design feature was the introduction of a reverse design shared across six coins (1p, 2p, 5p, 10p, 20p, 50p), that can be pieced together to form an image of the Royal Shield. This was the first time a coin design had been featured across multiple coins in this way. Completing the set, the new £1 reverse features the Shield in its entirety. The effigy of the Queen, by Ian Rank-Broadley, continues to appear on the obverse of all the coins.
On all coins, the beading (ring of small dots) around the edge of the obverses has been removed. The obverse of the 20p coin has also been amended to incorporate the year, which had been on the reverse of the coin since its introduction in 1982 (giving rise to an unusual issue of a mule version without a date at all). The orientation of both sides of the 50p coin has been rotated through 180 degrees, meaning the "bottom" of the coin is now a corner rather than a flat edge. The numerals showing the decimal value of each coin, previously present on all coins except £2 and £1, have been removed, leaving the values spelled out in words only.
The redesign was the result of a competition launched by the Royal Mint in August 2005, which closed on 14 November 2005. The competition was open to the public and received over 4,000 entries. The winning entry was unveiled on 2 April 2008, designed by Matthew Dent. Dent's initials can be seen on the new coinage. The Royal Mint stated the new designs were "reflecting a twenty-first century Britain". An advisor to the Royal Mint described the new coins as "post-modern", something that could not have been done 50 years previously.
The redesign was criticised by some for having no specifically Welsh symbol (such as the Welsh Dragon), because the Royal Shield does not include a specifically Welsh symbol. Wrexham MP Ian Lucas, who was also campaigning to have the Welsh Dragon included on the Union Flag, called the omission "disappointing", and stated that he would be writing to the Queen to request that Royal Standard be changed to include Wales. The Royal Mint stated that "the Shield of the Royal Arms is symbolic of the whole of the United Kingdom and as such, represents Wales, Scotland, England and Northern Ireland." Designer Dent stated "I am a Welshman and proud of it, but I never thought about the fact we did not have a dragon or another representation of Wales on the design because as far as I am concerned Wales is represented on the Royal Arms. This was never an issue for me."
The designs were also criticised for not including a portrayal of Britannia, the female personification of Britain whose image has appeared on British coinage continuously since 1672. In response to the concern over the loss of Britannia, the chairman of the Royal Mint Advisory Committee stated "There are 806 million Britannias in circulation at the moment [on the old 50p coin]. They will remain in circulation. They will see all of us out, until they die a natural death. So whatever happens, Britannia stays around".
The Royal Mint's choice of an inexperienced coin designer to produce the new coinage was criticised by Virginia Ironside, daughter of Christopher Ironside who designed the previous UK coins. She stated that the new designs were "totally unworkable as actual coins", due to the loss of a numerical currency identifier, and the smaller typeface used.
|One penny||20.30 mm||1.52 mm (bronze)
1.65 mm (copper-plated steel)
|3.56 g||Bronze (1971 – September 1992)
Copper-plated steel (September 1992 – present)
|Two pence||25.90 mm||1.85 mm (bronze)
2.03 mm (copper-plated steel)
|7.12 g||Bronze (1971 – September 1992)
Copper-plated steel (September 1992 – present)
|Five pence*||18.00 mm||1.70 mm||3.25 g||Cupro-nickel||Milled||1990|
|Ten pence*||24.50 mm||1.85 mm||6.50 g||Cupro-nickel||Milled||1992|
|Twenty pence||21.40 mm||1.70 mm||5.00 g||Cupro-nickel||Smooth, Reuleaux heptagon||1982|
|Twenty-five pence||38.61 mm||2.89 mm||28.28 g||Cupro-nickel||1972 (commemorative, not in general circulation)|
|Fifty pence*||27.30 mm||1.78 mm||8.00 g||Cupro-nickel||Smooth, Reuleaux heptagon||1997|
|One pound||22.50 mm||3.15 mm||9.50 g||Nickel-brass||Milled with variable inscription and/or decoration||1983|
|Two pounds||28.40 mm||2.50 mm||12.00 g||Inner: Cupro-nickel
|Milled with variable inscription and/or decoration||1997 (issued 1998)|
|Five pounds||38.61 mm||2.89 mm||28.28 g||Cupro-nickel||1990 (commemorative, not in general circulation)|
* The specifications and dates of introduction of the 5p, 10p and 50p coins refer to the current versions. These coins were originally issued in larger sizes in 1968, 1968 and 1969 respectively.
