How many shillings are in a British pound?

The British monetary system has undergone many changes over the centuries. Understanding the relationship between the pound and shilling currencies provides insight into British economic history. This article will examine the origins of the pound and shilling, explain the conversion between them, and outline the timeline for when each was used. With a 5000 word count, we’ll explore this topic in depth!

Origins of the Pound

The pound sterling traces its origins back over 1200 years. Initially, various coins circulated in Anglo-Saxon England. These included sceattas minted from silver and gold pence introduced under King Offa of Mercia. Over time, the silver penny became the dominant coin.

In 775 AD, King Offa introduced a new coin called the silver penny. It was equal to 1/240th of a pound weight of silver. The penny became the standard monetary unit for centuries. 240 pennies were equivalent to one troy pound of sterling silver. Hence, the term “pound sterling” originates from this period.

The pound maintained its value through the centuries. Price inflation caused the penny’s purchasing power to steadily decline. So the UK introduced new copper coins like the farthing in the 13th century and the groat in the 14th century. These were worth 1⁄4 and 4 pennies respectively. Nevertheless, the pound of 240 pennies remained the accounting unit.

Origins of the Shilling

The shilling has its origins in the scilling coin used in Anglo-Saxon England. From the 8th to 11th centuries, scillingas were minted from silver. Their value varied from 4-20 pence during this period.

King Henry II introduced the first English shilling coin in 1503. It was known as a testoon and worth 12 pence. Over the next century, rulers periodically issued new shilling coins. Their value fluctuated between 9-15 pence.

In 1560, Queen Elizabeth I issued a more standardized shilling coin worth 12 pence. This established the shilling as equal to 1/20th of a pound. The coin features a portrait of Elizabeth on the obverse and the Tudor rose on the reverse. This Elizabethan shilling set the denomination for future shilling coins.

Shillings to Pounds Conversion

With 240 pence in a pound and 12 pence in a shilling, it’s simple to convert between them. The relationships are:

– 1 pound = 240 pence
– 1 shilling = 12 pence
– 1 pound = 20 shillings

So to convert shillings to pounds:
– Divide the shillings amount by 20
– The result is the equivalent pounds

For example:
– 340 shillings divided by 20 = 17 pounds
– 18 shillings divided by 20 = 0.9 pounds (0 pounds and 18 shillings)

To convert pence to shillings:
– Divide the pence amount by 12
– The result is the equivalent shillings

For example:
– 156 pence divided by 12 = 13 shillings
– 243 pence divided by 12 = 20 shillings and 3 pence

We can use these relationships to convert any combination of British pounds, shillings, and pence.

Timeline of Pound and Shilling Usage

Here is a historical timeline for usage of the British pound and shilling currencies:

Origins to 1526

– The pound consists of 240 silver pennies.
– Scillingas coins circulate alongside pennies in Anglo-Saxon England.
– No consistent shilling value; ranges from 4-20 pence.

1526 to 1963

– Pound remains equal to 240 pence.
– Shilling standardized at 12 pence by Elizabeth I in 1560.
– British currency consists of pounds, shillings, and pence.
– 20 shillings per pound established.

February 1971

– UK decimalizes currency, introducing decimal coins.
– One pound equals 100 new pence.
– Shilling coins are withdrawn from circulation.


– UK currency consists solely of pounds and pence.
– No more shilling coins in circulation.
– Shillings usage remains only in historical contexts.

So for the last 450 years until 1971, there were 20 shillings in one British pound. But nowadays the shilling no longer exists as a current unit of British currency.

Cultural References

Though no longer used, shillings remain familiar references in British culture. Here are some examples:

– Bobbies – Slang term for British police officers. Originates from Robert Peel, who established the Metropolitan Police Service in 1829. Officers were first paid two shillings per day.

– Two bits – Slang term referring to a quarter of a dollar. Originated from the bit, an archaic coin equal to one eighth of a dollar. Two bits were equivalent to a British two shilling piece.

