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Nice thrup’nies

Shit. I was going to post about the “Mercury” dime tonight, but I see I’ve already done that. So how about a threepence?

It’s not as interesting, although it is Cockney rhyming slang for tits (thrup’ny bit = tit).

Thruppences were minted irregularly between about 1540 and decimalisation in 1971, in a number of metals and designs. Three pence equals a third of a shilling or an eightieth of a pound. The old British currency was sort of base twelve. Which is cool because twelve is divisible by two, three, four and six, giving lots and lots of different possible coin denominations.

This particular reverse was designed for Edward VIII before he abdicated, and was used throughout the reign of his brother, George VI. It’s nickel-brass and was produced simultaneously with the silver theepence for a while.

The flowers are thrift, also known as sea thrift or sea pinks. Thrift? Money? Get it? The designer was Frances Madge Kitchener.

Boring. Told you. So what’s with all this? I finally got around to putting some of my coin collection on merchandise today.

No, no…I’m not trying to sell more of my shit to you longsuffering bastards. Blog links make Google think my merchandise is swell (in fact, I really ought to be linking much more often to suck up to the search engines). And, frankly, I’ve been looking this stuff up all day and I’m WAY too lazy to come up with something else to blog about.


Comment from S. Weasel
Time: June 15, 2010, 10:21 pm

I’ve got a bunch more queued up to go, but I’m still getting the hang of scanning coins. It’s harder than I expected. So don’t buy anything; I think I need to lighten some of those up before they’ll work okay.

Comment from Uncle Badger
Time: June 15, 2010, 10:41 pm

When I were a wee badger cub, people used to put silver threepenny bits into their Christmas puddings. If you found one in your portion, it was ‘good luck’.

If it lodged in your windpipe, not so much.

But that’s not why I dredged-up this memory, fascinating though it undoubtedly is. It was because they also used to do it for the last school dinner before Christmas.

That’s right – they used to put a handful of silver coins the size of dimes into a delicious pudding, then they fed it to hungry children, all excited ‘cos it was nearly Christmas and Santa was on his way and ‘Gosh! Isn’t this pudding lovely, Cecil?!’

Not many of us died.

These days they make teachers wear dayglo jackets in case they scare the children when looming out of the darkness. In my day, scaring children was the prime job requirement.

We are not the people we once were. Any of us.

Comment from David Gillies
Time: June 15, 2010, 10:52 pm

I don’t know why the Royal Mint has a thing for polygonal coins. Now it’s just the 20p and 50p, but I’ve not seen it in other countries. And the 3d coin wasn’t even a Reuleaux polygon which feed correctly into vending machines.

Comment from Gromulin
Time: June 15, 2010, 11:47 pm

Three pence equals a third of a shilling or an eightieth of a pound.

Holy crap…I had a hard enough time teaching the Loin Fruit how to count nickels, dimes and quarters. 1/80th of a pound?? one-third of a shilling? Oh, Thats F’d up.

I’m still trying to figure out how a quater is two bits. Thats about as confusing as US coinage gets.

Comment from S. Weasel
Time: June 16, 2010, 12:02 am

Yeah, the Brits had to do serious base-12 math in their heads, Gromulin. It’s pretty cool to ask Uncle B to make change the old way.

The main coins were:

Farthing: ¼ d
Ha’pence: ½ d
Penny: 1d (duh)
Tuppence: 2d
Thruppence: 3d
Groat: 4d
Sixpence: 6d
Shilling: 12d
Florin: 24d
Half crown: 30d
Crown: 100d
Sovereign: 240d (£1)
Guinea: 240d (£1) in gold

Comment from David Gillies
Time: June 16, 2010, 12:22 am

OMG, I just saw Annoying Orange being used to advertise canned fruit juice on TV. Sell out!

Bit off there: a crown was 5/- = 60d. Exchange rate was for a long time $4 = £1 so a half crown was known as a ‘half a dollar’. Guinea was 252d (£1 1/-) It was the professional fee, so doctors, lawyers etc got a nice little 5% bonus. Prizes for horse-races were usually paid in guineas too.

