Currency Culture: For the Love of Money – A Look at Britain’s Pound Sterling

Big Ben, Tower Bridge and The London Eye are icons of Great Britain, but there’s also an interesting culture about its currency, the British pound sterling—and it doesn’t require traveling on a double-decker bus to learn.

As the European economic crisis continues, the United Kingdom is emerging as a safe haven for investing. Demands for British government bonds are rising and attention is now being turned to the pound because it’s up 2.1 percent against the euro since early September. But Britain, like so many other euro zone nations, is facing its own economic challenges and is implementing austerity measures that are causing anger. These actions are prompting the country’s first general strike in many years.

A history dating back to 1158 during King Henry II’s rule, the British pound users include the U.K, its Crown Dependencies (the Isle of Man and the Channel Islands), the British Overseas Territories of South Georgia and the South Sandwich Islands. This is our fourth post in our series about “currency culture,” where we examine the history of different world currencies and how they play a role in popular culture (see our previous posts about Italy’s lira, Switzerland’s franc and Greece’s drachma). With an introduction as regal as Buckingham Palace, here are some interesting facts about the pound sterling:

  • Formally called British pound sterling; abbreviations “ster.” and “stg.” are sometimes used
  • Sterling component is the result of the sterling silver metal that composed the old coins
  • World’s oldest currency still in use
  • History dates to 1158 when England’s King Henry II introduced new metal coins to replace silver pennies that had been previously circulated for centuries
  • Sterling is the fourth most-traded currency in the foreign exchange market (after the U.S. dollar, euro and Japanese yen); the third most-held reserve currency in global services
  • Banknotes include denominations of £5, £10, £20, £50; coins of 1p, 2p, 5p, 10p, 20p, 50p, £1, £2
  • The royal wedding of Prince William and Kate Middleton was rumored to have cost as much as 80 million pounds, compared to the wedding of Prince Charles and Diana Spencer, which was priced at about 4 million to 30 million pounds
  • “The Twilight Saga: Breaking Dawn Part 1” shattered U.K. box-office records, sucking in 13.9 million pounds
  • British actor and Harry Potter star Daniel Radcliffe has earned 51.8 million pounds during his career, making him Britain’s richest and youngest entertainer
  • The 2012 London Olympic Games is reported to have a contingency budget of 2.7 billion pounds, and finances for security at the event are expected to rise by about 275 million pounds (about double the original estimate)

Like a course at Oxford University, we hope these facts are now pound-ed into your currency intelligence for your next tea-and-crumpet conversation. Until next time, cheerio!


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