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United Kingdom (UK) - Currency

Despite Europe and Ireland changing to the Euro, the United Kingdom has been resistant to adaptation, thus the Great British Pound, pound, or pound sterling remains the currency in Great Britain. As the official currency of the UK, the pound is used in all four countries: England, Wales, Scotland, and Northern Ireland. It is also used in UK territories such as Jersey, Isle of Man, Guernsey, South Georgia, South Sandwich Islands, Tristan da Cunha, and British Antarctic Territory. The pound is represented by the £ symbol. In financial communities the official currency code is GBP. This is the code used for forex trading and currency exchange rates.

Dividing the Pound into Units

The pound is equal to one unit of money, in the same way as the dollar is one unit of US currency. Coins are referred to as pence and often denoted by the symbol p. It can be confusing for those who think the p stands for pounds; however, when something is 1 pound and 10 pence it would be written as £1.10, whereas 10 pence is written as 10p if there are no pounds associated with the monetary value.

The typical coins are 1, 2, 5, 10, 20 and 50 pence. There are also 1 and 2 pound coins. For bank notes the denominations are usually 5, 10, 20, and 50. 1 pound and 100 pound bank notes are printed in Scotland only. The Bank of England states that there are currently only four denominations in circulation that can be used in UK stores. These are the 5 pound Elizabeth Fry note, 10 pound Charles Darwin note, 20 pound Adam Smith note, and the new 50 pound Matthew Boulton and James Watt note.

Slang Terms for UK Currency

Slang terms apply to the pound, and the most widely-used of these is ‘quid’. Other terms have included nicker, squid, nug, or sov. Sov is used for sovereign.

5 pound banknotes are usually called a ‘fiver’. However, some also call it a Lady Godiva or lady. The ten pound note is a tenner, cockle, benner, benz, or ben. Cockle came into effect for the rhyming of cockle and hen.

The 20 pound note is considered a score, which dates back to old English counting systems, when twenty of anything was considered a score. The 50 pound note is a reddish pink in colour, thus some people refer to it as a ‘pink’. Slang used occasionally for other money values include ‘bill’ or ‘a ton’ for 100 pounds, ‘pony’ for 25 pounds, and 500 is called a ‘monkey’.

It is also worth noting that there are different banknotes in circulation across the countries in the UK; however, Wales share Bank of England notes with their English neighbours.

For coins slang terms include silver, gold, bronze or copper. Silver represents 5, 10, 20, and 50 pence coins, while gold refers to the 1 pound and 2 pound coin printed on rare occasions. Lastly, copper or bronze is used for 1 and 2 pence coins that are sometimes made. Should someone talk about 1000 pounds they often call it a grand.

Historical Interest in UK Currency

While Scotland and Northern Ireland use the Great British pound for currency, these countries are able to produce private banknotes. The Bank of England is not the only bank to create notes for the entire UK, although it is the central bank of the United Kingdom. It is the bank that sets currency and interest rates, and watches over inflation. The Pound Sterling is considered the 4th top-traded currency in the world behind the US Dollar, Euro, and Japanese Yen.

The Bank of England was founded in 1694, with the Bank of Scotland opening a year later. Both banks have consistently printed paper money, however the Scots pound suffered devaluation, making it disappear in 1707. When Scotland and Great Britain merged with the Treaty of Union, the sterling became the currency. The Irish pound also disappeared, but not until 1826 when it was devalued beyond salvability.

The pound has had several coins and banknotes throughout its history, some of which are collectibles, such as the Elizabeth II Proof 66 Cameo from 1953 and the bronze coin of 1704 for the Battle of Blenheim.

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