Question by Alyssa: Can someone please explain British currency?
Just for fun, I am currently writing continuations of the Sherlock Holmes stories – unpublished cases, et cetera – but I’d like them to be as authentic as possible, and I have yet to figure out how the British money system works. Could someone please explain pence, pounds, shillings, sovereigns, and that sort of stuff? Thank you so much!
Answer by queenieCK
Sounds like a fun project.
The British currency used in Sherlock Holmes stories is not the modern day currency, which began in 1971. I found this website helpful in breaking it all down:
Basically, think of a “pound” like our U.S. dollar unit. The pound still exists today. Back then:
1 pound = 20 shillings
1 guinea = 21 shillings
1 crown = 5 shillings
1 shilling = 12 pence (aka pennies)
A sovereign referred to a one pound coin made of gold.
Each pence/penny could be broken down even further (farthings, tuppence, etc.).
It sounds like back in the day, the pound existed as both a coin and a bill. The bill version was often called a quid. Today, only the coin version in circulation, and the term “quid” is like saying “bucks” for dollars (“lend me five quid?”). The pound is also referred to as “sterling” because “one pound” used to refer to its weight in silver.
I like that the website mentions that it was common to pay tradesmen in pounds, but considered more appropriate to pay gentlemen (such as artists) in guineas.
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