Great Britain

Great Britain is a large island off the coast of Europe. It includes Scotland, the Isle of Man and Wales. The major exports consist of manufactured goods such as machine tools, textiles and railroad equipment. Tourism is also a thriving industry. The currency of Great Britain trades under the ISO initials GBP. In this decimal system, 100 pennies equal 1 pound.


The history of currency in Great Britain traces back to the Belgae in Kent with their potin or tin brass pieces and the Gallo-Belgic gold coins of staters in the 1st century B.C. These continued somewhat haphazardly until the Romans came. Under the rule of the Emperor Claudius, Roman coins began to circulate. Some featured the stereotypical figure of Britannia, a seated female figure. Roman coins continued to have an influence well into the 4th century A.D. As the Roman began to withdraw, coin “clippings” became more common.

The Anglo-Saxons altered the concept of coinage. They imitated golden tremisses from France. They appeared in small quantities in Kent and Thames before spreading further. There were thrymas (shillings) worth 12 pence and sceattas or silver pennies. The sceattas were the most enduring retaining their position for a century.

The Danelaw introduced “St. Peter” coinage of York, East Anglia and Mercia. King Alfred the Great (871-899) Great Britain created new mints. He also added the title of Rex Anglorum to the coins. Yet, a uniform coinage was evasive. It began to take shape under King Eadgar in 973. He created pennies all of a same design. The design for the pennies at all the mints could change regularly. However, he did maintain the bust if the king on the obverse of the coin. Harold II continued this trend increasing royal control over the production of the currency.

The advent of William the Conqueror and his Normans did little to alter the pattern. An exception was during the Civil War between Mathilda and Stephen. Two different currencies did circulate. The Barons also got into the act, producing their own money. This ended with the assumption of the throne by Henry II (1159-1189). He instituted a process whereby the designs of coins did not change frequently but lasted generations. He also introduced the Tealby pennies (Cross and Crosslets). The Short Cross Penny came into existence under Henry III.

A large-scale recoinage took place in 1205 followed by a new coinage in 1247 under Henry III. Henry tried to introduce gold coinage, but it failed. The Long Cross penny was more successful. Edward I in 1279 and Edward III also revitalized the monetary system. Edward I eliminated the cutting of pennies into pieces by introducing the halfpenny. He also launched the groat. Edward I even re-organized the mints, placing one person in charge of the system. Edward III (1327-1377) went on to introduce successfully the gold coinage, not as a florin, but as a noble. He also minted the ½ groat in 1351. His system lasted until the 16th century.

The next changes came under the Tudors. Although they featured the usual portrait on the obverse and the coat of arms on the reverse, the denominations grew. Henry VII minted gold sovereigns and silver testoons. Under Henry VIII, the crowns bore his and his wife-of-the-time’s initials. In 1537, the initials were H.R. – Henricus Rex. Henry also closed the ecclesiastical mints as surely as he closed the monasteries. Edward VI (1547-1553) issued more small currency including the 3 pence and 6 pence as well as the ½-crown and large silver crown. He added numbers to indicate the value in pence and placed on the coins a date. Mary Tudor simply changed the currency by redesigning the coins to show her and her husband on the obverse in a unusual pose – facing each other. Elizabeth I was more daring. She removed all the old and debased currency. She also undertook experiments in milled money and added denominations.

The Stuarts took over under James I in 1603. It is the first time the title King of Great Britain appears on currency. In 1613, he made the small change coins of farthing tokens. Meanwhile, in Scotland, of which he was James VI, a separate coinage continued. It had a different heritage from the Scandinavians, but the English did influence the type of currency under David I (1124-1183) and Malcolm IV (1153-1165). William the Lion (1165-1214) did introduce new coins in a cross and pellet style as well as an English Short Cross penny-type. The 13th century and 14th centuries, in fact, featured coins with new designs but adhering to an English pattern. In the 15th century, however, Robert III (1390-1406) and Mary began to change the coinage to be a bit more reflective of non-English forces. Robert issued a new denomination the ½ and full lion, with a crucified St. Andrew on the reverse. James V produced a “bonnet Piece, while Mary minted large testoons and larger riyals.  James VI (I), added new denominations in silver including the merk, thistle and thistle nobles and continued minting lion nobles, ducats and hat pieces. He tried to align the currency, but failed. Later Stuarts provided separate coinage until the Act of Union in 1707.

The English Civil War of the 17th century altered the pattern in England by initially having dual currency. When Cromwell and the Roundheads triumphed, republican coins emerged from the mints. They quickly became known as “Breeches Money” since the reverse design consisting of 2 co-joined shields resembled breeches. When the Royalists returned under Charles II, the currency returned to a royal design. Charles II introduced machine manufacturing of coins. He reintroduced copper coins and established the guinea as well as the modern image of Britannia. The guinea became a basic coin even into the 18th and 19th centuries. The only wave in the currency during this later period was the printing of paper money to replace gold coins. This was to ease the monetary problems during the Napoleonic Wars. Other measures included counterstamping silver reales from Spain.

The early 19th century saw the technical innovation of steam printing. The gold standard came in, in 1816. The long-lived groat vanished, replaced by 3 pence. The florin arrived and so, too, did the design of St. George and the Dragon on the sovereign by Pistrucci. The last crown went out in 1902 and decimalization came into being in 1971. The new system stated 100 pennies equal 1 pound.

In the decades since, the currency has undergone modifications for security. Banknotes have altered their design, as have some coins. The Queen has had a new updated portrait appear. The chance to use the euro was refused. Today, Great Britain still has pence and pounds. There are coins in denominations of 1, 2, 5, 10, 20 and 50 pence and 1 and 2 pounds. Banknotes appear in 5, 10, 20 and 50 pounds.

Obtaining British Pounds

You can exchange your own currency in England at any number of places. Check out the commercial banks and the exchange offices. The biggest source is usually the ATMs, called “holes-in-the-wall”. You can usually locate them in banks, stores, shopping centers and other businesses. Check first with your own bank for rates of exchange.

Protecting Your Currency

Crime is of the usual mix. Petty crimes such as pickpocketing and purse snatching are more prevalent in the urban districts. Take the usual precautions. Do not flash your cash or show signs of affluence. Do not leave your personal belongings alone.

Using Your British Pounds

You can use British money for cab rides, rides on double-decker buses and romantic horse rides. You can also use it for the usual purchases. Buying British couldn’t get any easier. Souvenirs abound in the tourist regions. You can buy shortbread, fashions, china, tea, crumpets, hampers of food and other items across the land.

Travel Tips and Warnings


England is a country with an imperial past. It has its own mythology of kings and queens, King Arthur, Henry VIII and Queen Elizabeth I. No longer a global power, it is redefining itself.
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Currency Summary

Current currency: pound
100 pennies equal 1 pound
Coins: 1, 2, 5, 10, 20 and 50 pence; 1 and 2 pounds
Banknotes: 5, 10, 20 and 50 pounds



  1. Can I spend pre new-pence coins dated in the 1940’s to 1960’s in England. Can they be taken to a bank and exchanged for new money?

    — 71163 · Jun 13, 11:14 PM · #

  2. Can I use Euros in Britain ?

    — alejandra · Feb 14, 03:25 PM · #