Calculating - Old Money
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Olivetti 15 £sd
Olivetti 20 £sd
Olivetti Decimal
£ s d
Pre-decimal money - pounds, shillings and pence.
The old currency now seems rather odd with its 12 pence to a shilling and 20 shillings to a pound but there was a structure to the system. There were three units of currency, the pound, the shilling and the penny. The largest unit was the pound (£1). There were multiples of this, such as 5 pounds. Higher values were rare before the 1960s.
The pound was divided in half (ten shillings). Half of this was a crown, which was only issued to mark special occasions. The half crown, however, was in general circulation. So we had £1, halved = 10/- or 10s (ten shillings), halved again = 5/- or 5s (crown), halved once more = 2/6d or 2s 6d (half crown). The middle unit was the shilling. This too was halved (6d), and halved again (3d). The smallest unit was the penny (1d) which was halved (½d or halfpenny) and had until 1960 been halved again to a quarter of a penny (¼d called a farthing).
The odd one out was the 2 shilling coin. This had been introduced in the nineteenth century as the florin, a name that stayed in common use, and was to have been the basic unit for a decimal currency to replace the pound. In the event decimalization did not occur until 1971 by which time inflation had reduced the florin's value and it became the 10 pence piece (10p).
Prices were sometimes shown in guineas, a guinea being one pound and one shilling. 20 guineas looked less than the 21 pounds it really was but there was no coin or note. Sums over a pound might be expressed in shillings, for instance 50/- (fifty shillings) for £2/10/-. In the 1950s, when most tailors used guineas to imply quality, one chain branded itself as The Fifty Shilling Tailor in order to show its affordability.
Causing confusion among foreign tourists, counting in £sd was second nature to those of us who grew up with it. No calculators in those days, we did the sums in our heads!
Two farthings   A halfpenny Pronounced  
¼d + ¼d   ½d a haypny  
Two halfpennies   One penny A penny  
½d + ½d   1d two = tuppence  
Three pennies   Threepence Pronounced thruppence  
1d + 1d + 1d   3d A thruppenny bit  
Two threepenny bits   Sixpence A sixpence  
3d + 3d   6d Slang: a tanner  
Two sixpences   A shilling Slang: more than one as  
6d + 6d   1s or 1/- bob, eg five bob  
Two shillings   Two shillings Slang: two bob  
1s + 1s or 1/- + 1/-   2s or 2/- or a florin  
Two shillings and sixpence   Half a crown also called a half crown  
2s + 6d or 2/- + 6d   2s 6d or 2/6 or two and six  
Four half crowns   Ten shillings (not to same scale)  
2s 6d + 2s 6d + 2s 6d + 2s 6d or 2/6 + 2/6 + 2/6 + 2/6   10s or 10/- Slang: ten bob  
Two ten shilling notes   One pound (not to same scale)  
10s + 10s or 10/- +10/-   £1    
Several different designs of each coin could be in circulation at the same time. It was common to see coins from throughout the twentieth century with their different monarchs on the heads side.
Notes also changed but did not last as long so only one design of each would generally be in use.
There were a lot of different ways to express money, both verbally and in writing. Written amounts in pence were always followed by the letter d, such as 1d, 3d, 6d, 10d. Amounts in shillings could be written as 1s or 1/-, 14s or 14/-. Combinations of shillings and pence were written as 1/3d or 1s 3d (one and threepence), 15/6d or 15s 6d (fifteen and six) for example. Amounts including pounds could appear as £1/19/11d or £1 19s 11d (one pound, nineteen and eleven). Note the use of a dash instead of a zero, as in 18/- for eighteen shiilings (and no pence).
When talking, people would join the number of pence and the word pence together. For example, tuppence (two pence), threepence (pronounced thruppence), fourpence etc.. When shillings and pence were used together, the word shilling was generally dropped. So too could the word pence. For example seventeen-and-sixpence or seventeen-and-six but seldom seventeen-shillings-and-sixpence. Halfpenny was pronounced haypny.
In addition, there were words to describe certain amounts. A sixpenny piece was often called a tanner, a two shilling piece two bob and a ten shilling note ten bob. A shilling was not generally called a bob but scouts and cubs held "bob-a-job weeks" where they did odd jobs for small donations. Some things seemed to fit a particular value, such as six pennyworth of chips, a shilling for the meter - and spending a penny cost exactly that.
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