Elle Ess Dee (Part 2)

Wednesday 14 May 2014, 6.00pm HKT


8.09am local time, 27°C (81°F), rainy days and nights


Life used to be coin-operated.

Nearly everything in the old days was priced, sold, bought and paid for in coins. Then Mammon (Thatcher) came to power. We went full retard and everything began to cost in notes (‘bills’ to our American cousins).

By the way, “bread and honey” is Cockney slang for ‘money.’

‘What’s that in old money?’

decimal coins via UK Metric Association

UK decimal ‘shrapnel’: the 20p came in the 1980s and £1 later still
(via UK Metric Association)

The official storyline was that decimalisation went smoothly, but in reality there were serious teething problems.

People were still thinking in Old Money (“O.M.”) and cashiers got the third degree all the time. Older people hated the New Money (“N.M.”). For several years after, they would just handed out all of their change for the cashier to take the right amount. No one got cheated, and that’s always a bonus.

London Underground ticket machines James E Petts wikimedia

(Photo: James E. Petts, 2012, via Wikimedia Commons)

It wasn’t that we grappled with the new decimal money. The biggest problem was with the various coin-operated machines in daily life; many didn’t get updated soon enough, or at all. The hassles for everybody lasted FOR YEARS. (See SIXPENCE below.)

The line “What’s that in old money?” is still with us today — usually when talking of about metric/imperial units. “Your weight is 45 kg.” “Wozzit in old money?” (7 stone 1 pound.)

minder laundrette

(via minder.org)



Coinage is “shrapnel.”

Compared with the decimal coins, the old coins had beautiful, intricate motifs that made them seem worth more than their face value. They were somewhat larger and heftier, however. Just before decimalisation, inflation had caused a lot of coins to be carried around to buy anything, and the weight became toilsome.

edwardian coins 1900s

A 2009 1p (left) and Edwardian coins from early 1900s for scale (via 1900s.org.uk)

So clothes took a beating with them. British men had (and still have) a habit of keeping change in their pockets and not in coin-purses. Coins ching-chang’ed away like prostitutes clacking away in their heels in front of hotels. The coins’ heavyset nature and elaborate milled edges just drove holes into everything. Funnily enough, that fact help thrift-store shoppers to guess at the age of an article of clothing by examining the pockets.

I could appreciate why older people had such deep emotional attachment to the old coinage. The new stuff just seemed to me mostly like shards of cheap tinplate that got designed in a mad rush whilst dying to go to the toilet.

‘Not worth a brass farthing’

farthing 1956 and halfpenny 1970

The farthing and halfpenny of yore (size not to scale) (via Predecimal.com)

Farthing (¼d) and halfpenny (½d)

Halfpenny is “hayp-nee” — the plural “hayp-nees” or “hay-p’nce.”

These two laddies were extinct before I arrived. The Treasury phased out the last of these in the early 1960s. I’d only seen them from my neighbour, kindly Mr Joe Hogberg, a Swede who emigrated to England just before the First World War.

The sayings “haven’t got a farthing to rub together” (poor) and “not worth a brass farthing” (very little value) are not worth a fart anymore today and laughably stilted.

TRIVIA:— The New Testament mentioned the first farthing: the Roman coin quadrans, worth quarter of an As, or assarion (KJV Matthew 10:29, Luke 12:6, Mark 12:42).

‘The penny dropped’

penny 1d vs half penny 0.5p

The old penny and its near-practical decimal ½p (not to scale) (via Predecimal.com)

Penny (1d) — ½p (?)

The penny drops [dropped]” means belated realisation. That’s a good description for the many who on Decimal ay discovered they were stuck with this copper giant. It was no longer legal tender — there being no precise decimal equivalent value (the nearest was the ½p).

I soon realised everybody was lumbered with piles of it. For years after, shopkeepers gave them away as free souvenirs to tourists and customers. My schoolmates found it was cheaper to melt these down for metalwork projects than to buy fresh copper.

