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Pre-decimalisation the British Pound was divided into 240 pennies (or pence) rather than 100 and sums were expressed in terms of pounds, shillings and pence, where:
£1 = 20 shillings (20s) 1 shilling = 12 pence (12d) Thus: £1 = 240 pence.

The penny was further sub-divided at various times, though these divisions vanished as inflation made them irrelevant:
1 penny = 2 halfpennies and (earlier) 4 farthings (half-farthing, third-farthing, and quarter-farthing coins were actually minted in the late 1800s but circulated only in certain British colonies and not in the UK itself ). £1 and 10 shilling denominations were notes rather than coins. The 'crown' had been discontinued as a standard coin, although special commemorative issues were legal currency, as they are today.


Using the example of five shillings and sixpence, the standard ways of writing shillings and pence were: 5s 6d or 5/6, 5/- for 5 shillings only, with the dash to stand for zero pennies. This sum would be spoken as "five shillings and sixpence" or "five and six".

The symbol £ for the pound is derived from the first letter of the Latin word for pound, the librum.
The old abbreviation for the penny 'd' was derived from the Roman denarius and the abbreviation for the shilling 's' from the Roman solidus.
The shilling was also denoted by the slash symbol which is also called a solidus for this reason.
Two ShillingsOne ShillingThreepenny BitHalfpenny1953 Coronation CrownSixpenceOne ShillingPennyFarthingHalf Crown

The English penny was derived from a silver coin (the sceat of 20 grains weight) which was in general circulation in Europe during the middle ages. The weight of this coin was originally 20 grains but had reached 24 grains by the time of King Alfred (A.D. 871–899) or 1/240th of a troy pound, a weight known as a pennyweight—around 1.555 grams. The coinage reform of 1816 set up a weight/value ratio and physical sizes for silver coins which remained constant in the UK until decimalisation, and even after decimalisation for those coins which had equivalents and continued to be minted with their values in 'new pence'.

The pre-decimalisation coins with exact decimal equivalent values continued in use after 1971 alongside the new coins, albeit with new names, ( e.g. the Shilling became the 5p coin and the Florin equating to 10p). The others were withdrawn almost immediately but most of those that did have precise equivalents in the new system remained legal tender until they were replaced by smaller coins in the early 1990s.

Pre-decimalisation shillings were used as 5p coins, with many people calling the new 5p coin a shilling, since it remained 1/20th of a pound, but was now worth 5p instead of 12d. The pre-decimalisation sixpence, also known as a sixpenny bit or sixpenny piece, was rated at 2½p but was demonetised in 1980.

Some pre-decimalisation coins, or denominations, became commonly known by slang terms, perhaps the most well known being 'bob' for a shilling, and 'quid' for a pound. A farthing was a 'mag', a silver threepence was a 'joey' and the later cupro-nickel threepence was called a threepenny bit (pronounced threpny bit), a sixpence was a 'tanner' , the two-shilling coin was a 'florin' and the 2/6 coin, or half-crown, was a 'half dollar'.


 

( abbreviated from the full article on British coinage at http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/British_coinage )