Units of Measure index

Pre-decimal Sterling

index --- alpha --- intro --- length --- area --- volume --- weight --- money --- angles --- weather --- other --- foreign --- trades --- documents --- metric --- tables

This page describes pre-decimal sterling money. There is a quick convertor below, accurate to 2 decimal places. While this convertor gives the value in old and new money, it does not take any account of inflation. Use the National Archives currency convertor to find the equivalent buying power.

Enter value:   =   ?  

There were two ways of writing the old money. In account books, the columns would be £. s. d. (for pounds, shillings and pence). See Older money to find out where '£' and 'd' came from. However, on price tags, it would usually be written with slashes between the different amounts. Two shillings and sixpence (a half crown) would be 2/6, and would be said as 'Two and six'. It was perfectly clear what was meant. Any sum involving pounds would say so. One pound seven shillings and sixpence would be £1/7/6, and would be called 'One pound, seven and six'. If there were no pennies, then you wrote a dash. Five shillings was 5/-, but here you did say 'Five shillings'. This sloping line was called a solidus which is Latin for a shilling. The Mad Hatter in Alice in Wonderland has a price tag on his hat saying "In This Style 10/6". So this hat would cost ten shillings and sixpence, just over half a pound, and would be called 'Ten and six'. It might be paid for with four half crowns and a sixpence. No-one used decimal points. A half penny was always 1/2 d. Half a shilling was 6d, never 0.5s.

Coins - farthing, half penny, penny, three pence, six pence, shilling, florin, half crown
Notes - ten shilling, one pound, five pound, ten pound
Older money - crown, guinea, groat, sterling
Tables - school tables, modern valid change
Sayings and songs mentioning money

