Through war, peace and a new common currency, the British pound has always persevered.
The pound sterling or British pound, the official currency of the United Kingdom, is the oldest currency in continual circulation today.
It is also used in Jersey, Guernsey, the Isle of Man, South Georgia and the South Sandwich Islands, the British Antarctic Territory and Tristan da Cunha, where most refer to the monetary unit as simply ‘the pound’.
In the foreign exchange market, you will find the British pound represented as GBP while the symbol used to represent it is £. The pound sterling falls fourth in line as one of the world’s most often traded currencies and is the third most held currency in reserve around the globe. The United Kingdom is one of just a few European nations which chose not to make the change to the euro in 1999. As a result, the British pound lost its footing in the currency exchange market and now typically falls behind the US dollar, euro and Japanese yen.
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History of the British pound
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History of the British Pound
The origins of the British pound date back to the 700s AD, when King Offa of Mercia introduced the silver penny to his empire. 240 pennies were the equivalent of one pound, and their use as a common currency quickly spread throughout the other Anglo-Saxon kingdoms that would one day become England.
Pennies were used exclusively for trade in England until 1489 when under King Henry VII the first pound coin – called a sovereign – was introduced. In 1504 the shilling also entered into circulation. Gold coins began to be minted in 1560, but were changed to copper by 1672. The Bank of England was established in 1694, which is when the nation began producing its first handwritten banknotes.Back to top
Coins and banknotes of the British pound
Throughout its long history the currency of the United Kingdom has gone through many changes with dozens of different coins lining its path. Today it has been simplified.
The 1p, 2p, 5p, 10p, 20p, 50p, and £1 coins share a near-uniform design of Queen Elizabeth II on the front and a different segment of the United Kingdom Coat of Arms on the reverse of each. The currency now includes only the following:
- 1p. The modern penny was issued in 1971.
- 2p. The two-pence coin is often referred to as a tuppence or tupenny. This coin was also introduced in 1971.
- 5p. The current version of the five pence was introduced in 1990 to replace a larger coin that has since been demonetized..
- 10p. Roughly the size of a US quarter, the 10 pence coin depicts a lion wearing the crown of the British Monarch. It was entered into circulation in 1992 to replace a larger version of the same coin.
- 20p. The 20 pence coin was entered into circulation in 1982.
- 50p. The current, smaller version of the 50 pence coin was issued in 1997.
- 1 pound. The one pound coin was introduced in 1983.
- 2 pound. On the edge of the two pound coin reads “Standing on the Shoulders of Giants” by Sir Isaac Newton, while the center features a design representing technological development. This coin was entered into the currency in 1998.
All banknotes issued in the United Kingdom feature a picture of Queen Elizabeth II on one side along with a famous historical figure on the other:
- 5 pound. The current five pound note features a picture of Elizabeth Fry, who fought for improved living conditions for women inside of European prisons.
- 10 pound. Charles Darwin is depicted on the ten pound note along with a picture of his magnifying lens.
- 20 pound. Issued in 2010, the current 20 pound note features Adam Smith and replaced an older version which depicted composer Sir Edward Elgar on its back.
- 50 pound. Matthew Boulton and James Watt, of Boulton & Watt steam engines, are featured on the current 50 pound note.