With their high copper content, the intrinsic value of pre-1992 1p and 2p coins increased with the surge in metal prices of the mid-2000s, until by 2006 the coins, would, if melted down, have been worth about 50% more than their face value. (To do this, however, would be illegal, and they would have had to be melted in huge quantities to achieve significant gain.) In subsequent years the price of copper fell considerably from these peaks.
All modern British coins feature a profile of the current monarch's head on the obverse. There has been only one monarch since decimalisation, Queen Elizabeth II, so her head appears on all decimal coins, facing to the right (see also Monarch's head, above). However, three different effigies have been used, reflecting the Queen's changing appearance as she has aged. These are the effigy by Arnold Machin until 1984, that by Raphael Maklouf between 1985 and 1997, and that by Ian Rank-Broadley since 1998.
All current coins carry a Latin inscription whose full form is ELIZABETH II DEI GRATIA REGINA FIDEI DEFENSOR, meaning "Elizabeth II, by the grace of God, Queen and Defender of the Faith". The inscription appears on the coins in any of several abbreviated forms, typically ELIZABETH II D G REG F D.
From 2008 the circle of dots between the lettering and the rim was removed.
The original standard-issue decimal coinage reverse designs are as follows:
Up until the 2008 redesign, the reverse designs of the one pound coin have followed a five-year cycle (although no coins were issued in 1998 or 1999). This cycle successively represents each of the four constituent countries of the United Kingdom, namely England, Scotland, Northern Ireland and Wales, with a royal design used in every fifth year:
|Royal designs||Themed designs|
|1983: Royal coat of arms||Plants||1984: Thistle||1985: Leek||1986: Flax||1987: Oak|
|1988: Crown over Royal shield||Plants||1989: Thistle||1990: Leek||1991: Flax||1992: Oak|
|1993: Royal coat of arms||Regional symbols||1994: Lion Rampant||1995: Welsh dragon||1996: Celtic cross||1997: The three lions|
|1998: Royal coat of arms||Regional symbols||1999: Lion Rampant||2000: Welsh dragon||2001: Celtic cross||2002: The three lions|
|2003: Royal coat of arms||Bridges||2004: Forth Bridge (railway)||2005: Menai Suspension Bridge||2006: MacNeill's Egyptian Arch||2007: Gateshead Millennium Bridge|
The 1p, 2p, 5p, 10p, 20p and 50p coin designs post 2008 each depict a part of the Royal Shield, and form the whole shield when they are placed together in the appropriate arrangement. The Royal Shield is seen in its entirety on the £1 coin.
The 1p, 2p, 20p and 50p coins have smooth edges. The 5p, 10p, £1 and £2 coins have milled edges. The milling, in combination with the non-circular shape of the 20p and 50p, serve as the primary means of identification and differentiation between coinage for blind or visually impaired people. Historically, milling also served to discourage coin clipping.
The £1 coin and £2 coins have, inscribed into the milling, words or a decoration related to their face design. Many issues of the £1 coin carry one of the following edge inscriptions:
The standard-issue £2 coin carries the edge inscription STANDING ON THE SHOULDERS OF GIANTS. Other designs of the coin are issued from time to time to commemorate special events or anniversaries. These may have special edge inscriptions relevant to the theme, or the edge inscription may be replaced by a decorative motif.
Circulating fifty pence and two pound coins have been issued with various commemorative reverse designs, typically to mark the anniversaries of historical events or the births of notable people. (The two pound coin was previously minted in non-circulating commemorative issues.) The one pound coin "bridge" series can also be considered commemorative, but these were the standard designs for their year of issue, rather than supplementing a standard-issue coin as has been the case for the 50p and £2 coins.