Coins - These were the coins of my childhood. They were mostly were phased out around decimalisation in 1971.
farthing1/4 d0.1p4 farthings = 1 penny
48 farthings = 1 shilling
960 farthings = £1
Farthing The farthing was abolished in January 1961, but I just remember a pink shrimp sweet, blackjack chew or fruit salad chew costing a farthing each. I also saw a pair of shoes for sale at £1/19/113/4 (a farthing under £2). After the farthing was abolished, I noticed that our school books still mentioned them, and realised that books could get out-of-date, a useful lesson when 6 years old. The bird is a wren, the smallest common British bird.
10 farthings weighed an ounce (when new).
half penny1/2 d0.21p2 halfpennies = 1 penny
24 halfpennies = 1 shilling
480 halfpennies = £1
Half penny This was called ha'pence and the coin a ha'penny (pronounced hay-penny). A ha'penny was an inch across and 5 ha'pennies weighed an ounce (when new).
There is a pub game called Shove Ha'penny. It has a wooden board with lines on it an inch apart. You put a ha'penny (often polished on one side) overlapping one edge of the board, then hit it with the base of your palm, so it skids across the board. If it lands between two lines, then it scores. It only works with old ha'pennies.
penny1d0.42p12 pennies = 1 shilling
240 pennies = £1
Penny The figure is Britannia. This is (at present - 2009) on the new 50p piece although they are threatening to replace her.
A penny was 11/4 inches across and 3 pennies weighed an ounce (when new). They were large heavy coins for their value! Pennies and smaller coins were called 'coppers' because of their colour. A correspondent has said that in York, a penny was called a clod.
The name 'penny' has been in use since before the Norman Conquest (1066). See older money.
three pence3d1.25p4 x three pence = 1 shilling
80 threepennies = £1
Three pence Thrift three pence This coin was often called a thruppenny bit, and the amount of money was thruppence. There were different patterns. The portcullis (left) was a Tudor symbol. An older thruppenny bit had a picture of a thrift on it (see right). This is a wild flower, but its name suggests that you should spend your 3d wisely or save it. The thruppenny bits were made of a different metal to either the 'coppers' (the smaller coins) or the 'silver' (the bigger coins). It was also the only coin which was not round. It had twelve sides. There was an older thruppenny coin made of silver, but that had been withdrawn before I was born. It was smaller than the sixpence.
A correspondent told me, "'Thruppence' was an alien sound to our Northern ears; we pronounced it 'thrippence'." Someone else offers 'threppence'. My husband says "'Thruppence' sounds a bit Cockney." Cheek!
An old-fashioned expression for a thruppenny bit was a joey, but I didn't use myself. I've been told by a correspondent that a Joey was the silver threepenny piece. These were considered to be lucky.
six pence6d2.5p2 x six pence = 1 shilling
40 sixpennies = £1
Six pence This coin was called a sixpence. The slang for it was a tanner. A Mars bar used to cost 6d. My pocket money was a penny for each year of my age, so when I was 9 years old, I got 9d. A Mars bar was too expensive for me!
A sixpence was 3/4 inch across and 10 sixpences weighed an ounce (when new), the same weight as a farthing. The coins for 6d and above were called 'silver'. Originally they were made of real silver, but new coins in my childhood were not. The real silver coins were still legal tender, and we could still find them in our change (and cook them in Christmas puddings!)
shilling1/-5p12 pence = 1 shilling
20 shillings = £1
Shilling Scots shilling The slang term for a shilling was a bob.
A shilling was 7/8 inch across and 5 shillings weighed an ounce (when new). That meant that a shilling weighed the same as a ha'penny.
The Scots had their own version of the shilling (right) which was valid currency in England.
florin2/-10p24 pence = a florin
2 shillings = a florin
10 florins = £1
Florin A florin was coin worth two shillings (this was its name, not slang). In Victorian times, some people wanted to decimalise British money. This was rejected, but a coin worth a tenth of a pound was introduced in 1849. It was called a florin because there were coins called florins in Europe at the time. The first florins came from Florence, in Italy. British coins have Dei Gratia or DG on them, meaning that the monarch rules by the grace of God. This was left off the Victorian florin, so it became known as the godless florin! I remember that the half crown seemed to be more popular than the florin.
A florin was 1 1/8 inch across.
half crown2/612.5p30 pence = a half crown
2 s. 6d. = a half crown
8 half crowns = £1
Half crown The coin was called a half crown, but the value was half a crown. It was sometimes called half a dollar. Large numbers of Spanish 8-real coins (the famous 'pieces of eight') were captured during the Napoleonic Wars, and overstruck and re-used by the Bank of England as crowns from 1804-1811. During World War II, when the US dollar was worth about 5 shillings, the half crown (2s 6d) became nicknamed a "half dollar" by US personnel in the UK and thus (re?)adopted by the British. I have heard the dart score of 26 (using 3 darts) called 'Bed & Breakfast'. This is a common score among bad darts players, since the 20 has 5 and 1 on either side. Its name was because it was 'two and six' (another way of saying half a crown), alleged to be the cost of staying in a B&B for a night. That must have been long, long ago! A half crown was 11/4 inch across which was the same as a penny. The half crown was thicker.

Some of the older coins had different patterns. Here are a farthing and half penny of George V, with Britannia, like a penny.

Pre-Elizabeth coins


As a size comparison, here are the pre-decimal coins (left) laid out next to each other, with a modern 1p and 10p on the far left to compare them. You can see how similar in size the florin and half crown were.

These coins were also big and heavy, especially the penny. There are a shilling's worth of pennies on the right, with the equivalent value modern coin by them. These pennies would weigh in total a quarter of a pound or over 100 gms! Men often refused to use purses (receptacles for coins in Britain) and kept their coins in their pockets. The heavy coins would wear holes in the pockets which their long suffering wives would have to mend.

5p worth of old pennies

A coin has a head and a tail. The coins above all show their tails. British coins' heads always show the head of the current monarch. Since decimalisation, that has meant that all coins have Elizabeth II, but before that, you saw several different monarchs (since the older coins were still valid currency).
You may notice (below) that some face to the left, while others face to the right. This was because each monarch faced a different way to the previous. The missing monarch is Edward VIII (between the Georges). It is not surprising that I don't have an Edward VIII coin. He was only King for a few months, and was never crowned, as he abdicated.

Heads of pennies

Victorian pennies

Victoria has a small crown, but the others don't. In the modern coins, Queen Elizabeth is always crowned. In fact, there were two versions of Victorian pennies. The earlier ones were known as Bun pennies, because of her hair style. Of course, both portraits face the same way.

