In the Victorian Era and prior to decimalisation the pound sterling was divided into 20 shillings, with each shilling further divided using 12 pennies. It may seem complex compared to the way we divide up the pound today, but it did mean that a pound divided into 240 parts could be divided exactly using halves, thirds, quarters, fifths, sixths, eighths, tenths, twelfths, fifteenths, sixteenths, twentieths, twenty fourths, thirtieths, fortieths, forty eightieths, sixtieths, eightieths, and one hundred and twentieths. Our current decimalisation with a pound made of 100 parts allows for only division in halves, quarters, fifths, tenths, twentieths, twenty-fifths, and fiftieths. Using money in the Victorian times required good math as you can imagine!
Prior to the current system we have been using since 1971, the money used by the Victorians had been kept much the same for around 300 years and was built upon a system that has been in existence for over 1000 years. Decimalisation of British currency had been a hot topic for over a century, but in the 1960’s an enquiry was launched to further examine it. In 1966 it was announced that the old system of money should be decimalised and in 1967 it was passed into law.
Expressing Victorian Money Values
Victorians used a symbol system as we do, to express different amounts. The pound symbol was “£” much like today with the Shilling represented as an “s” and the penny as a “d”. The penny was represented by the letter “d” from its meaning of “denarius” which was previously a Roman coin made of silver and also used as the name for the English silver penny. Amounts would be written in their order for example “£3-4s-5d”. For amounts under £1 it would be written as 4/5 or 4s-5d and pronounced as “four and five” or “four shillings and fivepence”. Later in the Victorian Era you would often find people calling a shilling a “bob” but was only used for whole shilling amounts. £1-1s-0d was also known as a “guinea”.
Materials used for Victorian Coins
From 1817 the Victorian coins were minted using Gold and Silver. The gold coins were worth £1 and ten shillings and were known as “Sovereigns” and “Half Sovereigns”. 5s was called a “Crown” and made of silver. A full shilling, sixpence, threepence and fourpence were also minted as a silver coin. Lesser valued coins were made of Bronze from 1860, previously from copper which included the penny, halfpenny also known as a “ha’penny”, farthing and a quarter of a penny.
Victorian Banknotes (Paper Money)
Banknotes were also used in the Victorian times alongside the coinage. We first saw banknotes issued by The Bank of London in the 1690’s but was not regularly used. The fact that they were hand signed did not give people much confidence in using them compared to coins. After the economic crisis in 1797 Banks stopped making payments with coins for anything over £1 which led to a surge of banknotes and paper money being circulated into use. In 1828 within the Victorian Era you saw the first £5 notes going into circulation. By 1853 the banknotes were also featuring printed signatures which instilled more confidence in their use.