The British Pound – Fourth Most Traded Currency in the World

Through war, peace and a new common currency, the British pound has always persevered.

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The pound sterling or British pound, 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 Jan 20, 2020

Compare today’s foreign exchange rates between the GBP and other currencies.

Refreshing in: 60s | Mon, 20 Jan 11:33am GMT
USD AUD CAD EUR CNY GBP INR MXN PHP
1 USD = 1.0000 1.4565 Inverse: 0.6866 1.3067 Inverse: 0.7653 0.9019 Inverse: 1.1087 6.8649 Inverse: 0.1457 0.7694 Inverse: 1.2996 71.1070 Inverse: 0.0141 18.6545 Inverse: 0.0536 50.9653 Inverse: 0.0196
1 AUD = 0.6866 Inverse: 1.4565 1.0000 0.8972 Inverse: 1.1146 0.6193 Inverse: 1.6148 4.7134 Inverse: 0.2122 0.5283 Inverse: 1.8929 48.8216 Inverse: 0.0205 12.8081 Inverse: 0.0781 34.9924 Inverse: 0.0286
1 EUR = 1.1087 Inverse: 0.9019 1.6148 Inverse: 0.6193 1.4488 Inverse: 0.6902 1.0000 7.6113 Inverse: 0.1314 0.8531 Inverse: 1.1722 78.8382 Inverse: 0.0127 20.6827 Inverse: 0.0484 56.5065 Inverse: 0.0177
1 GBP = 1.2996 Inverse: 0.7694 1.8929 Inverse: 0.5283 1.6983 Inverse: 0.5888 1.1722 Inverse: 0.8531 8.9219 Inverse: 0.1121 1.0000 92.4139 Inverse: 0.0108 24.2442 Inverse: 0.0412 66.2368 Inverse: 0.0151

History of the British pound

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.

Brexit and the pound

For information on how the exchange rate has been affected by Brexit, visit our page on Brexit and the pound.

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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.

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