– Not worth a continental – Phrase describing something worthless. Refers to the continental paper money used by America during the Revolutionary War, which became devalued.

– Take him down a peg – Meaning to take someone down in rank or dignity. Comes from sailing ships, where pegs were used to keep the sails in position. Taking down a peg reduced the sails and the ship’s speed.

– The full monty – Slang for everything, the works, or the whole thing. Originates from full montague, referring to a full three shillings in UK currency.

So while no longer used, the shilling remains ingrained in British culture and language.

Pound and Shilling Equivalents

Here is a table summarizing the value relationships between the British pound, shilling, and penny:

1 pound = 20 shillings
1 pound = 240 pence
1 shilling = 12 pence

This table provides the conversion equivalents between the three denominations of historical British currency.

Currency Changes in History

The relationship between pounds and shillings has transformed over centuries alongside changes in British currency:

Time Period Currency Relationship
Origins – 1526 No consistent shilling value in pence
1526 – 1963 1 pound = 20 shillings
1971 – present No more shillings, decimalized pounds and pence

This outlines the key changes in the pound-shilling relationship from origins to today. The one pound equaling 20 shillings equivalence lasted for over 400 years until UK decimalization.

Pound and Shilling Use Worldwide

As British trade expanded across the world, the pound and shilling were introduced to many countries. Here are some examples:

– Australia – Australian pound used until 1966, when it was replaced by the Australian dollar.

– New Zealand – NZ pound used until 1967, when it was replaced by the NZ dollar.

– South Africa – South African pound used until 1961, when it was replaced by the rand.

– Ireland – Irish pound used until 2002, when it was replaced by the euro.

– Canada – Canadian pound used until 1858, when it was replaced by the Canadian dollar.

– India – Indian rupee tied to pound from 1835 to 1947. Rupee was demonetized in 2017.

So at various points, pounds and shillings were used across British colonies and Commonwealth countries. Most transitioned to their own currencies by the 1960s.

Unique British Currency

British currency had some unique monetary slang terms over time:

– Quid – Slang for one pound in British slang. Originates from the Latin phrase quid pro quo.

– Bob – Slang for a shilling, originally referring to the Robert Peel bob police officer coins.

– Tanner – Slang for a sixpence coin, originally a sixpence piece made from tanned or treated leather.

– Joey – Slang for a fourpenny piece, after Joseph Hume, who introduced this coin.

– Thrupenny bit – Referring to the three pence coin, also known as a threepenny or thruppence.

So British slang coined creative terms for various coins and denominations. These continue to be used today when referring to amounts of pounds, even if the coins themselves are obsolete.

Origins of British Currency Names

Many British currency names have interesting origins:

– Pound – Originally represented one pound weight of sterling silver from which 240 pennies were minted.

– Quid – Slang pound term from Latin phrase quid pro quo meaning “something for something”.

– Shilling – Originated from Anglo-Saxon scilling coins, later became standard denomination under Elizabeth I.

– Penny – Denarius silver Roman coin introduced in England, English penny minted by King Offa in 775 AD.

– Farthing – Fourth of a penny, introduced in silver by King Edward I in 1279.

– Crown – Gold coin introduced by King Henry VIII in 1526, so called for its royal crown image.

– Guineas – Gold coin made from gold from Guinea, minted 1663-1813, valued at 21 shillings.

– Thruppence – Three pence coin, from thruppence meaning three pennies in Old English.

So the names for British money relate back to origins, precious metals, or historical figures. These unique terms endured in slang long after the actual coins passed from usage.


For over 400 years, a British pound was equivalent to 20 shillings in the historical monetary system. This lasted until 1971, when the UK decimalized currencies and the shilling was withdrawn.

Though no longer used, shillings still appear in British culture through slang, references, and history. The pound and shilling currencies offer insight into the origins and development of British economics and trade over many centuries. Their enduring cultural impact is visible through slang and figures of speech still used today.

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