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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Value and exchange rates of the British pound as of Mar 23, 2017
Compare today’s foreign exchange rates between the GBP and other currencies.
|1 USD =||1.0000||1.3133 Inverse: 0.7614||1.3374 Inverse: 0.7477||0.928798 Inverse: 1.0767||6.8937 Inverse: 0.1451||0.80122 Inverse: 1.2481||65.459999 Inverse: 0.0153||18.9314 Inverse: 0.0528||50.349998 Inverse: 0.0199|
|1 AUD =||0.7614 Inverse: 1.3133||1.0000||1.0184 Inverse: 0.9820||0.7072 Inverse: 1.4140||5.2491 Inverse: 0.1905||0.6101 Inverse: 1.6391||49.8438 Inverse: 0.0201||14.4151 Inverse: 0.0694||38.3385 Inverse: 0.0261|
|1 EUR =||1.0767 Inverse: 0.928798||1.4140 Inverse: 0.7072||1.4400 Inverse: 0.69446||1.0000||7.4222 Inverse: 0.1347||0.862642 Inverse: 1.1592||70.478186 Inverse: 0.0142||20.3827 Inverse: 0.0491||54.2098 Inverse: 0.0184|
|1 GBP =||1.2481 Inverse: 0.80122||1.6391 Inverse: 0.6101||1.6693 Inverse: 0.59907||1.1592 Inverse: 0.862642||8.6040 Inverse: 0.1162||1.0000||81.700409 Inverse: 0.0122||23.6282 Inverse: 0.0423||62.8417 Inverse: 0.0159|
History of the British pound
From 700 to the early 1700s
For the better part of its history the currency of England was based on the weight of its coins. This led to severe punishment for those who produced coins that were substandard, or did not contain the standard amount of silver or gold that they were meant to represent.
It was Henry II who labored to improve the quality of the coins and in 1282 Edward I began the practice of checking for purity. This formal ceremony known as the ‘Trial of the Pyx’ is a tradition that is still practiced to this day.
From the mid 1700s to the early 1900s
By the time England entered into the American Revolutionary War and the Napoleonic wars, banknotes were legal tender with their value floated in relation to gold. By 1816 they officially adopted the gold standard, paving the way for the rest of the world to follow suit with their own currencies. This allowed for conversion rates to be easily determined based off of gold standards. This meant that by the start of the 20th century the British pound was equal to; 4.85 US dollars, 5.25 Canadian dollars, and 23.10 Dutch guilders.
From the mid 1900s to the early 1970s
During the early part of the 20th century, the United Kingdom had one of the strongest economies in the world with close to half of the planets overseas investments. This ended as the first world war started, and the gold standard was dropped to allow for banknotes to become legal tender.
The war devastated the economy of England, and in 1940 they allowed for the pound to be pegged to the US dollar (USD) at a rate of 1 pound for 4.03 USD. This was a drop from the $4.86 that had been the value just the year before. Still struggling economically, the pound was devalued twice again, first in 1949 to $2.80 USD and then in 1967 to $2.40 USD. Finally, in 1971 the value of the pound was floated, allowing it to compete with other currencies based solely on its strength and buying power.
From the mid 1970s to today
Throughout the 1970s and 1980s, the value of the pound rose and fell with the English economy. In 1979 it was on the rise, valued at $2.40 USD but dropped sharply to $1.03 USD in 1985 before showing some growth in 1989 by reaching $1.70 USD in value. Despite its fluctuations, the government of the United Kingdom chose not to join the rest of Europe in adopting the euro as their new official currency in 1999, a decision which lowered the United Kingdom’s position as having one of the top three dominant currencies in the world.
The 2008 economic crisis that began in the United States allowed the British pound to reach on if its highest value points in recent history, breaking the $2.00 USD mark briefly in 2007. After this surge, the value of the pound fell at one of its fastest rates in history, falling to $1.38 USD by the beginning of 2009. Since that time, it has risen slightly as the economy in England and around the world slowly improves.
Compare GBP exchange ratesBack to top
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.