Comment from Uncle Badger
Time: June 16, 2010, 12:55 am

It’s true…. you’d see a new TV in a shop window –
‘yours for only 27 guineas’. Mentally, you were supposed to think ‘Wow! Only £27!’ but when you got inside, the damned thing cost you £27 and 27 shillings ie £28.7.0 – which is £28.35 in furrinmoney.

It doesn’t sound like a big deal, but if you were earning £15 a week, it hurt.

The thing about our old currency (which went back to Roman times – hence the ‘d’ for pennies aka ‘denarius’) wasn’t that it wasn’t intrinsically better than a decimal coinage system, it’s that it made even a barely numerate imbecile like me able to do mental arithmetic.

That’ll be sixpence to you, Guv’nor – you’ve got a lucky face!

Comment from Allen
Time: June 16, 2010, 1:15 am

I still believe that when England decimalised their money it was the final straw. Even the French could figure out the new currency, which was a shame.

I’m trying to remember what threepence used to get me as a kid. The bus fare to Croydon was 9d so three threepence which seemed so cool, oh, three “Stoplight” lollipops 1d each. A bunce of other things kids wanted seemed to be 3d. It was the cooleest coin. Heavy too, in my sweaty little kid fist.

Comment from nbpundit
Time: June 16, 2010, 2:36 am

I’ve still got money from a trip back in the 80s. Of course it’s got no real value now, sentimental only.
I spent my 16th summer(’63) with my family in the south of England, except for a glorious trip to northern Wales.
And of course there was the boyfriend who was a student at Oxford. Always chaperoned. Heh

Comment from Gromulin
Time: June 16, 2010, 3:10 am

Sample coin conversation with 6 year old daughter:

Ok,the red one is a penny. The big silver one with the smooth side is a nickel, it’s worth five pennies. The smallest silver one, with the ridges on the side, is a dime, it’s worth 10 pennies. The big silver one with the ridges is a Quart..


yes, peanut?

Why is the ten one smaller than the five one?

Dunno, thats just how it is honey.

Then shouldn’t the next silver one be even smaller?

Well, um, yeah…can’t fight your logic, peanut. But like I said, it’s just how it is.

(continue for half an hour, until you get to the Susan B. Anthony dollar and the new dollar coins…then just throw in the towel, giver her $5 and send her out to the ice cream truck…hope for an honest driver)

Comment from Can\’t hark my cry
Time: June 16, 2010, 4:15 am

Um. Not to be a PITA or anything. But wasn’t thruppence a quarter (rather than a third) of a shilling?

I should probably confess that, having lived an anglophilic childhood and young adulthood which included reading an astonishing variety of works written by British authors, I used to be almost as good at figuring in the old British currency system as I was in the (admittedly much simpler) American system. Thing is–a shilling is twelve pence. . .

Comment from Pavel
Time: June 16, 2010, 4:29 am

Ah, money systems.

Actually, with 12 pennies to the shilling, thruppence would be a quarter of a shilling, not a third. And let us not forget the guinea, worth a pound and a shilling. There was a reason for that, though I’ve forgotten what.

While Americans were among the early adopters of decimalized currency, why is our workhorse coin, the quarter, worth a quarter dollar, rather than a decimal fraction of a dollar? Why, yes; that’s right. We’re not quite as decimal as we think. And yet this particular feature of our coinage comes not from Mother England, but dastardly Spain.

Most of your readers are old enough to remember when stock trading in the US was done in 1/8ths; “IBM was up to 115 1/8th today”. We finally switched to cents in the early 21st century. Trading in eighths was a vestige of the 18th century, when the common currency in the US was the Spanish milled dollar (which was about the size of the giant Morgan silver dollar, which we always got from our uncles on our birthdays, by federal law).

The Spanish milled dollar was quite easily cut into quarters and eighths. Hence both quarters (25c) and eighths (12.5c) were common fractional currencies in the US until well into the 19th century in the US. The Spanish milled dollar was legal tender in the US until . . . anyone? . . .

1859? Why, yes, that’s right, Pavel, you pedantic git.

So, Americans: anytime you use a quarter dollar, you should say, “Esto es un cuarto del dolar, Senor” to that 7-11 attendant, in honor of its Spanish heritage. You should also apply appropriate accent marks and tildes so they will not think you uneducated.

