History of the British pound | finder.com
coins pilled with some bills on its background

The British Pound – Fourth most traded currency in the world

We value our editorial independence, basing our comparison results, content and reviews on objective analysis without bias. But we may receive compensation when you click links on our site. Learn more about how we make money from our partners.

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.

TransferWise International Money Transfers Business

Why we like: TransferWise

When you need to send money, benefit from competitive mid-market exchange rates and straightforward fees with TransferWise.

  • Transparent fees and very low exchange rates.
  • Next-day delivery to your loved ones or businesses.
  • Trusted the world over, with five-star ratings on Trustpilot.


    Compare international money transfers to the United Kingdom

    Min. Transfer Amount Transfer Speed Online Transfer Fee Rate Amount Received Description CTA Details
    USD 0 3 - 5 days USD 0.00 0.788 GBP 3,942 Offering no maximum and no minimum limit transfers with $0 fees. Go to site Show details
    USD 1 1 - 2 days USD 0.00 0.795 GBP
    3,974
    Enjoy high maximum transfers into more than 20 currencies while saving up to 90% over local banks. Go to site Show details
    USD 1 Within an hour USD 0.00 0.784 GBP 3,920 Use promo code 3FREE to send your first 3 transfers with no fee. Send to 110+ countries for bank-to-bank deposit, cash pickup or mobile top-up. Go to site Show details
    USD 1,000 1 day USD 0.00 0.787 GBP 3,934 No-maximum limit transfers with competitive exchange rates for 100+ currencies. Go to site Show details
    GBP 1,000 1 - 2 days USD 0.00 0.792 GBP 3,958 Exclusive: Minimum transfer of $1,000 for Finder readers (normally $5,000).
    For larger transfers, get no transaction fees and no maximum send limits.
    Go to site Show details
    USD 5,000 1 day USD 0.00 0.781 GBP 3,906 Venstar will support you through the entire process of your international transactions, from start to finish. Go to site Show details
    USD 50 1 - 2 days USD 0.00 0.781 GBP 3,906 Simple, zero-margin exchange rates, plus earn loyalty points on sign up, referral and every transaction. Go to site Show details

    Compare up to 4 providers


    History of the British pound

    Compare GBP exchange rates

    GBP exchange rates
    Best Pound to Rupee exchange rates Best Canadian Dollar to Pound exchange rates
    Best euro to pound exchange rates Post-Brexit: USD–GBP exchange rates
    Best GBP > USD exchange rates Best GBP > EUR exchange rates
    Best GBP > AUD exchange rates Best AUD > GBP exchange rates
    Best GBP to CAD exchange rates
    Back 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.

    The British Pound

    Above you can see some of the previous coin designs.

    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.
    Was this content helpful to you? No  Yes

    US International Money Transfers Offers

    Important Information*
    Logo for XE Money Transfer
    XE Money Transfer

    Offering no maximum and no minimum limit transfers with $0 fees.

    Logo for WorldRemit International Money Transfers
    WorldRemit International Money Transfers

    Use promo code 3FREE to send your first 3 transfers with no fee. Send to 110+ countries for bank-to-bank deposit, cash pickup or mobile top-up.

    Logo for TransferWise
    TransferWise

    Enjoy high maximum transfers into more than 20 currencies while saving up to 90% over local banks.

    Logo for CurrencyTransfer
    CurrencyTransfer

    Exclusive: Minimum transfer of $1,000 for Finder readers (normally $5,000).
    For larger transfers, get no transaction fees and no maximum send limits.

    Ask an Expert

    You are about to post a question on finder.com:

    • Do not enter personal information (eg. surname, phone number, bank details) as your question will be made public
    • finder.com is a financial comparison and information service, not a bank or product provider
    • We cannot provide you with personal advice or recommendations
    • Your answer might already be waiting – check previous questions below to see if yours has already been asked

    Finder.com provides guides and information on a range of products and services. Because our content is not financial advice, we suggest talking with a professional before you make any decision.

    By submitting your comment or question, you agree to our Privacy and Cookies Policy and Terms of Use.

    Questions and responses on finder.com are not provided, paid for or otherwise endorsed by any bank or brand. These banks and brands are not responsible for ensuring that comments are answered or accurate.

    US International Money Transfers Offers

    Important Information*
    Logo for XE Money Transfer
    XE Money Transfer

    Offering no maximum and no minimum limit transfers with $0 fees.

    Logo for WorldRemit International Money Transfers
    WorldRemit International Money Transfers

    Use promo code 3FREE to send your first 3 transfers with no fee. Send to 110+ countries for bank-to-bank deposit, cash pickup or mobile top-up.

    Logo for TransferWise
    TransferWise

    Enjoy high maximum transfers into more than 20 currencies while saving up to 90% over local banks.

    Logo for CurrencyTransfer
    CurrencyTransfer

    Exclusive: Minimum transfer of $1,000 for Finder readers (normally $5,000).
    For larger transfers, get no transaction fees and no maximum send limits.

    Go to site