Posted by: travelrat | March 24, 2019

What’s a Shilling, Grand-dad?

I’m sorry for this meander down Memory Lane, but something happened the other day that set this train of thought going. I bought a packet of wild bird seed, which was priced at £1.99; I passed over two pound coins, and the lady at the checkout said:

‘Can I owe you the penny? I don’t have any change here!’

Of course, I agreed; I could have waited for Management to bring some more change, but what can you buy with a penny, apart from save another 199 and buy a cup of coffee or some more wild bird seed or something?

To find the reason for this, we have to go back to the days of the old-fashioned cash register. These were in use from Victorian times up until the early 1970s; by use of a combination of the keys, you could register any amount you cared to name. Almost every child of the day had a toy one; I suppose the purpose was to get them used to operating one.

The reason for this crazy method of pricing was this. Not to convince the buyer he was getting a bargain, but to ensure the assistant registered the sale. So, if the customer tendered a ten-shilling note to buy an item costing 9s/11d, the assistant had to ‘ring up’ the sale in order to open the till, and get the change. If the item had been priced at ten shillings, a dishonest assistant could just pocket the ten-bob note.

For my younger readers, I’d better explain our currency before we saw sense in the early 70s, and started the system where we had 100 pennies to a pound, in line with the rest of the world. Back in the day, there were 20 shillings to a pound; a shilling was sub-divided into 12 pennies.

And, of course, there were expressions like tanner, bob, half a crown and half a sheet, which I shan’t go into here.

But, I will make mention of the guinea (21 shillings; £1-1s-0d, or £1.05). Although there hasn’t been a guinea coin (apart from collector’s items) for over 100 years, furniture was almost always priced in guineas. And, if you saw a suit advertised for £9/19s/6d in a shop, and a similar one for ten guineas in the shop next door … most people would have gone for the ten guinea one! Strange, isn’t it?


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