PS to Stoatie: Not only Mercury Dimes, but Standing Liberty Quarters were in circulation when we were kids. Did you ever get one of those? The 1916 version of Ms. Liberty still had one of her boobs hanging out, Grecian style. It was totally woohoo to us boys.

Comment from David Gillies
Time: June 16, 2010, 5:13 am

Hence “pieces of eight,” Pavel.

Allen, I remember when a packet of Polo mints went up to tuppence (new money) and a Mars bar went up to 4p. A seismic shock ran through my little group of friends and me. And Mars bars used to be chunky, not the etiolated fun-size things they sell today for 10 shillings or so. Interestingly, Mars bars in the UK are what you Yanks call Milky Ways, and Milky Ways are basically the same as Three Musketeers.

Comment from David Bain
Time: June 16, 2010, 6:02 am

I must be even older than David G. I remember when Mars Bars were 4d! They were also so big you couldn’t eat a whole bar in one sitting.

Comment from SCOTTtheBADGER
Time: June 16, 2010, 8:14 am

Uncle Badger, surely you jest! We Badgers just keep getting better and better! We are smart, honest, dependable, and if any creature on the planet radiates more down right cuddliness than Taxadea Taxus, I have yet to see one. I am sure the same can be said for Meles Meles, Sir!

Comment from Bill (still the .00358% of your traffic that’s from Iraq) T
Time: June 16, 2010, 8:49 am

So, Americans: anytime you use a quarter dollar, you should say, “Esto es un cuarto del dolar, Senor” to that 7-11 attendant, in honor of its Spanish heritage.

In my Joisey neighborhood, you’d have to say, “Kij’a a’p Engrejsi boltij hi?”

No Hispanics, but lots and lots of Paks.

Comment from Uncle Badger
Time: June 16, 2010, 12:48 pm

That’s right, SCOTTtheBADGER. And if they don’t agree, we’ll bite ’em 😉

Comment from JeffS
Time: June 16, 2010, 1:46 pm

I’m still trying to figure out how a quater is two bits.

Gromulin, Pavel and David Gillies provide the basis of the explanation. The Spanish dollar was used as currency in America, primary because (IIRC) our minting capability back then was pretty limited.

Since our illustrious ancestors needed change for a dollar, the coin was cut into 8 pieces (“pieces of 8”), or 8 “bits”, 1 bit equaling 1/8 of a dollar, or 12½ cents.

Hence, 2 bits = 1 quarter.

Yes, I’ve collected coins. How could you tell? 😀

Comment from Pablo
Time: June 16, 2010, 3:14 pm

“The Spanish dollar was used as currency in America, primary because (IIRC) our minting capability back then was pretty limited.”

Au contraire, American mints struck Pieces of Eight which were then shipped back to Spain. Madness, I know.

Comment from Mike C.
Time: June 16, 2010, 8:27 pm

Not a boring subject at all – I had some of those 3d coins at one time.

America also had half-pennies, two cent pieces, three cent pieces and (my favorite) “half dimes” which were silver coins roughly half the size of the dime. Didn’t last long as people kept losing the damned things, and 5 cents was real money back then to a lot of folk. Then there were 1, 2, 5 10, 20 and 50 dollar coins, all but the 1 made of gold, with the 10 and 20 dollar ones being by far the most common. And some mondo large denomination bills no longer in production. Which (oddly enough) reminds me of Mark Twain’s story, “The 100,000 Pound Note.”

Comment from Fuinseoig
Time: June 16, 2010, 8:44 pm

Ah, god, you’ve lured me out of lurkerdom with this post.

Dear Lord, the thruppenny bit! And the farthing! And the sixpence (or tanner!) I’m old enough to be pre-decimalisation and, being Irish, have gone through three currency changes (the decimal coinage to the punt to the euro).

I remember the farthing was defunct by my time, but I still learned that there were four farthings to a penny. As for what they bought, a spin on a merry-go-round in the amusements in Tramore cost me thruppence. I spent a ten bob note on a book. My pocket money used to be a shilling.

Yep, I remember the florins being two shillings, the half-crown was two-and-six (and I even remember how to write the old money with the slashes and all).

