• Section Contents
  • British Copper Coinage: Introduction
  • British Silver Coinage: Introduction

    British Denominations

    In the British system, there are so many different denominations and names for coins that one could easily become confused as to their relative values. This page hopes to clarify some of the more basic relationships.

    The smallest denomination is a farthing. The next larger unit is a penny, or pence in the plural. Situated between these two units of currency is the most common small change coin of the colonial period, a halfpenny. Two farthings equals a halfpenny and two halfpence equal one penny.

    The shilling, equal to twelve pence, becomes the common base for the larger denominations. A crown equals five shillings. Situated between these two units is the half crown equal to two shillings and six pence. During colonial times the value of an item was often expressed in crowns.

    In the Seventeenth century (less so in the Eighteenth century) the British refered to a mark. This did not represent a coin but rather it was a unit of account equal to 13s4d (160d) or two-thirds of a Unite Laurel Pound, which was valued at 20s (240d).

    The next higher basic unit is the pound, in later times also called a quid, which equals twenty shillings (or four crowns). A gold sovereign is equivalent to a pound, while a gold guinea is worth one shilling more (twenty-one shillings).

    Three of these denominations may be abbreviated to make the notation of monetary amounts simpler. Pounds may be expressed using the symbol '£' derived from the word "libra" which is Latin for pound. Shillings are abbreviated with an 's,' (which comes from the roman coin the solidus which equalled twelve denarii) while pence are shown with a 'd' for denarius (which was a small denomination roman coin). For example, three pounds six shillings and three pence would be noted as £3 6s3d. Fractions of 1/2d and 1/4d were used to designate a halfpenny and a farthing.

    The following chart shows the relationships in numeric form:

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