Ten shilling note Pound note


'Note' is the British word for paper money (Americans say 'bill'.) There were notes for ten shillings, a pound, five pounds and ten pounds. I am afraid that I don't have pictures of these. The slang word for a pound was a quid, which was always singular, so £5 was five quid. A £5 note was called a fiver and a £10 note, a tenner. We still use these terms (much to Americans' confusion! I have been asked how many quids there are to the pound.) Another slang term for a pound was nicker, and a ten shilling note (or ten bob note) was a half a nicker. A correspondent said that when he was a boy in East Yorkshire, a nicker was a serious amount of money and often in small shops they assistant had to be sent across the road to the bank or pub to get it changed!

The ten shilling note was brown (see left, top), and was always scruffy and crumpled, as people used to shove them in their pockets with the rest of their change. It was usually called a 'ten bob' note (see shilling). It got withdrawn during decimalisation, and replaced by the 50p coin. The pound note was green (see left, bottom). It survived until 1988, when it was replaced by the modern pound coin. Now we have a two pound coin as well, first issued in 1997. There are £5, £10, £20 and £50 notes.

There were slang terms for larger amounts of money. A pony was £25 and a monkey was £500. I've heard it suggested that this came from the British Raj, since a 500 rupee note had a picture of a monkey on it, and a 25 rupee note had a picture of a pony.

A more common slang term for a lot of money is a grand, which is a thousand pounds. This is still in use, but people sometimes say K instead. (In computer usage, K tends to mean 1024, but it should be 1000.)

Older money

This webpage is concentrating on the coins of my childhood, just before decimalisation in 1971. It does not pretend to give a complete history of British coins. Try Tony Clayton's website for more information. However, below are a few coins or amounts of money that we had heard of or even used in the 1950s and 1960s. See conversion.

Elizabeth II Crown It may have occurred to you to wonder why a half crown was so-called. There was a coin called a crown and it was even legal tender during my childhood, but it was not in common use. It was issued for special occasions, and had a different design each time. It was worth five shillings (or 5/-), so there were four to a pound. These coins date from Elizabeth II on the left, and Victoria on the the right. Crowns were given as presents, or collected, rather than used to buy things. Crown coins are still issued for special occasions, but now they are worth £5. Victorian crown

From 1717 to 1817, there was a coin called a guinea, which was worth 21s (or £1/1/-). It was called that as it was made from gold from the country Guinea. While there was no guinea coin after 1817, I remember from my childhood that prices were sometimes quoted in guineas. This meant they were more expensive than if they were quoted in the same number of pounds! It's still used as the name of some horse races, and is worth £1.05.

We now have a pound coin. There used to be a pound note. Before that, from 1817 to 1917, there was a gold pound coin called a sovereign. In fact, the original sovereign dated from Tudor times (and wasn't necessarily worth a pound), but it was replaced by the guinea. In Victorian times there was also a half sovereign, also gold, which was replaced by a ten shilling (or ten bob) note early twentieth century. This in its turn was replaced yet again by the 50p coin in 1971.

A groat was worth four pennies or a third of a shilling. It was last used in 1855. No-one talked about groats in my childhood, but the word 'tuppence' was often used (which would be half a groat). There was no coin worth this, but you would say that something cost tuppence, and you would pay for it with two pennies (rather than two pence). In the film Mary Poppins, there are songs about tuppence to feed the birds, and for tuppence for paper and string for kites. The new currency has a tuppenny coin, which is worth more - 2p or 4.8d.

Although I am not covering all UK currency, someone told me about the Scottish currency abolished at the Act Of Union 1707:

ScotsValue in Sterling
2 pennies = 1 bodle
2 bodles = 1 plack
3 bodles = 1 bawbee1 bawbee = 1 English halfpenny
2 bawbees = 1 shilling1 Scots shilling = 1 English penny
13 shillings 4 pence = 1 merk
20 shillings = 1 pound1 Scots pound = 20 English pence (1/8)

The Scots shilling (English penny) is still with us as the Gaelic for penny is 'sgillinn'. An English shilling is sgillinn-shasunnach. But 'pound' is just 'not' (pl. notachan). This derivation for 'shilling' contradicts the derivation given below. I am not sure which is correct.

If we go further back, we can see where some of the names of money come from. After 1066, the Norman used their own French coins in Britain, each impressed with a small star. Norman French for little star was esterlin. The pound sterling was a pound weight of esterlin, roughly 240 coins. So esterlin became Anglicised to sterling - the name for the whole currency, and the coin itself was called the penny, its pre-1066 Saxon name. Pennies are believed to be named after King Penda of Mercia. Shilling comes from the Old English 'to divide', as coins were often cut to make smaller denominations.