Good grief, now I’m feeling old 🙂

Comment from Steve
Time: June 16, 2010, 9:08 pm

I can remember going off with a friend cycling to Kimberley from Bilborough in Nottingham and being given a couple of sandwiches and six pennies. No thought was given to “safety”!
At a small corner shop my friend and I purchased some sweets and I was given a farthing in my change (it had a wren on the reverse!) Later that day, in another shop I spent that farthing on a toffee everlasting strip.
We got home about 6:00pm, completely worn out, sun-burned and ecstatically happy.

Comment from Nina from GCP
Time: June 16, 2010, 9:49 pm

I don’t know what a toffee everlasting strip is, but it sounds darned tasty.

Comment from Enas Yorl
Time: June 16, 2010, 10:00 pm

I wish we could go back to the really pretty coins with Liberty on them instead of the ugly dudes we’re stuck with now. Seriously, why did we ever stop making these?

Comment from Nina from GCP
Time: June 16, 2010, 10:33 pm

That is a gorgeous coin, Enas. Yes.

Comment from Can’t hark my cry
Time: June 16, 2010, 10:34 pm

Well, some of the state quarters were quite lovely (Connecticut, especially), and I kinda like the buffalo nickels. . .but, yeah, the habit of adorning coinage with the faces of old dead guys is overdone.

Years ago Canada had a coin with an image of Hephaestus (Vulcan, to the Romans among us) on it, that I really liked. Wish I’d kept one of those. Actually, it seems to me that Canada has even to this day some attractive coins.

And, Nina–yeah, I thought “You could get toffee that would last forever for a mere quarter of a penny? Where’s my time machine?” Sigh. . .

Comment from Uncle Badger
Time: June 16, 2010, 10:57 pm

Steve – that rang so many bells.

Either paedophilia hadn’t been invented when we were kids, or society has got seriously out of whack.

Comment from Uncle Badger
Time: June 16, 2010, 11:01 pm

Can’t Hark – you used to be able but four Trebor (it was Robert, backwards) ‘farthing chews’ for a penny when I was a cub. They were probably made from industrial waste and coloured with red lead and boiled babies, but they tasted superb and lasted for an age.

After you with the time machine…

Comment from Can’t hark my cry
Time: June 16, 2010, 11:39 pm

Uncle B–well, the local grocery store in my upstate New York community used to carry Callard & Bowser’s: roughly 1 1/2″ by 4 & 1/2″ packages which contained 6 or 8 (I don’t remember precisely, oh woe is I!) individually wrapped sweets. Toffee, licorice, some others. . .I adored them, both because they were tasty and because they were British (um, I have used the word “Anglophilic,” right?)

There are no sweets like the sweets of our childhood. More’s the pity.

Comment from Can’t hark my cry
Time: June 16, 2010, 11:47 pm

Oh, right, about paedophilia. . .it had been invented then, and was no less rampant than it is today. But it wasn’t mentioned, or acknowledged, and a lot of child abuse got overlooked/swept under the rug/ignored. For a bunch of societal reasons that probably seemed to make a lot of sense.

Thing is–while there have always been the dangerous strangers, the real threat has always been closer to home, and more familiar. But you can take precautions against strangers, and taking precautions makes parents (and others with responsibility for children) feel more comfortable about themselves. So society is increasingly unwilling to allow children to have independent adventures because of the risk of encountering dangerous strangers. . .but we don’t seem to be reducing the level of family abuse. Sad. I did cherish the (in retrospect) incredible freedom of movement I had from about age 8 onwards. . .

Comment from Gromulin
Time: June 16, 2010, 11:50 pm

So what’s a “Quid”?, asks the ignorant ‘mercan.

Comment from Uncle Badger
Time: June 16, 2010, 11:53 pm

I truly believe we do our children a disservice, Can’t Hark. I don’t believe they are actually any safer, but I do believe they are a lot less free range.

Oh no! I mentioned chickens! 😉

Comment from Uncle Badger
Time: June 16, 2010, 11:56 pm

Gromulin – it’s one pound.

