Fifty years back Monday, the U.K. and Ireland shut down a system of currency that had been utilized for many years and did a change to decimalization — the system where currency depends on multiples of 10 and 100.
Before Feb. 15, 1971, Britain’s currency was 12 pennies to the shilling and 20 shillings to the pound — or 240 pence to a pound.
Yet, that is not all. There were likewise two farthings in a ha’penny, three pennies in somewhat, two pieces in a sixpence, two sixpences in a shilling, five shillings in a crown, and four crowns in a pound. There were likewise two shillings in a florin and 10 florins made a pound.
The system was baffling to foreigners yet beloved by numerous Brits, as indicated by the English author Anthony Burgess: “Tanners and bobs, ha’pennies and threepenny bits, were instantly recognizable descriptions, and the romance of the coinage was enhanced by the presence of coins of Queen Victoria, some of them 100 years old. Long familiarity had inevitably generated a deep-rooted affection: a beautiful and venerable currency, certainly; cherished, too; but undoubtedly baffling to those not born to its complexities.”
The decimalized system is far more streamlined: 100 pennies to the pound.
The U.S. set up decimal coinage in 1792. The U.K. had been talking about a transition to a decimal currency since at least 1824, however, the project acquired steam during the 1960s.
Such a change was a significant endeavor. The nation stamped new coins throughout the span of years. Shops started posting signs with costs in both the old system and the new. Some new coins came into circulation before D-Day — Decimal Day — while a few coins entered use on an actual day. New stamps were printed reflecting costs in the new currency.
To achieve the changeover, the banks shut for a Thursday and Friday, notwithstanding the then-typical weekend closure. The Stock Exchange was shut, similar to the post offices for a day.
Also, a whole populace prepared on the old system expected to get familiar with an alternate one — a matter of both currency and arithmetic.
“I would not go over to the decimals,” one Londoner had told the BBC in 1963. “For one thing, I’m too old and I’d never get to understand ’em.”
At that point, Ireland’s currency was pegged to the U.K.’s, and the nation additionally picked to move to decimalization. Trinity College Dublin professor Brian Lucey recalls fervor around Decimal Day.
His mom ran a drug store and bookshop in County Kerry, he disclosed to The Irish Times. “I remember for a long time I’d be finding farthings, old pennies, and the like. I’d be given a job at the end of the day of sorting out the till contents and I’d have to calculate out the old currency,” Lucey said.
“When you think of it, the old system of pounds, shillings, and pence was so complicated — people don’t easily divide by 2.4 in their mind to go from 240 old pence to 100 new pence — it is not an intuitive calculation,” Lucey noted.
Ireland embraced the euro in January 1999, supplanting the Irish pound.
What’s more, how did the change go in the U.K.?
Smoothly by most accounts. As one customer told the BBC, “Well, it’s not too bad. If I get confused, I give them the two shillings and work it out from there.”
The Guardian revealed at least a few hiccups in 1971. A few people immediately sorted out they could utilize the new currency to shortchange coin slots like those at laundromats, utilizing another one-penny coin where an old six-pence piece had gone.
There were different gripes, as well, for example, that shops had gathered together costs to the closest pence. Bus conductors and taxi drivers who needed to deal with the two types of currency “seemed to find the arithmetic involved too much of a burden in an already crowded life, and in the Irish Republic, some conductors in Dublin and Cork refused to handle the new coinage until they got more pay for doing so,” as indicated by the newspaper.
Fifty years on, the memory of that day seems to have worked up nostalgia, for both the old coins and the hoopla surrounding the changeover.
The Royal Mint Museum sent boxes with the old coins to nursing homes, where they brought back memories for the inhabitants, the BBC revealed. Even though it’s been 50 years, one inhabitant recollected the old system right away.
“That is two and six,” she said.