Anglo Saxon silver penny

These two silver pennies were minted in Cambridge. The coin on the left is Saxon, produced during the reign of King Canute, who reigned from 1016-1035. It was struck by Leofsi (short for Leofsige) and reads Leofsiongrant (Grantabridge was the original name for Cambridge). The coin on the right is Norman and shows William I or William the Conqueror. The minter is Godricongrant, or Godric of Grantbridge.

Norman silver penny

Pre-decimal currency was sometimes called LSD, which was written £-s-d. The pound symbol is an ornate L, from the Latin libra - a pound (weight). This was because a pound (money) was originally a pound (weight) of silver. The penny symbol was 'd' for denarius, a Roman silver coin. Two hundred and forty of the silver pennies above would weigh a pound. In pre-decimal currency, £1 = 240d. Pound (weight) and pound (money) can still sometimes get confused. I have heard a butcher ask a customer if their request for a pound of meat was money or weight (not that they're supposed to weigh meat by the pound, but never mind!)

Roman coinage had a gold coin called an aureus.

1 aureus = 25 denarii = 100 sesterces = 1600 asses
The denarius was a silver coin and is the reason why the abbreviation for an old penny was 'd.'


D-Day or decimal day was 15 February 1971. This does not claim to be a complete account of post-decimal coins. If you want to know more about decimalisation, see Tony Clayton's webpage.

Decimalisation was quite a shock, as we changed from a money system with three basic units (pounds, shillings and pence) to a system of two (pounds and pence). The new system was to be a decimal one, with a hundred pennies to the pound. The old system had 240 pennies to the pound, so something had to change. The pound was kept the same, so the new penny was to be worth 2.4 old pence. This made it hard to work out values after decimalisation. Imagine having to multiply all small prices by 2.4 to understand the new value! The old penny was abbreviated as 'd' (so sixpence was 6d). The new penny was to be abbreviated as 'p', and was referred to as 'new pence' or 'new p'. Now it is just called 'p' (pronounced 'pee'), as in '5p'.

The old coins are listed above. Before 1961, there were 8 coins, but the farthing was withdrawn, so just before decimalisation, for values under a pound, there were seven coins: 1/2 d, 1d, 3d, 6d, 1/-, 2/-, 2/6, and a note: 10/-. These were replaced by six coins: 1/2 p, 1p, 2p, 5p, 10p, 50p.

The new 5p and 10p coins were introduced well before 'decimal day', as they were the same size and had the same value as the coins they replace, the shilling and florin. Shillings and florins were not withdrawn, and continued to be used long afterwards.

Another coin which was introduced early was the new 50p coin. The florin and half crown were still in circulation. The 50p coin's size fell between the old florin and half crown, although it was worth 4 half crowns. The florin and the half crown were already very close in size, only an eight of an inch different, so the three silver coins were very difficult to tell part. However, I think that most people were glad to see the back of the ten bob note, which tended to get scruffy very quickly. The half crown was withdrawn later, before 'decimal day'.

The old half penny was phrased out slightly before 'decimal day', and this caused some problems as a lot of people hadn't realised, and got stuck with them. They were nearly the same size as the two new pence coin. At my place of work, it was a sackable offence if you tried to use a ha'penny in the coffee machine instead of two new pence. I was working as a trainee computer programmer at this time (and no, I didn't get sacked!) and a great deal of work was done to covert all the financial systems to decimal values. I was told then that the shortage of programmers (and hence, their high salaries) was temporary, and that after decimalisation, there would be too many programmers, so I should choose a different career. I'm still waiting for this mythical 'excess of programmers'!

The penny and the three penny bit had no equivalent in the new money, so on 'decimal day' it became harder to use them.

A new half-penny weighed one dram. I don't know if this was intentional! It's now been withdrawn.

Old people hated the new money. I remember for several years after, old people would hand out all their change to a shop assistant and ask them to take the right amount, as they didn't understand these new coins. I never saw anyone being cheated.