The thing was bloody huge for its paltry value. It’s the size of a dogtag, maybe 1¼ inch across (32mm). Oldtimers hated it. It was even bigger and heavier than the new, higher-value 2p that was us youngsters’ turn to hate.

if you can add anythingPeople shopping in vintage shops today will probably never understand why the pocket materials of old clothes are so thick and heavy — or why men’s trousers then were cut the size of parachutes. They HAD to be. Twelve of these babies (a shilling’s worth) weighed over 4 ounces (113g) — quarter of a pound weight! Schleppage. Flimsy fabrics just wouldn’t have handled the grinding.

School taught us the penny had been in use since before the Norman Conquest (1066) — the birth of the modern English language.

If someone “turns up like a bad penny” then they’re unwelcomed yet keep visiting you. Probably how cashier ladies saw prudish, angry old ladies kept paying in old pennies they’d been trying to flog off since Decimal Day.

TRIVIA:— “the penny dropped” isn’t an American phrase. The meaning most Americans know is a British one. The American meaning was originally literal — the sound of actual coins dropping fully down the slot machine as the cue for getting candy bars or something nasty.


threepence 1943Threepence (3d) — no decimal equivalent

Threepence (“thrupp’nce”) the amount. Threepenny bit (“threppnee bit”) the coin itself.

The 3d went out of business a few months after Decimal day, but I can’t remember ever seeing one though. We assumed the 2p was its replacement.

In coinshops I’ve seen the older 3d feature a wild flower called a thrift — which was how the threepenny bit got associated with being thrifty, to spend wisely, to save up. I’ve been told there was a wartime 3d in ‘silver’ or real silver and considered to be lucky.

TRIVIA:— The threepenny had been the only cornered British coin until the 50p and 20p came along. The origins of the corners was that the shilling once had quartering grooves to help break it physically into four pieces each worth 3d.

Interestingly, “threepennies” (“thruppnees”) was older people’s slang for boobs.

threepence joey

(Images: 1943 threepence via CollectionsUncovered.com; threepence bracelet via gwydir)

Sixpence, much-loved, none the richer

sixpence 1953 via BBCSixpence (6d) — no decimal equivalent

The “tanner.”

Like the 3d bit, the apparently much-loved “sixp’nce” was killed off a few months after decimalisation. It had no precise decimal equivalent value, so we assumed it was 3p.

I ran into the sixpence even in the ’80s, but only as tokens in laundrettes (laundromats) with un-updated machines. They skinned us 5p per token, the bastards. “Six and five are the same, innit?”

TRIVIA:— If memory serves, laundrettes in London opened every day, usually from 8am to 9pm. The Jewish-run laundrettes shut late, some at midnight. A standard wash was 30p–50p in the 1970s (80p–£1 by 1981). Today, a wash costs £3 and tumble dyers £1 a round.

go as you please 1975Transport has always been the real hassle for everyone (for Londoners at any rate).

London Transport still ran sixpence-operated ticket machines even as late as the ’80s, which was bloody maddening for everyone — having to queue up at the Ticket Office while the machines sat there useless. Barmy.

This ‘silver’ coin was slightly smaller than the 5p, about ¾ inch across (20mm). Older people remembered a real silver sixpence and used to cook them inside Christmas puddings. Jagged a lot of teeth that, I should imagine. I remembered them as red- or green-painted laundry tokens. Some Jewish laundrettes had them in blue instead but mostly left them plain.

TRIVIA:— In the old days too, weekly pocket money for kids was a penny for every year in age, so we didn’t spend it on pricey things like Mars bar (sixpence) until at least 12 years old. By that age, most of my generation were rather more into the birds.

I heard that lovers used to split the sixpence into two halves as love tokens, giving rise to the phrase “half a sixpence” to mean a pair of long-separated lovers, or somesuch spiel. By my time, most people just went catalogue shopping at Argos to get their Czech-made love tokens.

