A question for Britons: what kind of money do you use?

We have a simple system of money here in America: we use dollars. We’ve been using them forever and they’ve always been pretty much the same. It was considered a near revolution when we introduced a few cosmetic changes to our paper money and put out some commemorative coins.

But I was reading the Wikipedia article on British banknotes and I have to ask if the information they’re giving is real. Do you guys actually have something like ten different kinds of currency in circulation? And you change the design of each on a regular basis? And that’s not even counting Euros? How do you keep this all straight?

So my questions for the Britons among us is: what kind of money do you actually use? Do you actually have one kind of money and all the rest are just sort of theoretical bills and coins that nobody ever sees in real life? Or do you sort of use a mixed grab bag of different bills and coins and figure everything is equal so it doesn’t matter? Is everything equal or is there an exchange rate between the different currancies? Does it matter what part of the UK you’re in? Are people happy, unhappy, or indifferent about all of this? And how do Euros effect all of this?

Firstly, there’s only one set of coins, apart from some having differing patterns on the reverse side, and it’s only the banknotes that are substantially varied.

Bank of England banknotes are the most common, are accepted everywhere, and are almost universal in England and Wales. Scottish and Northern Irish notes are mostly only found in these places, used alongside English ones. They’re worth exactly the same as English ones. Here’s the Bank of England’s explanation.

In Scotland and Northern Ireland, it’s no problem using these notes. Elsewhere, retailers can be reluctant to accept them. This is because, in turn, their banks (and other customers) are also reluctant to take them, and banks are entitled to charge a fee for processing them. Indignant Scots will howl ‘but they’re legal tender’, which is both incorrect and moot. In English law, the term doesn’t mean “valid currency”, but describes valid ways to repay a debt, i.e. forms of payment a creditor is obliged to accept if offered, and does not include non-English banknotes. Retailers anywhere in the UK are allowed to accept or to refuse any method of payment, and so can refuse to take Scottish notes if they wish.

Sorry, missed out a couple of your questions:

Euros don’t affect it at all. They’re just a foreign currency, and are only accepted in a few tourist- or traveller-dominated places.

Where I am in the east, we see few Scots, let alone Scottish banknotes. In seriousness, few people in England & Wales care about it, and just see it as a slightly irritating quirk, of which there are many in this country. Many Scots would dislike any attempt to get rid of their ‘own’ money, even though as I said, it’s not even got the status many think it has. Personally, I take a perverse pleasure from their ignorance :smiley: As the notes are used freely north of the border, it’s not a problematic situation except for people who travel with them and can’t spend them without encountering some problems. Northern Ireland? I should think banknotes are the least of anyone’s concerns, and plenty of English people don’t even realise that those ones exist.

Some other fun facts:

There are only four denominations of banknote (for BoE anyway, Scotland has a £1 note) and you generally only see three of these in general circulation.

Each note is a distinct size and colour and contains a distinct symbol on the lower left of the obverse so they are easily distinguishable by the sight impared or illiterate.

The designs (excepting the above) change every 5 years or so.

So in theory all these different notes are supposed to be based on the same currency? A ten pound note issued from the Bank of England has the same value as a ten pound note form the Royal Bank of Scotland or Ulster Bank? There’s no exchange rate between them (although there may be a handling fee)?

I assume all this was done for political reasons, right? To show that Scotland and Northern Ireland aren’t subordinate to England? Why don’t the Welch get their own currency if everyone else does? And is there any objection to the fact that Scotlands and Northern Ireland’s currency isn’t legal tender? And even if London has reason to be sensitive to the feelings of Scotland and Northern Ireland, couldn’t they have at least put their foot down on the Isle of Man and the Channel Islands and told them, “Listen, we’re took over this place and we’re not leaving. You’ll use our money and that’s that.”

And while I’m an outsider who had no real business sticking his nose in the domestic affairs of the United Kingdom, wouldn’t it have made sense to have adopted a single national currency back in 1971 when you were changing the currency anyway?


It wasn’t done deliberatly, it’s an accident of history that has never been removed. Bear in mind that Scotland has always retained some separate identity, most importantly by keeping its own separate legal system. The union of England and Wales goes back much further, so there never was any central bank in Wales which could issue notes.

Re. ‘legal tender’ - as I said, most people don’t understand the term as applicable in English law, and it’s not really relevant to this matter. And it doesn’t even exist in Scottish law.

No real reason. As I said, it’s not a great problem, just an occassional minor quirk and inconvenience. It’s not percieved as a different currency, just as different designs of banknotes. Plus, because we get new notes every few years, there’s no great attachment to one particular design.

It always seems to me when visiting Scotland that people there take great pleasure in giving English visitors their change in the form of Scottish banknotes :wink: . But it’s really only a minor inconvenience - any major retailer or bank will accept them. As has been said, you rarely encounter them down south, and I don’t remember ever seeing a NI or Channel Island note here.

Heh. It is indeed a bit strange operating separate currency areas within a single country, but as GorillaMan said, it’s really no big deal. People don’t often encounter money from different currency areas and are under no particular obligation to accept it. They can either demand ‘local’ money or, if they happen to be comfortable with recognising them and being able to move them on, they can choose to accept them. The exception is probably english money, which is probably encountered a lot in NI/Scotland since it is by far the most common in the UK economy, but as a result most people are very familiar with it and there are no problems shifting it. It’s far less of an issue than the periodic reissue of new designs of notes/coins, when they need to educate everyone about how to recognise the new currency and when they need to get rid of the old ones.

