Needless to say, many denominations of coinage have come and gone in the British Isles over the past millennium or two, but the most recent pre-decimal UK versions displayed to the full the prevailing genius for dogged conservatism allied with open-minded flexibility. Or so we liked to think; foreign visitors thought otherwise.
|Pound (libra)||£||10 (decimal)|
|Shilling (solidus)||s or /||20 (vigesimal)|
|Penny (denarius)||d||12 (duodecimal)|
|Ha'penny (half)||½ d||2 (binary/bicimal)|
|Farthing (fourth)||¼ d||2 (binary/bicimal)|
There were furthermore
- The ten-bob note (10/- = one half of a pound, resuscitated as the 50p coin)
- (Just occasionally) the crown (5/- = one quarter of a pound)
- The half-crown (2/6d = one-eighth of a pound)
- The florin (2/- = one-tenth of a pound)
- Plus the sixpence (6d = half a shilling)
- And the threepence ("threppence" or "thruppence", 3d = quarter of a shilling)
- And (a bit further back) the groat (4d = one third of a shilling)
And of course the guinea (21/-), which survived only in the fine-art auction room, the racing world, the hotel trade, and gentlemen's tailors or outfitters (remember the Mad Hatter, whose headgear was priced at 10/6 – half a guinea in fact, as per the Tenniel illustration).
I've always been deeply impressed that people in every walk of life, who professed a total inability at numerical matters, could nevertheless cope effortlessly with multiple-base arithmetic, allied to an intrinsic calculating ability (though the multiplication tables as such would have mystified them) – providing that the context related to money or perhaps mensuration. Think shopping in the market, or filling-in pools coupons, or measuring timber in imperial lengths.
Could the psychology of demotic arithmetic have deeper implications than simply the survival of the most intrinsically numerate? I leave that to better brains than mine.