Sixpence none the richer” (and incidentally an American rock band of the same name) was “Mere Christianity” (1952) by C.S. Lewis, meaning our gifts or talents in life should be used humbly because of how we got them in the first place.

(Images: 1953 sixpence via BBC; GAYP via The Transport Ticket Society)

‘Bob’s your uncle’

shilling 1963 and 5p 1968 vShilling (1/-) — 5p

The proverbial “bob” stayed on as a leftover coin for a long time (as a 5p). Piles of it throughout the ’70s and ’80s — it was the workhorse of the £.s.d, after all.

The inch-wide (25mm) shilling and the 5p were physically identical (photo is to scale). We treated both the same — 20 shillings to the old pound and now 20 5p’s to the new. It was just an older version of the 5p to us.

Go the whole hog” sounds American but it’s British. In olden times, the shilling sported a pig on one face, and if you squandered it whole, you went the whole hog.

And if you DID blew it in one go and got lemons to show for it, you should look unhappy — “as if you lost a shilling and found a sixpence.”

Using that phrase today probably makes you look like you’ve lost your marbles instead, so you might be branded “tenpence to the shilling.” That should please Americans — same as “one brick short of a load. (A shilling was 12 pennies, not 10.)

If something seems worth a lot of money, “that must’ve cost a few bob” — which inflation has made sure it’s now more aptly “must’ve cost a few quid.”

(Images: 1963 shilling and 1968 5p via Predecimal.com)

Almost ignored

florin 1967 and 10p 1971Florin (2/-) — 10p

The “two bob bit.”

The coin says “Two Shillings.” The coin itself is the florin.

TRIVIA:— History books say the first florins originated in the Kingdom of Florence (Firenze).

Like the shilling–5p setup, the florin was accepted for the new 10p because of their physical sameness. It was also a kind of pre-decimal ‘decimal coin’ — 10 florins to £1.

Only occasionally did I run into the florin, and then foolishly spent it as just another damn 10p. Today it costs £1 to £3 in coinshops. Bummer.

(Images: 1967 florin and 1971 10p via Predecimal.com)

‘Pieces of eight’

halfcrown 2s6d 1967Halfcrown (2s.6d or 2/6) — no decimal equivalent

Decimalisation wiped out this 2½-shilling peice too. It’s huge and practically the same as the penny at 1¼ inches wide (32mm).

The 50p introduced before decimalisation was worth four halfcrowns.

I’d only ever seen it in coinshops.

I gathered from oldies that the halfcrown was more popular than the florin, mainly because the standard cost for breakfast before decimalisation was [only] 2s.6d (12½p). It was more like 25p after. Today breakfast is £2.50 or thereabouts.

TRIVIA:— The halfcrown was originally the Spanish silver peso de ocho (‘piece of eight,’ made famous in “Pirates of the Caribbean”) that the British confiscated everywhere during the Napoleonic Wars and repurposed as crowns. The Spanish peso (known worldwide as the ‘Spanish dollar’) was the world’s first global currency, in use for over 400 years. The repurposed peso-crowns evolved into halfcrowns (nicknamed “dollar”) when the British decided to mint their own crowns (mainly as commemorative pieces).

Interestingly, the Spanish dollar became the American national currency when they ditched their colonial and post-colonial £.s.d and was also Australia’s initial colonial money.

(Image: 1967 halfcrown via CollectionsUncovered.com)

Not real ‘spending’ coins

churchill commemorative crown 5s 1965Crown, sovereign and half sovereign

Real coins, but not for real spending. They’re commemorative pieces — ‘decoration’ coins.

If the crown (5 shillings) had ever been a real spending coin, it must have been before anyone’s time. The only crowns in my day were those struck for the Queen’s Silver Jubilee (1977) and the Royal Wedding of Charles and Diana (1981).

TRIVIA:— British crowns are always legal tender at face value, but you’re nuts to spend it like that. British crowns bear no denomination marks.

The sovereign (20 shillings) and the half sovereign (10 shillings) are gold bullion — legal tender at face value too, but clearly not for general use.