We still use 'quid' for pound, but apart from that, modern coins don't seem to have names, either officially (like the old florin) or as slang (like the old bob). Whether this is because they haven't been around long enough, or because we are no longer as interested in the coins of our change, I don't know. However, I have heard from Frederick Cooper, "In my hometown, Liverpool, the 50p piece was called a 'Harold', (Wilson), brought out during his term of office, because it had seven sides and two faces. The later pound coin was called a 'Maggie' (Thatcher), again during the term of office, that she was just common, but attempting to be a sovereign." I'm afraid that you need to be British, and over a certain age, to appreciate these jokes!

There are now eight coins, more than before decimalisation: 1p, 2p, 5p, 10p, 20p, 50p, £1, £2. The new half penny got withdrawn, as it became nearly worthless. A 20p coin got introduced (sometimes called 'the washer' in disgust - it's not a very elegant coin), so did a pound coin and a two pound coin, both liked I think. The 5p and 10p coins were reduced in size, partly because they were worth less, and partly because the original 10p was always too close to the 50p. That has, unfortunately, made the 20p too close to the 5p, and I'm always getting them muddled! The 'coppers' now have steel coins (to make them cheaper to make) so you can magnetise them!

School tables

We would spend HOURS at school learning these and doing money sums. "If an egg cost thruppence ha'penny, then what does a dozen eggs cost?" Since a dozen pennies was a shilling, then a dozen times three and a half was three and a half shillings, or 3/6. The only thing sold in dozens were eggs, so the sum had to be about eggs. In fact, eggs were always sold in boxes, and priced accordingly. Whoever says that schooling used to be better must have forgotten all this wasted effort. (And no, it didn't help your mental arithmetic. I was good at money sums, but still can't do mental arithmetic very well!)

Pence12d18d24d30d36d42d48d 60d 72d84d96d108d120d240d
Shillings1/-1/62/-2/63/-3/64/- 5/-6/-7/-8/-9/-10/-£1

We also had to learn that 20 shillings were a pound, that 21 shillings were a guinea, that a hundred pennies were 8/4 (and I never found a use for that!), then a third of a pound was 6/8 (six shillings and eight pence, not six eighths) and two thirds of £1 = 13/4 (thirteen shillings and four pence).

Legal tender

Legal tender has a very narrow and technical meaning in the settlement of debts. It means that a debtor cannot successfully be sued for non-payment if he pays into court in legal tender. It does not mean that any ordinary transaction has to take place in legal tender or only within the amount denominated by the legislation. Both parties are free to agree to accept any form of payment whether legal tender or otherwise according to their wishes. In order to comply with the very strict rules governing an actual legal tender it is necessary, for example, actually to offer the exact amount due because no change can be demanded.

Notes: In England and Wales the £5, £10, £20 and £50 notes are legal tender for payment of any amount. However, they are not legal tender in Scotland and Northern Ireland (which have their own notes).
CoinsMaximum acceptable
£1 or £2any amount
20p and 50pup to £10
5p and 10pup to £5
1p and 2pup to 20p

Sayings mentioning money

A penny farthing was an ancient bicycle, where the front wheel could be 5 feet across, while the back wheel was only a foot. These wheels looked like the difference in size between a farthing and penny.

The Penny Black was the first postage stamp in Britain, and indeed anywhere in the world. It was first issued in 1840. It was black, with the head of Queen Victoria on it, and it did, indeed, cost a penny. It was paid by the sender, and the envelope could travel anyway in Britain. Before that, the postage was paid by the receiver, and depended on how far it had travelled and how many sheets there were.

"Penny plain, tuppenny coloured" was used about card cut-out toy theatres.

"Spend a penny" meant going to the toilet. Public toilets had locks that could only be opened by inserting an old penny.

"Not worth a brass farthing" - well, a farthing was never worth much, and a brass one even less!

"I haven't got two farthings to rub together" (because I am so poor). When the farthing got abolished, then the saying got changed to "two ha'pennies" instead.

"A penny for your thoughts" is said to someone deep in thought (I don't remember anyone claiming the penny!)

"The penny dropped" means that a person has just realised something. There used to be slot machines for penny bars of chocolate. They had a lever that you turned, and you could hear the penny dropping before you got your chocolate.

"Can I have my pennysworth?" means "Can I interrupt you to say something?" I think you can say "cent's worth" There may be a modern version of "2p's worth".

