How many pennies are in an old pound note?

Quick Answer

There were 240 pennies in an old pound note. The old pound (GBP) was divided into 20 shillings, with each shilling equal to 12 pence. Since there were 240 pence in a pound, an old pound note contained 240 pennies.

The History of the Pound and Penny in the UK

The pound sterling is the official currency of the United Kingdom and has a long history dating back over a thousand years. Early Anglo-Saxon kingdoms issued their own currencies until a unified currency was established under King Offa of Mercia in the 8th century AD. This currency was known as the pound sterling and was equivalent to one troy pound of silver.

The penny was introduced around the same time

as the pound and was a subunit of the pound worth 1/240th of a pound. The penny got its name from the Old English “pening” meaning “coin.”

The monetary system of pounds, shillings, and pence was introduced in the early 13th century under King Henry III. This system established:

– 1 pound = 20 shillings
– 1 shilling = 12 pence

So there were 240 pence (12 x 20) in one pound. This system of pounds, shillings, and pence remained in use for over 750 years until decimalization was introduced in 1971.

The introduction of decimal currency

In 1971, the UK transitioned to a decimal monetary system under the Decimal Currency Act of 1969. This simplified the currency by establishing:

– 1 pound = 100 pence
– No more shillings

So the subunits of pennies, halfpennies, and farthings were replaced by a single penny worth 1/100th of a pound.

This decimalization meant there were now 100 pence in a pound rather than 240 under the old system. The pound itself retained the same value and notes denominated in the old pounds remained valid and in circulation for some time after decimalization.

Although the penny retained the same name, its value changed from 1/240th of a pound to 1/100th of a pound in 1971. So an old pound note from before decimalization would have been worth 240 pre-decimalization pennies but only 100 decimal pennies.

The Breakdown of the Old Pound

To understand how many pennies were in a historical UK pound note, we need to look at the breakdown of the pre-decimalization pound:


– The basic unit of currency


– There were 20 shillings (s) in a pound


– There were 12 pence (d) in each shilling

– So each pound contained 240 pence (12 x 20)

This can be visualized as:

Unit Number per Pound
Pound 1
Shilling 20
Penny 240 (12 per shilling x 20 shillings)

So an old one-pound banknote from before 1971 would have been equivalent to 240 individual pennies.

The Buying Power of the Old Pound

At the time decimal currency was adopted in 1971, the pound was equivalent to about $2.40 USD or €2.10 EUR today. Based on inflation, 240 pennies from an old pound banknote would have had the buying power of around $5.76 or €5.04 today. Here are some examples of what that could buy in today’s prices:

– A loaf of bread – less than 1 penny (today ~$0.24)
– A pint of milk – 2 pennies ($0.48)
– A dozen eggs – 5 pennies ($1.20)
– A gallon of gas – 10 pennies ($2.40)
– An ounce of gold – 240 pennies ($5.76)

So while 240 pennies seems like a small amount today, it represented a meaningful amount of buying power before decimalization occurred. An old one-pound note could purchase a significant basket of everyday goods and services.

Fun Facts About the Old Penny

Here are some interesting facts about the pre-decimalization penny and pound:

– The original penny was a silver coin weighing 1/240th of a pound until 1504. After this date pennies were minted from copper.

– There were 240 pennies minted per gold Pound weight. However, these 240 penny coins weighed slightly less than a full troy pound of copper.

– In the early 1700s, Sir Isaac Newton established a new Mint ratio linking gold prices to silver coin weights, resulting in lighter silver pennies that devalued the currency.

– Halfpennies (1/480th of a pound) and farthings (1/960th of a pound) were also minted as subunits of the old penny.

– The old penny was chunky in size – the diameter was 1.215 inches compared to just 0.75 inches for today’s penny.

– In 1860 there were ~405 million old pennies in circulation in Britain.

– The original obverse side of the penny depicted the monarch, later switching to Britannia in the 1600s. The reverse featured a seated figure of Britannia.

– Production of the old penny ceased in 1969 with the arrival of decimalization but remained in circulation in parallel with new decimal pennies until 1990.

So in summary, the old pre-decimal penny was a large silver or copper coin equating to 1/240th of a pound. 240 of them made up an old one-pound banknote.

How Decimalization Changed Things

The UK currency went through a major transition in 1971 with decimalization. Here’s an overview of the key changes:

– Pounds retained their value but were now divided into 100 pence rather than 20 shillings and 240 pence.

– Shillings and pence were replaced by a new decimal penny worth 1/100th of a pound.

– The new penny was significantly smaller and lighter than the old penny.

– New coins were minted for the decimal penny as well as for 5 pence, 10 pence, 50 pence, and Pound coins.

– Old and new coinage continued to circulate in parallel for a while after decimalization.

– Pound notes were gradually phased out and replaced by new decimal notes.

– Prices displayed in shops had to show both decimal and old currencies during the transition.

– Media campaigns, educational materials, and public awareness initiatives helped people adapt.

– Decimalization enabled simpler currency calculations, pricing, and accounting with a base 10 system.

So in summary, decimalization overhauled the centuries-old pounds, shillings, pence system to align with a decimal money system. This replaced the old penny with a new 100 pence = 1 pound structure.

Lasting Impact of Decimalization

The UK’s currency decimalization had some significant and lasting impacts:

– Simplified currency – Eliminated awkward subunits like farthings and crowns.

– Streamlined pricing – Enabled consistent decimal pricing rather than messy conversion of pounds to shillings and pence.

– Reduced errors – Decimal calculations are less prone to errors compared to working with fractions under the old system.

– Improved accounting – Automated accounting and bookkeeping became easier.

– Higher productivity – Less time wasted on manual currency conversions.

– Consumer clarity – Customers adapted well and found decimal pricing clearer.

– Currency flexibility – The UK retained the pound but gained flexibility for coins and notes. New denominations like the 5p and 20p have been added over time.

– Currency stability – The pound retained value and public confidence in decimalization transition.

– Technical innovation – Banking, payroll, commerce all modernized along with currency change. Cash registers moved from mechanical to electronic.

So in many ways decimalization set the stage for the UK’s transition to a modern, efficient monetary system. The old pounds, shillings, and pence structure seems incredibly outdated and cumbersome today!


In conclusion, an old pound banknote from before decimalization in 1971 contained 240 pennies. This is because the pre-decimal pound was divided into 20 shillings and each shilling was worth 12 pence.

The adoption of decimal currency simplified this system by making 100 new decimal pence equivalent to one pound. So while an old pound and a new pound had equal value, the number of pennies they contained differed significantly, with 100 decimal pennies replacing the old 240.

The decimalization of UK currency enabled simpler pricing, calculations, accounting and helped spur innovations. While decimalization represented a major monetary transition, it proved highly successful and durable. The UK now has a logical and convenient currency system thanks to the reforms of 1971 that redefined the humble penny.

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