Why were some British prices once quoted in Guineas instead of Pounds and Shillings?

In pre-decimal British currency, a pound was worth 20 shillings (and a shilling was worth 12 pence). There was a coin called a Guinea, which was originally worth 1 pound in silver, but with the price of silver changing, the coin came to be worth 1 pound and 1 shilling.

Many times in the past, you see prices quoted in guineas, rather than in pounds and shillings. For example, if I recall correctly, a silver-mounted bagpipe in an Inverness music store mentioned in the March 1968 issue of “National Geographic” cost 100 guineas.

Now, why would you do that? The guinea was not a currency, but a coin woth 1 pound and 1 shilling. I’m likely simply uninitiated, but what’s the point? You would, for example never put “ten quarters” on a price tag for, say, an ice cream cone, but $2.50. That would be just pointless. Or if I wrote a price tag for an item in my shop as “50 toonies” (Canadian two-dollar coin) instead of $100, I would either be making a little joke (if meant tongue-in-cheek), or be acting stupid (if meant seriously). So what exactly was it that gave British merchants license to quote prices in terms of coinage instead of currency?

I found a comment online saying something like in Victorian times, a gentleman paid in guineas rather than in pounds. What does that imply? That the extra shilling added to the pound in that coin was like a tip to the merchant that the gentleman paid because he had more money? Or that upper-class people could be charged more for the same product or service than lower-class people? Was that the main reason for prices being quoted in guineas?

Pre-decimalization British currency had other coins with nicknames (e.g. the farthing, the crown). Were prices ever quoted in these as well?

That right there. Distrust of currency and the manipulation thereof by the government. Silver was always good.

Yes, prices were often quoted in other terms like crowns.

It was not the social class of the person paying that caused prices to be quoted in guineas rather than pounds but the classiness of the item being paid for. Giving the price in guineas meant that the item was something special that only very well-off people would even consider buying. The same was true for a service that only a very well-off person would even consider using.

Barristers’ fees were traditionally denominated in guineas; out of every guinea of fees the barrister retained a pound, and the remaining shilling went to the barrister’s clerk.

Thoroughbred horses were, and in some markets still are, auctioned in guineas.

The Master speaks:

For much the same reason. The extra shilling was the auction house’s commission.

A crown being 5 shillings. Hence the reply by the then Prime Minister, when asked by the Queen (?George II’s) how much it would cost to enclose St James’s Park as a private garden for the royals only, that it would cost just three crowns - “those of England, Scotland and Ireland”.

Way back in mediaeval times you could find references to “angels” and “marks”, which were coins worth 2/3 and 1/3 of a pound (13s.4d and 6s 8d), but those eventually disappeared.

There were lots of 19th and 20th century slang names for different coins and amounts of currency, but they’d only be used informally.

Cecil replies. Twice.

The thing i recall reading was that because guineas were gold, they were higher value, so the coin of upper class people who could afford expensive things.

There’s also the sovereign which was a gold 1-pound coin. Hence the joke when the new gold-coloured 1-pound coin replaced the British one-pound note “We should call it a Thatcher - because it’s thick and brassy and thinks it’s a sovereign.”

All well-explained here.

I never lived in England but here is my personal opinion. Never mind all those social reasons. It is price gouging plain & simple. Even if the price was only 2 guineas, the seller still got 5% more.

I always thought of it like putting those 9/10 cents on gasoline prices or selling for $5.98. It’s to make the consumer think it’s not quite as expensive as it really is.

The people who had to pay in guineas knew perfectly well that they were paying more. That was the point. It was about the fact that only classy items or services had their prices given in guineas rather than pounds.

Very insightful!

In addition, I once read that setting the retail price at $5.98 instead of $6.00 originated at some department store (possibly Marshall Field’s in Chicago) to reduce employee theft. If the cost was a round amount, a dishonest employee might pocket the money. If it was an odd amount, they had to open the cash register and make change.

Is it sort of like, “If you have to ask, you can’t afford it”?

Back in the day, the payment would usually be by cheque. I wonder if the bank would deal correctly with a cheque for 1000 guineas. (£1050)?

IIRC, invoices and cheques would be converted and written in l.s.d.

Checks only became a common way of paying for things after guineas had become less common.