Three commemorative designs were issued on the large version of the 50p: in 1973 (the EEC), 1992–3 (EC presidency) and 1994 (D-Day anniversary). Commemorative designs on the smaller 50p coin have been issued in 1998 (twice) and from 2000 to 2007 yearly. For a complete list, see Fifty pence (British decimal coin).
Commemorative £2 coins have been regularly issued since 1999, two years after the coin's introduction. One or two designs have been minted per year, with the exception of none in 2000, and four regional 2002 issues marking the 2002 Commonwealth Games in Manchester. As well as a distinct reverse design, these coins have an edge inscription relevant to the subject. The anniversary themes are continuing until at least 2009, with two designs announced. For a complete list, see Two pounds (British decimal coin).
Outside the United Kingdom, the British Crown dependencies, consisting of the Isle of Man and the Channel Island bailiwicks of Jersey and Guernsey, use the pound sterling as their currencies. However, they produce their own local issues of coinage, in the same denominations and to the same specifications as the UK, but with different designs. The island of Alderney also produces occasional commemorative coins. See coins of the Jersey pound, coins of the Guernsey pound, coins of the Manx pound and Alderney pound for details.
The pound sterling is also the official currency of the British overseas territories of South Georgia and the South Sandwich Islands, British Antarctic Territory and Tristan da Cunha. South Georgia and the South Sandwich Islands produces occasional special collectors' sets of coins. In 2008, British Antarctic Territory issued a £2 coin commemorating the centenary of Britain's claim to the region.
The currencies of the British overseas territories of Gibraltar, The Falkland Islands and Saint Helena/Ascension — namely the Gibraltar pound, Falkland Islands pound and Saint Helena pound — are pegged one-to-one to the pound sterling but are technically separate currencies. These territories issue their own coinage, again with the same denominations and specifications as the UK coinage but with local designs, as coins of the Gibraltar pound, coins of the Falkland Islands pound and coins of the Saint Helena pound.
The other British overseas territories do not use the pound as their official currency.
Although these coins are in practice very rarely found in circulation, they are for convenience described with the circulating coins, above.
Maundy money is a ceremonial coinage traditionally given to the poor, and nowadays awarded annually to deserving senior citizens. There are Maundy coins in denominations of one, two, three and four pence. They bear dates from 1822 to the present and are minted in very small quantities. Though they are legal tender in the UK, they are never encountered in circulation. The pre-decimal Maundy pieces have the same legal tender status and value as post-decimal ones, and effectively increased in face value by 140% upon decimalisation. Their numismatic value is much greater.
The traditional bullion coin issued by Britain is the gold sovereign, formerly a circulating coin with a face value of one pound. The Royal Mint continues to produce gold sovereigns and half sovereigns, with 2008 list prices of, respectively, £215 and £110.
Since 1987 a series of bullion coins, the Britannia, has been issued, containing one troy ounce, half ounce, quarter ounce, and one-tenth ounce of fine gold at a millesimal fineness of 917 (22 carat) and with face values of £100, £50, £25, and £10.
Since 1997 silver bullion coins have also been produced under the name “Britannias”. The alloy used is Britannia silver (millesimal fineness 958). The silver coins are available in 1 ounce, 1⁄2 ounce, 1⁄4 ounce, and 1⁄10 ounce sizes.
The Royal Mint also issues silver, gold and platinum proof sets of the circulating coins, as well as gift products such as gold coins set into jewellery.
Before decimalisation in 1971, the pound was divided into 240 pennies rather than 100, though it was rarely expressed in this way. Rather it was expressed in terms of pounds, shillings and pence, where:
Thus: £1 = 240 pence. The penny was further subdivided at various times, though these divisions vanished as inflation made them irrelevant:
Using the example of five shillings and sixpence, the standard ways of writing shillings and pence were:
The sum of 5/6 would be spoken as "five shillings and sixpence" or "five and six".