I will also back up the comment about NI currency - I had no idea it was different than english until the recent huge robbery, although I have encountered scottish notes now and again (and refused to have anything to do with them). I see plenty of scots/welsh/isle of man coins, but since they are just standard english coins with a thistle/leek&crown/triple leg/whatever on the back, they are no different from the occasional runs of special coins that circulate - take a look at these special 50-pence pieces for example. They just add a little bit of variety to something that is otherwise dull.
I have to admit I was a little taken aback one time when I got a Diana memorial £5 coin in my change after ordering a round of beers - it was HUUUGE and it took me a moment to figure out what it was, but I daresay you have similar issues with rare coins/notes in the US.

Also, bear in mind that the US is somewhat unusual in that most people will never encounter foreign money, whereas in more crowded parts of the world it is not at all unusual to encounter foreigners who want to spend but have the wrong currency. I have paid Irish taxi drivers with pounds, Swiss taxi drivers with Euros, seen Americans paying London shopkeepers with dollars, etc., etc.
Of course, in these scenarios you have the extra incentive of being able to rape the foreigner on the exchange rate, but you get the idea. People adapt relatively easily to these sort of things, even if they are a bit of a faff.

However, thank god for decimalisation! Our math teacher used to set us exercises in ‘old money’ to test our multiplication and division skills. How many farthings in 22 shillings threepence, and how much would you have left if you paid someone a guinea and a half-crown. :confused: :eek: :confused: :eek: :frowning:

£1 = 440d = 1760 farthings
2/3 = 27d = 108 farthings
Total 1868 farthings.


21/- + 2/6 = 23/6
23/6 - 22/3 = 1/3. Not difficult, even for me. :slight_smile: Imperial money was much easier to work with for day-to-day transactions than decimal, although young people today never believe that…

£2 coins are still relatively new here (well, sort of - coins commemorating events has often been worth £2, but there hasn’t been anything along the lines of an actual “common” coin) and so far they seem successful. They’re certainly pretty handy, and they do look exceptionally cool.

I got the Public Libraries Act and Samuel Johnson coins in change a bit back - shiny. :slight_smile:

I’ll stick with my decimalisation, thank you very much. :wink:

Dollars, of course.

<reads thread title a little more closely>

Oh, wait…never mind.

How many farthings in 22 shillings threepence ?

and how much would you have left if you paid someone a guinea and a half-crown?

Oh please!

How many pence in £1.30?


How much would you have left if you paid someone £1.15?


Your second answer in shillings and pence: should it be in farthings?!

As a chap who has worked with both, decimal is far easier to use, calculate and teach.

As demonstrated by the fact that Tevildo’s answer was wrong (there were only 240 pennies in a pound).

When I was last in France, I had used up my francs, but had some US dollars. I wanted to buy a snack while i was on a train. The vendor had this nifty portable currency-calculating computer. On this French train, I was able to pay in US dollars and get my change back in British pounds! (My end destination was London.)

Isn’t that like hittign your head against the wall because it feels good when you stop? :slight_smile:

£1 = 240 pence = 960 farthings, so a total of 1068 farthings.

I grew up with £sd in both England and Australia, and I don’t think it was easier in general – though dividing by 3 or 6 was a lot easier. However, you quickly learned all sorts of basic facts, such as that 1/3 of a pound was 6 shillings and 8 pence.

What have I started?

It was just confusing. Also, having grown up with Km, the whole miles/furlongs/chains/yards/feet/inches thing tied my head in a knot.

I know that these old measures more conveniently went into multiples of two and three than decimal does, but quite frankly that didn’t really appeal much when trying to work out 5% of two and a half miles or whatever.

Anyhow, to get the thread back on track, are there any other countries with similarly whacky multi-currency setups to the UK?

The most impressive setup I ever saw was a pre-Euro Luxembourg service station. There were three or four tills in a row, each of which stocked several currencies. Fuel prices were listed in a Bureau-de-Change type display.

Bermuda has a similar situation. The Bermudian dollar is pegged 1:1 to the US dollar, and the two sets of banknotes and coins are mixed freely. And if you thought London cabbies are sniffy about Scottish monopoly-money, imagine landing at JFK and realising all your dollars have got the Queen on them (this happened to a friend of mine)

That’s one thing that systems incorporating divisors of 12 have… they’re far more splittable. It’s easy to split things into halves, thirds, quarters, and sixths, which are much more useful when packing quantities into boxes than the fifths and tenths you get with our present base-10 systems.

There’s one path we could have taken in the late 18th century that IMHO had a lot of promise: a base-12 metric system and base-12 numbering. We already had a lot of base-12 stuff built into the clock and the various LSD-systems of currency (the pound and its various analogues throughout Europe).

The whole decimal currency thing only really got going when the well-known decimal metric system was invented after the French revolution.

If the Brits had adopted base-12 numeration, simplified their currency to a straight base-12 system, and created a competing base-12 metric system, I wonder whether Anglo-American economic power could have carried the day for the base-12 system against that of the French? I seem to remember that such a system was mentioned in passing in H G Wells’ When The Sleeper Wakes.