"Someone turns up like a bad penny" means that they keep visiting you although they're not welcome. (The person who gave me this saying used it of herself, which was not true!). I presume that a bad penny is a forged one. Another correspondent mentions a war grave that simply said "He was a good penny" (i.e. he didn't come back). Heart-breaking!

"Look after the pennies and the pounds will look after themselves". Be careful about small sums of money.

But on the other hand "Penny wise, pound foolish". You get so involved in small sums, you don't realise that you are wasting large amounts of money.

"In for a penny, in for a pound" means if you're going to get involved, then go all the way. These penny/pound sayings could still be used, of course. An American told me that these expressions were used in her childhood, much to the children's bewilderment, since they thought that a pound was a weight!

A similar expression: "Go the whole hog". A correspondent tells me "A long time ago the shilling coin used to be quartered with grooves enabling it to be broken into four pieces worth 3d each. (Thus a bit of a shilling was 3d or a 'Thrupenny bit'.) The shilling coin had the sovereign's head on one side and a pig on the other. (I can remember my Old Man referring to two shillings as a couple of 'og.) If you squandered a whole shilling at once you went 'the whole hog'." There may be other explanations for this phrase, such as a poem of William Cowper, or buying meat from a butcher.

"Half a sixpence" doesn't mean three pence. Couples would make love tokens by breaking a sixpence in half. Sometimes in folk songs, this was used to recognise your lover after many years at sea, since the two halves of the sixpence matched.

Boy scouts would collect money by doing "bob-a-job", meaning simple chores such as washing the car or cleaning shoes for a shilling. (If this seems a very small sum of money, remember that there has been inflation since then.)

If you are "quids in" then you are happy with the situation.

"You look as if you'd lost a shilling and found sixpence." Sixpence was worth less than a shilling, so you look unhappy!

"That must be worth a few bob" means that must be worth a lot of money. Now we would say "That must be worth a few quid."

A "fourpenny one" means a blow or a punch, possibly a black eye. It was not a coin pre-decimalisation, but long ago, it was a groat.

You can look "as fine as fivepence (or ninepence)". Neither five pence or nine pence were coins! Five pence is a coin nowadays, but this was an old saying. There was also a saying "as neat as ninepence", so perhaps the two sayings got muddled up. Apparently, the ninepence was originally a British shilling minted under Queen Elizabeth I and intended for circulation in Ireland. The coin so depreciated in value, however, that it was used as a nine-penny piece in England. It was used as a love token, but whether that had anything to do with the saying, I don't know. I suspect that people just enjoyed the alliteration. The words five and nine are easily muddled if not said clearly; wartime signallers would say 'fife' and 'niner' instead to distinguish them. This may explain the muddle.

A correspondent tells me about "Sitting here like tripe at nine pence". I'm not sure what this means - possibly nine pence used to be expensive for tripe (it wouldn't be now), so tripe priced that high wouldn't get sold - it would hang around.

"Ten pence to the shilling" is the same as "one brick short of a load" (since a shilling was 12 pence).

"Bent as a nine bob note" is an old expression, referring to 'bent' either meaning illegal or possibly homosexual (since homosexuality used to be illegal). A bob was a shilling, and while there was a ten shilling note, there wasn't a nine bob note.

Thrupenny bits or thrupennies was a slang reference to a ladies bosom. This would be rhyming slang, of course.

There's an interesting saying which has cropped up since decimalisation. When the money changed, people often weren't sure what the price of something meant, since they weren't thinking in the new money yet, so they would ask "What's that in old money?" However, I've noticed people using the same expression when talking about metric units. So "That's 2 kilos." - "What's that in old money?" Presumably this expression will vanish when all of us who remember the confusion in the early 1970's are no more. Unless we go over to the Euro!
Latest about this (2012) - I've started noticing younger people saying "What's that in new money?" - the opposite!

"Pound" is ambiguous since it can mean a pound in money or a pound weight. This was because a pound of money was originally a pound of silver. I have heard someone in a butcher ask for "a pound money" or "a pound weight" of meat, or the butcher ask which is required. Of course, we ought to be using kilo for weight!

Songs mentioning money

There are songs for different times of year mentioning money.

