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Posted by Murrisk on December 30, 2001 at 18:00:48:

What is the oldest coinage being replaced by the Euro ? Maybe the French franc ? The first French franc (franc cheval) was introduced on December 5, 1360, to make a ransom for King Jean II captured at the Battle of Poitiers.

The old British and Irish coinage was lost with decimilization, however, many will remember the old coins. Both the English and French systems of coinage reflect the Mediaeval system that began with Charlemagne. The basic coin was originally Charlemagne's silver denarius, "denier" in French, "penny" in English. Symbolizing the penny with the letter "d" was an artifact of the coin's name in Latin. Twelve pennies (pence) "theoretically" would equal a solidus ("sou" in French, "shilling" in English. The first full shilling was minted by Henry VII in 1504. In Troy weight, 20 pennyweights is a Troy ounce, or 31.103486 metric grams. Twelve ounces is then a Troy pound, 373.241832 grams. Twenty shillings would also equal a Troy pound, which as a unit of account is then the "Pound Sterling," based as the coins were on Sterling silver, 92.5% (37/40) pure. The pound was symbolized with a special "L" (), from Latin libra, even as the French word for "pound" was "livre" (and a pound weight abbreviated "lb."). The old English coinage thus is called the "sd" system, as opposed to the recent decimal "p," pounds and (new) pence.

Nevertheless, in the long run the tiny (silver) pennies were inconvenient, and in 1672 an official copper coinage was introduced for the smaller values. Silver pennies, however, survive in the ritual "Maundy Money" that the Queen still hands out to the elderly, in lieu of washing the feet of the poor, on Maundy Thursday.

Under Edward VI the first silver "Crown" of 5 shillings was also introduced. It had originally been a gold coin. It was inspired by the "dollars" (thalers) of Austria and Spain, though, ironically, such coins today tend to be called "crowns" rather than "dollars."

Silver was completely replaced by nickel-copper after World War II.

In 1849 a new silver coin was introduced, the "Florin," worth 2 shillings. Since this was l/10 of a pound, the idea was that it was the first step in the decimalization of British coinage. The process, as it happened, only took 122 years. The Half Crown was at first replaced by the Florin, but after a hiatus of 20 years was reintroduced.

Between 1558 and 1670, the pound coin acquired various names. James I dubbed the coin a "Unite," to commemorate the uniting of the thrones of Scotland and England in his person. Later, under Charles II, the coin came to be called a "Guinea," since gold at the time was coming from the Guinea coast of Africa, where eventually a British colony would be established actually called the "Gold Coast" (now Ghana). In the late 1600's Parliament set the Guinea at 21 shillings.

This idea was the "Gold Standard," and it was adopted by Britain with the slight reduction in the size of the silver coins in 1816 and the introduction of a new gold pound coin, the "Sovereign," in 1817. The value of gold in pounds Sterling, however, remained the same, and the Sovereign was simply cut down proportionally from the weight of the Guinea. Guinea coins continued in circulation with their traditional value of 21 shillings. As it happened, even as the actual Guinea coins must have passed out of ordinary use, the "Guinea" as a unit of value survived: Objects of particular value, like jewelry, horseracing or professional services, as for a lawyer, can be expressed in Guineas rather than pounds. This can still be seen, of all places, in the Beatles movie A Hard Days Night, where a gambling debt is discovered to be, not 100, but 100 Guineas (105). The Guinea even survives into the decimal coinage, as 1 5p.


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