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Pre-decimal British coin names
Posted: 13 March 2007 09:10 AM   [ Ignore ]
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When the UK went decimal in the early 70s we lost some wonderful words. It’s interesting that the new coinage, as far as I know, hasn’t generated any slang terms. (I’ve always thought it soulless stuff, incapable of inspiring the affectionate terms of old, but maybe that’s just me.)

Here’s a few that have gone the way of the dinosaur.

Bob, a term for the old shilling coin, roughly equivalent to the present 5p piece. First cite in OED: “1789 Sessions’ Papers June 550/1 Bulls and half bulls are crowns and half crowns, in coiner’s language, and a bob is a shilling.” (The half crown was still around in my youth, never heard the term half bull though.) The etymology is uncertain, “[Origin unknown; in OF. bobe was a coin, apparently about 1 pence (deniers) of the 14th c.: see Godef. But its survival in English slang is very unlikely.]

Tanner, the old sixpenny piece, half the value of the shilling, the present 2p piece is the nearest equivalent. First cite in OED: “1811 Lex. Balatr., Tanner, a sixpence.” Origin uncertain. OED says, “see hearsay account in B. Hooper Leather Manufact. (1891) 65”. Right, I’ll just take that down from my bookshelf then to check!

Florin , the old two-shilling piece. Not a slang term, an official designation rather, as the first cite in OED implies: “1849 Lond. Jrnl. 12 May 149 The new two shilling coin is to be called a florin.”. I’d always assumed that the word had something to do historically with Florence, but not so. OED again:
“a. Fr. florin = Pr., Sp. florin, It. fiorino, f. fioremL. flor-em, flos flower, the coin originally so called having the figure of a lily stamped upon it.
Some of the early forms can hardly be distinguished from those of the synonymous FLORENCE n.1; there is no direct etymological connexion between the two words, though the ‘flower’ from which the Florentine coin took its name may have been used with allusion to the name of the city.”

Of course, we still use quid (1688, of obscure origin) and nicker (1871, origin unknown, perhaps from horse-racing slang) for the pound (the latter not so much now). I miss the others (though naturally there’s a large element of missing my youth mixed up with that!)

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Posted: 13 March 2007 09:31 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 1 ]
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There was the “joey”, the silver thruppenny bit, which was before my time.  The thruppenny bits I remember were the brass multi sided ones, apparently used as the test for smooth running of a Rolls-Royce car engine - The coin had to remain standing on its edge on top of the engine while the engine was running.

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Posted: 13 March 2007 10:09 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 2 ]
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In the eighties, many of the Savile Row shops still showed prices in guineas. Do you still see guineas used anywhere? Someday I’m gonna get me a Savile Row bespoke suite!

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Posted: 13 March 2007 10:32 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 3 ]
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Tattersalls - the horseracing people - carry out auctions for race horses priced in guineas to this day.

Edit to spell Tattersalls correctly

[ Edited: 13 March 2007 01:26 PM by MoMac ]
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Posted: 13 March 2007 12:20 PM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 4 ]
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Half a century ago in Britain, half a crown (two shillings and sixpence) was more often than not casually referred to (at least, in the not-very-rarified social circles in which I moved) as “half a dollar”, though I don’t recall hearing five shillings called a “dollar”. Does anyone know how long that usage was prevalent in Britain, as distinct from the U.S.A.? (In North America, of course, “dollar” comes from the Dutch “daalder”, itself derived from the German word “thaler” for a large silver coin).

Going a little way down the monetary and social scales:

Q. Did you hear about the Scotsman who found a threepenny bit?

A. No, what happened?

Q. He introduced her to all his friends.

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Posted: 13 March 2007 12:32 PM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 5 ]
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My goodness, I’d forgotten all about that usage, Lionello! You’re right, it was quite common to refer to half a dollar. Some reference to the 4 dollar to the pound exchange rate, perhaps, which I believe was fixed for some years? The usage certainly lasted until the 60s, in fact right up to the switch to decimalisation. Amazing the things we forget until reminded.

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Posted: 13 March 2007 01:31 PM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 6 ]
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It was five dollars to a pound for many years.  It may have dropped to four for a while, but from the late 19th century through the early 20th the 5-to-1 ratio seemed an immutable law of nature.

