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I missed the original article in The Times - I think it must have been on Friday while I was being bored by the cricket – but in today’s letters page there are two responses concerning the possibility of messing around with the coinage again. Extrapolating backwards from the contents of the letters, I am guessing that someone somewhere has proposed the discontinuation of the 1p and 2p coins. The responses seemed to think that in addition the 10p should be reduced in size and the 20p withdrawn and replaced by a 25p coin of about the same size as the American Quarter (which I can’t quite picture, it being six years or so since I was last Stateside). I suppose the next step is the introduction of the £5 coin1.

I don’t know. It seems to me to be a sign of a country in decline when it starts playing with its currency too often. After centuries of stability, where coins were only rarely phased out, we seem to have gone into overdrive in the past four decades.

A small number of those of you on my friends’ page will remember pre-decimal currency; the ten-bob note, the ha’penny, thruppenny bit, the tanner, the florin, half crown and all. The heady days of twelve pennies to the shilling and twenty shillings to the pound2 and all that. All swept away in 1971 in a mandatory round of decimalisation. Of course, the farthing had gone the way of all flesh in the early ‘60s. Inflation saw to that. The new half penny went the same way in the early 80s, I think, for the same reason. We bade adieu to the pound note not long after and then started shrinking the remaining currency in the 90s3.

So now the thought is being aired that we should lose the remaining coppers in our currency. I can see the logic, I suppose, but I should have thought it easier to leave them in circulation and allow them to wear out gradually rather than to withdraw them or mint new ones.

There is an irony to all this, of course. Despite the logic and ease of having a decimal pound of 100 pennies instead of the age-old 240 pennies to the pound, decimalisation was not universally popular back in 1971 and it was, at least initially, very confusing, very costly and contributed to inflation. Now, 35 years on (and not withstanding the possibility of one day converting to the Euro, which, for the record, I am agin) inflation is on the verge of reforming the currency for us again. And cheaply, too.

I don’t know what the name is for a currency where the smallest denomination coin is 1/20th of the base legal tender, but whatever number we choose to mint on that coin, it’s no longer decimal.

I always said 1971 was a waste of time.

1I understand, but am not sure, that the commemorative Crowns issued periodically by the Royal Mint have a face value of £5 these days rather than 25p (or 5/-) as in days of yore.

2I confess that I still hold all those bloody conversion tables in my head after all these years. It is with no small bitterness that I remember the country decimalising just after I had mastered long division and multiplication in pounds, shillings and pence.

3Unlike Wagon Wheels, the 5, 10 and 50pence pieces really were bigger when you were a kid.
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