Good Friday Hot Cross Buns,
Hot Cross Buns,
One a penny, two a penny,
Hot Cross Buns.
If you have no daughters,
Give them to your sons,
One a penny, two a penny,
Hot Cross Buns.
Guy Fawkes Day Remember, remember the Fifth of November
Gunpowder treason and plot
I see no reason why gunpowder treason
Should ever be forgot.
Penny for the Guy!
Christmas Christmas is coming,
The goose is getting fat.
Please put a penny in the old man's hat.
If you haven't got a penny, a ha'penny will do.
If you haven't got a ha'penny, a farthing will do.
If you haven't got a farthing, then God bless you.

In songs and rhymes, there seems to have been a particular affection for the sixpence:

Sing a song of sixpence, a pocket full of rye,
Four and twenty blackbirds baked in a pie.
When the pie was opened, the birds began to sing.
Wasn't that a dainty dish to set before a king?

There was a crooked man,
Who walked a crooked mile.
He found a crooked sixpence
Beside a crooked stile.

He bought a crooked cat,
Who caught a crooked mouse,
And they all lived together
In a little crooked house.

I've got sixpence,
A jolly jolly sixpence,
I've got sixpence to last me all my life.

I've got tu'pence to lend
And tu'pence to spend
And tu'pence to send home to my wife.

Tuppence was popular as well, although it wasn't a coin. It is mentioned in the Mary Poppins songs and in this old favourite:

Half a pound of tuppenny rice
Half a pound of treacle.
That's the way the money goes,
Pop goes the weasel.

These songs mentioning pennies could show how much a penny was worth, although they may just be nonsense:

Simple Simon met a pieman
Going to the fair;
Says Simple Simon to the pieman,
"Let me taste your ware."

Says the pieman to Simple Simon,
"Show me first your penny."
Says Simple Simon to the pieman,
"Indeed, I have not any."

See Saw, Marjorie Daw,
Jenny shall have a new master,
She shall have but a penny a day,
Because she can't work any faster.

The farthing, the smallest coin of all:

Buttons, a farthing a pair!
Come, who will buy them of me?
They're round and sound and pretty,
And fit for girls of the city.
Come, who will buy them of me?
Buttons, a farthing a pair!

"Oranges and lemons" say the bells of St Clements
"You owe me five farthings" say the bells of St Martins
"When will you pay me?" say the bells of Old Bailey.
"When I grow rich," say the bells of Shoreditch.
"When will that be?" say the bells of Stepney.
"I do not know," says the great Bell of Bow.

Here is a favourite poem by A.A.Milne from my childhood. It wasn't until I read this poem to my son that I realised how much it had influenced my adult attitude towards money!

Market Square I had a penny, a bright new penny.
I took my penny to the market square.
I wanted a rabbit, a little brown rabbit,
And I looked for a rabbit 'most everywhere.

For I went to the stall where they sold sweet lavender
("Only a penny for a bunch of lavender!").
"Have you got a rabbit, 'cos I don't want lavender?"
But they hadn't got a rabbit, not anywhere there.

I had a penny, and I had another penny,
I took my pennies to the market square.
I did want a rabbit, a little baby rabbit,
And I looked for rabbits 'most everywhere.

And I went to the stall where they sold fresh mackerel
("Now then! Tuppence for a fresh-caught mackerel!").
"Have you got a rabbit, 'cos I don't like mackerel?"
But they hadn't got a rabbit, not anywhere there.

I found a sixpence, a little white sixpence.
I took it in my hand to the market square.
I was buying my rabbit (I do like rabbits),
And I looked for my rabbit 'most everywhere.

So I went to the stall where they sold fine saucepans
("Walk up, walk up, sixpence for a saucepan!").
"Could I have a rabbit, 'cos we've got two saucepans?"
But they hadn't got a rabbit, not anywhere there.
I had nuffin'. No, I hadn't got nuffin'.
So I didn't go down to the market square;
But I walked on the common, the old-gold common...
And I saw little rabbits 'most everywhere!

So I'm sorry for the people who sell fine saucepans,
I'm sorry for the people who sell fresh mackerel,
I'm sorry for the people who sell sweet lavender,
'Cos they haven't got a rabbit, not anywhere there!

This is from the 1968 song Magic Bus by The Who. It's describing how much it costs to ride on a bus to visit his girl-friend. A similar journey in Cambridge at the moment (2009) would cost £3.30!

Thruppence and sixpence every day
Just to drive to my baby