(Image: 1965 Churchill memorial crown via Predecimal.com)



Like I said, life in the old days was coin-operated. Notes simply didn’t hold emotional attachment as great as the shrapnel.

If you’re “quids in” then you’re happy with the situation. ‘Quid’ (slang for the pound) is never pluralised except in that phrase.

Scruffy and ‘sh*t-coloured’

Ten shillings 10/- note

10-shilling note — 50p

This “ten bob note” was usually a scruffy, “shit-coloured” nuisance that died out long before my day.

I got the impression from older people from up north of England that 10 shillings (being £0.50) was quite serious money up there, and many shall shops had to especially go to the bank to get change for it. All that effort for 50p’s sake!

(Image via Predecimal.com)


£1 = 240d

£1 note — parity to decimal note

Nicknamed “sheet” by oldies.

Green had long been the colour of the pound note, both pre-decimal and decimal — in my mind’s eye, the only rightful colour for it.

The quid crapped out and filthed up very quickly, which is why I think it got replaced by the £1 coin in the 1980s.

(Image via Predecimal.com)

‘Lady Godiva’

£5 - a 'Lady Godiva' or 'lady'

£5 note — parity to decimal note

Deep blue was the colour, “blue beer token” was the generic slang.

Cockney slang in Londontown as “Lady Godiva” (to rhyme with “fiv’ah”), or just “lady.”

Dad preferred his version (the large white fivers).

The first time I was in the UK, the fiver was the biggest old note I had actual sight of. By the second time round, everything had already become decimalised and decimated.

(Image via Predecimal.com)


£10 - a 'cockle and hen' or 'cockle'

£10 note — parity with decimal note

We’re now in the road-less-travelled territory with this note.

This “brown beer token” was less usually seen in normal life.

I’d only actually seen this note from my old man’s slush fund, not whilst I was in the UK. Of course, by the time I was living there, everyone was blowing far too much ten quid for good sense or comfort.

Cockney slang in Londontown is “cockle and hen,” or just “cockle.”

(Image via Predecimal.com)


predecimal 20 pounds£20 note – parity with decimal note

A “score.” Usually purplish. Not often seen in normal life.

I can’t remember seeing this note. If I did, it most probably from my old man’s wallet or slush fund.

Pretty foolish to hold such a big note as this anyway. Lose it (for any number of reasons) and you’d lose the lot. Always better to have any sum of money in singles and fivers.

(Image via Predecimal.com)


predecimal 50 pounds£50 note — parity with decimal note

Highflying territory now, definitely unseen in normal life.

This “pink” or “bullseye” was multicoloured but the main colour was off-red or salmony toned. The photo colour is too browny, by the way.

(Image via Predecimal.com)

Anything else higher…

There were notes of £100 and higher face values but you just didn’t get to see them in normal life, to be perfectly honest.



I’ve heard and read a lot of hot air about the guinea (21 shillings, or £1.1s.0d).

It’s not a coin or note. It’s a value.

Older schoolbooks described the guinea as a “gentlemanly amount” — whatever the hell that means in real life then or now since gentlemen are invariably cads anyway.

In my Dad’s day, furniture and luxury goods were quoted in guineas, as were legal services. Tradesmen were supposed to be paid in pounds and gentlemen in guineas (but actually still in pounds).

The only guinea ever mentioned in my time was some rabid civil war in Portuguese-speaking Equatorial Guinea and some other fracas in Pidgin-speaking Papua (“Pahpoo”) New Guinea.

TRIVIA:— The guinea DID exist as a real coin or note several hundred years ago.

George II guinea 1752 wikipedia

George II guinea coin, dated 1752
Ø 1 inch (25–26 mm), weight 129.63 grains (8.4 g)
which would have been used in the American Colonies as well

(via Wikipedia)



(Oh, craps, not another multi-part autoerotica…)

Part 3: When the moolah turns out to be a tentacled monster


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