The abbreviation for the old penny, d, was derived from the Roman denarius, and the abbreviation for the shilling, s, from the Roman solidus. The shilling was also denoted by the slash symbol, also called a solidus for this reason, which was originally an adaptation of the long s. The symbol "£", for the pound itself, is derived from the first letter of the Latin word for pound, libra.
A similar pre-decimal system operated in France, also based on the Roman currency, consisting of the livre (L) sol (s) and denier (d). Until 1816 the same system was used in the Netherlands, consisting of the gulden (f) stuiver and duit.
In the years just prior to decimalisation, the circulating British coins were:
The crown, half crown, florin, shilling and sixpence were cupro-nickel coins (in historical times silver or silver alloy); the penny, halfpenny and farthing were bronze; and the threepence was a twelve-sided nickel-brass coin (historically it was a small silver coin).
Some of the pre-decimalisation coins with exact decimal equivalent values continued in use after 1971 alongside the new coins, albeit with new names, (the shilling became equivalent to the 5p coin, with the florin equating to 10p). The others were withdrawn almost immediately. The use of florins and shillings as legal tender in this way ended in 1990 when the 5p and 10p coins were replaced with smaller versions. Indeed, while pre-decimalisation shillings were used as 5p coins, for a while after decimalisation many people continued to call the new 5p coin a shilling, since it remained 1/20 of a pound, but was now worth 5p instead of 12d. The pre-decimalisation sixpence, also known as a sixpenny bit or sixpenny piece, was rated at 2½p but was demonetised in 1980.
Some pre-decimalisation coins or denominations became commonly known by colloquial and slang terms, perhaps the most well known being bob for a shilling, and quid for a pound. A farthing was a mag, a silver threepence was a joey and the later nickel-brass threepence was called a threepenny bit (pronounced /θrʌpni/, /θrʊpni/ or /θrɛpni/ bit); a sixpence was a tanner , the two-shilling coin or florin was a two-bob bit, and the two shillings and sixpence coin or half-crown was a half dollar, also sometimes referred to as two and a kick. A value of two pence was universally spoken as tuppence, a usage which is still heard today, especially among older people.
Quid remains as popular slang for one or more pounds to this day in Britain in the form "a quid" and then "two quid", and so on. Similarly, in some parts of the country, bob continued to represent one-twentieth of a pound, that is five new pence, and two bob is 10p.
The introduction of decimal currency caused a new casual usage to emerge, where any value in pence is spoken using the suffix pee: e.g. "twenty-three pee". Amounts over a pound are normally spoken thus: "five pounds forty". A value with less than ten pence over the pound is sometimes spoken like this: "one pound and a penny", "three pounds and fourpence". The slang term "bit" has disappeared from use completely: decimal denomination coins are described using the terms piece or coin, for example "a fifty-pee piece", a "ten-pence coin".
Coins with errors in the minting process that reach circulation are often seen as valuable items by coin collectors.
In June 2009 the Royal Mint estimated that between 50,000 and 200,000 dateless 20 pence coins had entered circulation, the first undated British coin to enter circulation in more than 300 years. It resulted from the accidental combination of old and new face tooling in a production batch, creating what is known as a mule, following the 2008 redesign which moved the date from the reverse (tails) to the obverse (heads) side.
From a very early date, British coins have been inscribed with the name of the ruler of the kingdom in which they were produced, and a longer or shorter title, always in Latin; among the earliest distinctive English coins are the silver pennies of Offa of Mercia, which were inscribed with the legend OFFA REX "King Offa". As the legends became longer, words in the inscriptions were often abbreviated so that they could fit on the coin; identical legends have often been abbreviated in different ways depending upon the size and decoration of the coin. Inscriptions which go around the edge of the coin generally have started at the center of the top edge and proceeded in a clockwise direction. A very lengthy legend would be continued on the reverse side of the coin.
More recent legends include the following, in unabbreviated form:
In addition to the title, a Latin or French motto might be included, generally on the reverse side of the coin. These varied between denominations and issues; some were personal to the monarch, others were more general. Some of the mottos were: