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Pre-decimal currency

For the majority of English (and eventually British) history, a pre-decimal monetary system based on pounds, shillings and pence was used. In this pre-decimal currency, one pound sterling was divided into twenty shillings, and one shilling into 12 pence. This meant there were 240 pennies to the pound.

Pre-decimal currency in Britain contained a vast array of coins over the years, with denominations and names changing as coins came and went. Learn more about some of the old coin names used in Britain's pre-decimal currency.

A breakdown of how the UK's pre-decimal currency worked.

For much of Britain's history our pre-decimal currency was made from gold or silver. These precious metals were common to use in coinage around the world, with the gold standard and silver standard being one of the most popular monetary systems. As the years progressed other metals, such as copper and bronze, began to appear for the smaller pre-decimal currency coins.

After the two World Wars, precious metals became much scarcer and were slowly phased out of pre-decimal British currency in favour of cupro-nickel Following decimalisation, shillings were no longer used and the pound was instead equivalent to one hundred pennies. Precious metal coins were then produced for investors and collectors rather than currency.

When did UK currency begin?

The UK’s pre-decimal currency system is claimed to date from ancient Roman times. The Romans at that time used coins denominated in the Latin words librae, solidi and denarii. Similar to our eventual system, one Roman librae was divided into twenty solidi, and one solidi into twelve denarii. It was because of this that the pre-decimal currency was abbreviated to £sd or Lsd - pounds, shillings, pence.

An old till showing pre-decimal currency of pounds, shillings and pence.

Pre-decimal currency UK

Below is a list of some of the main pre-decimal currency UK coins. For a full list, check out our UK coins page, which includes pre and post-decimalisation currency.

The major pre-decimal currency coins listed below include some that were withdrawn long before the 1971 decimalisation but were very commonly used. Some of the withdrawn coins, for instance Sovereigns, have been minted after decimalisation as purely commemorative, collectable and investment coins.

Name Value Notation Nickname Dates Composition
Farthing 1/4 pence 1/4d Joey Early 1700s - 1960 Tin, Copper, Bronze
Half-Penny 1/2 pence 1/2d Ha'penny Early 1700s - 1969 Copper, Bronze
Penny 1 pence 1d 1707 - 1971 Silver, Copper, Bronze

2 pence

2d 1351 - 1797 Sterling Silver, Copper
Threepence 3 pence 3d Joey, Thru'pence and Threepenny bit 1547 - 1970 Silver, Nickel-Brass
Groat 4 pence 4d 1351 - 1846 Silver
Sixpence 6 pence 6d Tanner or Sixpenny bit 1551 - 1980 Silver, Cupronickel
Shilling 12 pence 1/- Bob 1503 - 1990 Silver, Cupronickel
Florin (Two Shillings) 24 pence 2/- 1849 - 1993 Silver, Cupronickel
Half-Crown 30 pence 2/6 Two and six, half a dollar 1549 - 1970 Silver, Cupronickel
Crown 60 pence 5/- 1526 - 1990 22 Carat Gold, Silver
Sovereign 1 pound £1 1817 - 1914 22 Carat Gold
Pound Note 1 pound £1 A Quid 1797 - 1988 Paper
Guinea 1 pound and 5 pence 21/- 1717 - 1816 22 Carat Gold
Five Pounds 5 pounds £5 A Fiver 1793 - Present Paper