£sd (sometimes pronounced, and occasionally written, L.s.d.) is the popular name for the pre-decimal currencies (sterling) used in the Kingdom of England, later the United Kingdom, and ultimately in much of the British Empire until 1971. This abbreviation means "pounds, shillings and pence", and is usually pronounced that way, having originated from the Latin words "librae, solidi, denarii". Under this system, there were 12 pence in a shilling and 20 shillings, or 240 pence, in a pound. A penny was subdivided into four farthings until 31 December 1960 (when they ceased to be legal tender) and, until 31 July 1969, two halfpennies.
The advantage of such a system was its use in mental arithmetic, as it afforded many factors and hence fractions of a pound such as tenths, eighths, sixths and even sevenths if the guinea of 21 shillings was used. When dealing with items in dozens, multiplication and division are straightforward; for example, if a dozen eggs cost four shillings, then each egg was fourpence.
As countries became independent from the UK, some (like the United States) abandoned the £sd system quickly, while others retained it almost as long as Britain itself: Australia, for example, only started using decimal currency on 14 February 1966. Still others, notably Ireland, decimalised only when Britain did. Britain abandoned the old penny on Decimal Day, 15 February 1971, when one pound sterling became divided into 100 new pence. (This was a change from the system used in the earlier wave of decimalisations, in Australia, New Zealand, Rhodesia and South Africa, in which the pound was divided into two of a new major currency called the 'dollar' or 'rand'.) The British shilling was replaced by a 5 new pence coin worth one twentieth of a pound.
For much of the 20th century, £sd was the monetary system of most of the Commonwealth countries, the major exception being Canada. Historically, similar systems based on Roman coinage were used elsewhere; e.g. the division of the livre tournois in France and other pre-decimal currencies such as Spain, which had 20 maravedis to 1 real and 20 reals to 1 duro or 5 pesetas.
In the 8th century Charlemagne decreed that the money of the Holy Roman Empire should be the silver denarius, containing 1.7 grams of pure silver and weighing about 1.9 grams (the exact weights are disputed[by whom?]). The advantage was that any quantity of money could then be determined by counting (telling) coins rather than by weighing silver or gold.
Thus a system of counting money emerged from two different sources: In the Roman Empire 12 denarii were rated equal to 1 gold solidus – a 4th century Roman coin that was rare but which still circulated; and, since 240 denarii were cut from one Roman libra of silver 240 denarii therefore equalled one pound in Britain (also livre in France, peso in Spain etc.) The English name pound is a Germanic adaptation of the Latin phrase libra pondo 'a pound weight'.
Different monetary systems based on units in ratio 240:12:1 (L:S:D) were widely used in Europe in medieval times.
Writing conventions and pronunciations
In writing, there were several conventions for representing amounts of money in pounds, shillings and pence:
£2.3s.6d. (two pounds, three shillings and sixpence)
Unless there was cause to be punctilious, spoken: "two pound(s), three and six". Whether "pound" or "pounds" was used depended upon the speaker, varying with class, region and context.
1/- (one shilling, colloquially 'a bob' – the slash sign derives from an elongated s for 'solidus', which is also one name for the sign itself)
1½d (a penny halfpenny, three halfpence – note that the lf in halfpenny and halfpence was always silent - they were pronounced 'hayp'ny' // and 'haypence' // – hence the occasional spellings ha'penny and ha'pence)
2/- (two shillings, or one florin, colloquially 'two-bob bit')
2/6 (two shillings and six pence, usually said as "two and six" or "half a crown")
5/- (five shillings, one crown, five bob, a dollar)
£1.10s.- (one pound, ten shillings; one pound ten, thirty bob)
£1/19/11¾d. (one pound, nineteen shillings and elevenpence three farthings: a psychological price, one farthing under £2)
A convention frequently used in retail pricing was to list prices over one pound all in shillings, rather than in pounds and shillings; for example, £4-18-0 would be written as 98/- (£4.90 in decimal currency). This is still seen in Shilling categories of Scottish beer, such as 90/- beer.
Sometimes prices of luxury goods and furniture were expressed by merchants in guineas, even though the guinea coin had not been struck since 1799. A guinea was twenty-one shillings (£1.05 in decimal currency). Traditionally, certain professionals like lawyers and art dealers quoted prices in guineas. Historically at some auctions the purchaser would bid and pay in guineas but the seller would receive in pounds. The commission was then the same number of shillings. Tattersalls, the main auctioneer of racehorses in the United Kingdom and Ireland, continues this tradition of conducting auctions in guineas. The vendor's commission is 5%. The word "guineas" is still found in the names of some British horse races, even though their prize funds are now fixed in pounds – such as the 1,000 Guineas and 2,000 Guineas at Newmarket Racecourse.
Fourpence was often known as a 'groat' although the coin of that name was withdrawn in the 19th century.
There also existed a two-shilling piece known as a florin (an early attempt at decimalisation, being £ 1⁄10) and a two-shillings-and-sixpence piece known as a half-crown. Crown coins (with a value of five shillings) were latterly issued only as commemorative pieces.
In popular culture
Lysergic acid diethylamide was sometimes called “pounds, shillings and pence” during the 1960s, because of the abbreviation LSD. The English rock group The Pretty Things released a 1966 single entitled "£.s.d." that highlighted the double entendre. The Chemical Defence Experimental Establishment called the first field trial with LSD as a chemical weapon “Moneybags” as a pun.
The score of 26 at darts (one dart in each of the top three spaces) was sometimes called "half-a-crown" as late as the 1990s, though this did start to confuse the younger players.
- C.H.V. Sutherland (1973): English Coinage 600-1900 ISBN 0-7134-0731-X p.10
- Walkingame, Francis (1874). The Tutor's Assistant. p. 96
- Redish, Angela (First published 2010-?????????????). "From the Carolingian Penny to the Classical Gold Standard" (PDF). Bimetallism: An Economic and Historical Analysi. Cambridge University Press. ISBN 978-0-521-02893-6. Retrieved 11 November 2010.
- Oxford English Dictionary, s.v. 'pound'
- Peter Spuffords (1986). "Handbook of medieval exchange; Introduction".
- "Guide to Sales (2007 Edition)". Tattersalls Limited. Retrieved 24 July 2012. See also conditions of sale para 3.2 in the current catalogue
- Dickson, Paul (1998). Slang: The Authoritative Topic-By-Topic Dictionary of American Lingoes from All Walks of Life. Pocket Books. p. 134. ISBN 0-671-54920-0.
- http://www.theprettythings.com/disco.html The Pretty Things discography
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