Lately I've been listening to a lot of audiobooks by E. Nesbit in which jaunty Edwardian children, down on their luck, fixate on every sixpence and shilling they can get their hands on. These British coins are from pre "decimation" and work on an enigmatic system of division. Confounded by the guinea, half crown and farthing I decided to get enlightened.
The current British coins were implemented in 1971. Before this date, the British money system dated back to the Norman Conquest of 1066. The main difference is that there are 240 rather than 100 pennies in a pound. 12 pennies make a shilling (a bob) thus there are 20 shillings per pound. The money is further divided:
farthing= 1/4 penny
halfpence= 1/2 penny
thruppence= 3 pence
sixpence= 6 pence
shilling= 12 pence
florin= 2 shilling
half crown= 2 shilling + 6 pence
crown= 5 shillings
The guinea introduces some confusion being worth 21 shillings. It's almost a pound but slightly more. Tradespeople were paid in pounds while people like architects or writers were paid in guineas. The sovereign is a pound coin made from gold. It's about the size of a the Canadian dime and would have been worth hundreds of dollars in today's money.
In 1279 a farthing could buy a chicken but by 1900 it could only get a single candy and ceased being legal tender in 1960. However, the value of the farthing coin in 2013 currency is between 2p and 6p so perhaps we will soon see the British penny heading the way of the Canadian.