Wednesday, 13 August 2008

Pounds, shillings and pence

Talking to my daughter Monika over the holidays about pre-decimal money that we had when I was a child, she expressed her horror at just how complicated things were. Four farthings to a penny, two ha'pennies to a penny; twelve pennies to a shilling, twenty shillings to the pound - twenty one shillings to the guinea... things would cost tuppence (not two pence), thruppence (not three pence) or thruppence ha'penny, we had tanners (sixpence), bob (shillings, never expressed in the plural, so six bob, not six bobs), florins (two shillings) and half-a-crown (two shillings and six pence). No crowns, though, which would have been five bob. A penny was 1d, a shilling 1s. One shilling and six pence ('one and six') would be expressed as 1s 6d.

Decimalisation removed all this wonderful jargon and replaced it with prosaic pence and pounds, one hundred per. Yes, it is now so much simpler. But as a child, I never had any problems with the value of money. Down at Tanner's, the sweetshop, I know what a ha'penny could buy, what thruppence worth of chewy milkbottles or rhubarb-and-custard boiled sweets was like, and that sixpence would purchase a nice bar of Cadbury's Dairy Milk ("a full glass-and-half in every bar"). Fry's Turkish Delight would cost 5d.

Now 5d is nominally two pence. That's the rate at which old money was changed into new. A shilling is five pee (as they're referred to now). But it would be wrong to say that a Matchbox toy (a shilling) cost only 'five pee in today's money'), as average earnings in the mid-1960s were some 12-15 times less than they are today.

To compare 1965 prices with today's click here for a useful calculator.

School lunches, or 'dinners' as they were called at Oaklands, cost one shilling and thruppence (1s. 3d.) a week when I started school in September 1962. For that price, a child had five main courses and five desserts. Thruppence a day to feed a child! I remember bringing five thruppenny bits to school on a Monday morning, standing one of the 12-sided coins upright on my desk, then carefully placing a second on on the first, then a third... no one could do all five!

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