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Posted: 13 March 2007 05:40 PM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 7 ]
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I hate to admit it but I am completely at sea when it comes to (old) British monetary terms, though by no means awash in the element itself.  (Does the word “foreclosure” send shivers up anybody’s spine?) A friend of mine keeps referring to X number of quid and I have no idea.

Anyway, in a completely unrelated realm, I’ve been looking for a suitable guard dog for my uncle’s farmhouse. It’s to be kept fenced in but humanely treated with other canine companionship. Some dogs don’t yearn for human interaction, though many people may disagree. It’s a fine point of philosophical and moral dispute in my part of the country. My Dad used to say, a dog is a dog. Others say a dog is the center of family affection. Well, some people are floral arrangers and some people are prize fighters (boxers), so why not dogs as well? In any case, among bureaucrats here, some dogs are spared to become treasured pets while others go off to that mysterious “Swift Dance on the Killing Ground” known as euthanasia (Youth in Asia?), “putting down”, or just plain being gotten rid of in a dumpster behind the municipal Animal Control Unit. I was hoping to save one or another canine from the dumpster. After many hours on the phone with various agencies I finally met up with a British woman at a local city facility who saw things my way. She said: “Some dogs don’t care a monkey for people.” A monkey I asked myself. Why? Some urbane variant of rat’s ass? Just now I came across this:

A pony is £25, and a monkey £500. Both of these terms are quite old. The use of pony is documented as far back as the 18th century, and monkey in the early 1800’s. I have been unable to find any theories regarding the origin of either. Their use has always been less widespread than most of the other slang terms for money, and personally, I have only ever heard them used among London gamblers.

Any ideas? Admittedly the large sum of money argues against the usage stated and this is not a shaggy dog story.

[ Edited: 13 March 2007 09:50 PM by foolscap ]
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Posted: 13 March 2007 11:34 PM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 8 ]
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the 5-to-1 ratio seemed an immutable law of nature.

As long as U.S. and U. K. currencies were both based on a gold standard (which was the case until WW1), the rate of exchange was bound to remain pretty well constant. I don’t know if the rate of exchange was exactly 5 to 1, though. A US $5 gold coin contained about 10% more gold than a UK sovereign. The exchange rate based on equal amounts of pure gold would have been about 4.56 to 1. I am sure that bankers on both sides of the Atlantic figured out ways of making the most out of this.

(edit) P.S. prompted by Wikipedia (bless ‘em) I found a dollar in Shakespeare! “The Tempest”, Act II, scene 1.

P.P.S. Foolscap, doesn’t “foreclosure” mean getting one’s prepuce stitched up in order to pass for a goy, like Pan Apt in John Hersey’s novel “The Wall”? I don’t think it’s done all that often, nowadays. Anyway, why should you worry? You can have it done with an anaesthetic ;-)

[ Edited: 14 March 2007 12:01 AM by lionello ]
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Posted: 14 March 2007 04:18 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 9 ]
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Lionello-

I’m all about anaesthetics these days. It’s like what “Coach” Ernie Pantuso said on “Cheers” (the TV show) about taking a direct hit on the head with a pitched fastball: “It makes for a nice break in the day.” However, at the risk of getting too personal, how did you know mine is pre-puce at times? (Not quite a vermillion) Well, I guess everybody who’s got one gets that way once in a while, or once in a great while. As far as stitches, yes I’ve got a few, and sometimes I can see the stitches on a fastball*, sometimes the receiving party can see my own stitches, and sometimes the fastball is too fast for anyone to see the stitches. Ah, one can dream can’t one? At least my game isn’t “fixed” like the poor male dogs that come from the animal shelters, at least not yet. They’ve got stitches but NO fastballs.

*An Americanism basically meaning you can see it coming from a mile off in great detail.

[ Edited: 14 March 2007 04:43 AM by foolscap ]
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Posted: 14 March 2007 04:23 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 10 ]
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lionello - 13 March 2007 12:20 PM

Half a century ago in Britain, half a crown (two shillings and sixpence) was more often than not casually referred to (at least, in the not-very-rarified social circles in which I moved) as “half a dollar”, though I don’t recall hearing five shillings called a “dollar”. Does anyone know how long that usage was prevalent in Britain, as distinct from the U.S.A.? (In North America, of course, “dollar” comes from the Dutch “daalder”, itself derived from the German word “thaler” for a large silver coin).