There’s an awful joke about a mermaid with half a dozen sick cephalopods which she offers in settlement of a debt, but let’s not go there, eh? 😉

Comment from Can’t hark my cry
Time: June 17, 2010, 12:11 am

I, too, find myself wondering if we are really making things better–with respect to many things, but child abuse is definitely high on the list. One of the unintended/unexpected consequences of all the Megan’s Laws (the sex offender registration statutes) in America is that we are now having to deal with what to do when registered sex offender wants to attend his child’s graduation–or come to school for a parent-teacher conference. Bear in mind that being a registered sex offender does NOT necessarily mean you are a pedophile. We’ve demonized sex offenses to the point where we have made it extremely difficult to deal with the offenders as people. . .

Sigh. Rant done. Apologies.

And, um, could you give us a tag line to make the internet search for that joke a LITTLE less demanding? Hmmmm?

Comment from Uncle Badger
Time: June 17, 2010, 12:17 am

‘Here’s that sick/six squid I owe you,’ said the mermaid, with a twinkle in her eye….

I’ll be off now…..

Comment from Enas Yorl
Time: June 17, 2010, 12:19 am

Uncle B. – does the joke end up somewhere around “I got a quid for a squid, a squid for a quid, and six quid for f*cked up squid”?

Oh well you got there before I did then. Nevermind.

Comment from Uncle Badger
Time: June 17, 2010, 12:22 am

Blimey! There’s a hundred versions (and all of them lame)…

Comment from Can’t hark my cry
Time: June 17, 2010, 12:32 am

Oooooh, thank you! I’ll go look it up. You do know the one about the octopus and the bagpipes, yes? Can’t remember if I’ve ever seen it referenced on this blog. . .

Speaking of which. Am I the only one dumbfounded by the revelation that ALLEN had a UK childhood? I mean, I didn’t realize Steve was British, either, but ALLEN? Allen makes wine from the grapes he raises in California? Colorado? Somewhere very American Southwest. How come he has childhood memories involving thruppences?

Comment from S. Weasel
Time: June 17, 2010, 12:52 am

Somehow, the words “…looks like you blew a seal…” keep going through my head.

Comment from Uncle Badger
Time: June 17, 2010, 12:52 am

You know, Can’t Hark, Her Stoatiness and I have been puzzling over that one all day. And Steve, too?

It’s like finding out John Wayne was really born in Cheltenham, 😉

Comment from Allen
Time: June 17, 2010, 1:00 am

Can’t Hark, IBM. Which really stands for I’ve Been Moved. My dad got sent to England to work out the computer system for the Bank of England. Home also included NC, Maryland, Japan, and other places.

I finally made it back “home” after many moons to California, where I was born.

Comment from Can’t hark my cry
Time: June 17, 2010, 1:07 am

Ah! My father was a GE engineer, so we moved around a lot, but never internationally. . .and I was raised to believe that IBM stood for “the Immense Black Monster.” Rivalry, y’know?

And, um, Stoaty, if the “looks like you blew a seal” was in response to my question about the bagpipes. . .no. But try “Play it? If I could figure out how to take the pajamas off I’d make love to it.”

And I NEVER tell naughty jokes. . .but I have painfully total recall of every one I’ve ever heard.

Comment from Allen
Time: June 17, 2010, 1:44 am

GE, I’ve heard a few ones about them. My sister-in-law worked for Neutron Jack. Lord love a duck, that’s some interesting stuff.

Comment from Can’t hark my cry
Time: June 17, 2010, 1:48 am

Oh, man, I hadn’t heard “Neutron Jack” before–just looked it up and, yeah, that about says it all. It was a great company for a lot of decades. . .

Of course, the “eliminating people while leaving buildings intact” thing isn’t entirely true, either. In the mid 1980s one of Edison’s original buildings was still standing at the works in downtown Schenectady. The company tore it down in order to reduce their tax assessment. ‘Nuff said.

Comment from JeffS
Time: June 17, 2010, 2:02 am

Madness, I know.

Thanks for the correction, Pablo. And, yes, it was madness….

Comment from Nina from GCP
Time: June 17, 2010, 2:15 am

I love you bunch o’ loonies!

Where (approximately) in CA are you from, Allen? I’m Sacramento-ish.

Comment from Little Black Sambo
Time: June 21, 2010, 4:07 pm

Where was it pronounced “thruppence”? Where I lived it was always “thrippence”, and I have occasionally heard “threppence” from people who came from other places. Funnily enough, it was never actually pronounced “threepence” as far as I know.

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