I remember reading somewhere that the dollar was a silver coin of a given weight and that all dollars were the same weight and hence the same value, also that other countries had equivalents in weight, of which the British was the crown.  Wikipedia gives the weight of the US dollar, but not the crown. I once bought an old silver 5 peseta piece that had “40 pieces to the kilogram” (in Spanish) stamped onto it, which would make it roughly equivalent in weight to the US dollar.

Does anyone remember crowns in circulation?  I only remember half-crowns.

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Posted: 14 March 2007 06:26 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 11 ]
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I thought that Nixon took the US off the gold standard…

Depends on what you mean by “gold standard.”

FDR ended the convertibility of dollars to gold in 1933. The UK did the same at about the same time. This ended the traditional “gold standard.”

In 1945, the Bretton-Woods system was established where the value of the US dollar was fixed at $35 to an ounce of gold (but the currency was not “backed” by gold in the sense that one could demand gold in return for it). Other currencies, including the Pound Sterling, were then pegged to the dollar. This lasted until 1971 when Nixon took the US off the standard. By 1976, most major currencies were floating.

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Posted: 14 March 2007 06:38 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 12 ]
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jimgorman - 14 March 2007 04:16 AM

I thought that Nixon took the US off the gold standard…

It was sometime around then that the one dollar bills stopped being silver certificates and became federal reserve notes.  I’m thinking a bit earlier than that but then I think that water is wet, so who am I to judge?

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Posted: 14 March 2007 06:55 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 13 ]
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I thought that Nixon took the US off the gold standard

It was in the summer of 1971, and I remember it vividly because he did it while I was en route from Leningrad (as it was then) to Helsinki after a month-long tour of the USSR (as it was then)—literally, the news came over the radio while we were in the air, and the stewardess told us about it and warned us we might have problems cashing traveler’s checks when we landed—and sure enough, nobody in Helsinki would take US traveler’s checks.  So a few of us pooled what little cash we had (and accepted the extortionate rate we were given) and rented a place for the weekend until American Express opened Monday morning and would give us cash for our suddenly worthless checks.  Oh, and nobody spoke English, and (needless to say) none of us spoke Finnish.  Good times!

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Posted: 14 March 2007 07:57 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 14 ]
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"Does anyone remember crowns in circulation?  I only remember half-crowns.”

No, the only crown I ever saw was a special issue, I think it was on the occasion of Elizabeth’s coronation. I seem to recall they did one for Churchill’s funeral too.

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Posted: 14 March 2007 08:46 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 15 ]
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With due respect to all of you—I believe that until 1914 or early 1915, the Bank of England would give you a gold sovereign for a paper banknote. After that, they wouldn’t.  That’s what i meant by a gold standard --- when your monetary unit is a fixed mass of gold, and paper notes are redeemable in gold. All other so-called “gold standards” have quotation marks around them, and are financial contrivances which soon break down. I don’t know exactly when you could no longer get an “eagle” for your ten-dollar bill in the U.S.A. --- but as I pointed out, only when both countries were on the same gold standard, could there be a steady rate of exchange.

Bayard --- “thaler” is just a big silver coin. The first big silver coins issued in Europe since Roman times were struck at Joachimsthal, in Bohemia, around 1474. “Joachimsthaler” got abbreviated to “thaler”. The big coins were found to be very useful, and “thalers” ended up being struck all over Europe, on a whole range of different weight-standards.  “Crown” has been the name of various different British coins (of gold, silver, and base metal) over the past few centuries. Nowadays, people who have to do with coins use the term “crown-sized” to mean any big (35-40mm. dia.) coin of silver or base metal. Crowns (the 5s. kind) have been struck in Britain and the Commonwealth for centuries. They haven’t circulated much --- perhaps because they’re a bit big, and unwieldy. Some crowns have had quite a spectacular history, like the 1935 New Zealand Waitangi commemorative crown, which you could buy in 1935-36 in any post office in New Zealand for 5s. 6d, while a good specimen sells at auction nowadays for several thousand NZ dollars (most New Zealanders, apparently, reckoned the extra 6d. was just one more government rip-off)

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