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The pound sterling (symbol: £; ISO code: GBP), commonly called the pound, is the official currency of the United Kingdom, its Crown dependencies (the Isle of Man and the Channel Islands) and the British Overseas Territories of South Georgia and the South Sandwich Islands,British Antarctic Territory and Tristan da Cunha. It is subdivided into 100 pence (singular: penny).

The Channel Islands and the Isle of Man produce their own local issues of sterling; see Manx pound, Jersey pound, and Guernsey pound. The pound sterling is also used in Gibraltar (alongside the Gibraltar pound), the Falkland Islands (alongside the Falkland Islands pound) and Saint Helena and Ascension (alongside the Saint Helena pound). The Gibraltar, Falkland Islands and Saint Helena pounds are separate currencies, pegged at parity to the pound sterling.

Sterling is the third-largest reserve currency, after the US dollar and the euro.The pound sterling is also the third-most-traded currency in the foreign exchange market, after the US dollar and the euro.

Name
The full, official name, pound sterling, (plural: pounds sterling) is used mainly in formal contexts and also when it is necessary to distinguish the United Kingdom currency from other currencies with the same name. Otherwise the term pound is normally used. The currency name is sometimes abbreviated to just sterling, particularly in the wholesale financial markets, but not when referring to specific amounts; for example, "Payment is accepted in sterling" but never "These cost five sterling".The abbreviations "ster." or "stg." are sometimes used. The term British pound is commonly used in less formal contexts, although it is not an official name of the currency. A common slang term is quid (singular and plural) which is thought to derive from the Latin phrase "quid pro quo".

There is some uncertainty as to the origin of the term "pound sterling". Some sources say it dates back to Anglo-Saxon times, when coins called sterlings were minted from silver; 240 of these sterlings weighed one pound, and large payments came to be made in "pounds of sterlings".Other references, including the Oxford English Dictionary, say a sterling was a silver penny used in England by the Normans, and date the term to around 1300. For more discussion of the etymology of "sterling" see Sterling silver.

The currency sign is the pound sign. The £ is written with a single cross-bar—this is the style used on sterling bank notes. The pound sign derives from the black-letter "L", an abbreviation of Librae in Roman £sd units (librae, solidi, denarii) used for pounds, shillings and pence in the British pre-decimal duodecimal currency system. Libra was the basic Roman unit of weight, derived from the Latin word for scales or balance.

The ISO 4217 currency code is GBP. Occasionally, the abbreviation UKP is used but this is incorrect because the ISO 3166 country code for (the United Kingdom of) Great Britain and Northern Ireland is GB (see Terminology of the British Isles#Terminology in detail). The Crown dependencies use their own (non-ISO) codes: GGP (Guernsey pound), JEP (Jersey pound) and IMP (Isle of Man pound). Stocks are often traded in pence, so traders may refer to pence sterling, GBX (sometimes GBp), when listing stock prices.

Subdivisions and other units
Decimal
Since decimalisation in 1971, the pound has been divided into 100 pence (until 1981 described on the coinage as "new pence"). The symbol for the penny is "p"; hence an amount such as 50p (£0.50) properly pronounced "fifty pence" is more colloquially, quite often, pronounced "fifty pee". This also helped to distinguish between new and old pence amounts during the changeover to the decimal system.

Pre-decimal
Prior to decimalisation, the pound was divided into 20 shillings and each shilling into 12 pence, making 240 pence to the pound. The symbol for the shilling was "s"—not from the first letter of the word, but from the Latin solidus. The symbol for the penny was "d", from the French denier, from the Latin denarius (the solidus and denarius were Roman coins). A mixed sum of shillings and pence such as 3 shillings and 6 pence was written as "3/6" or "3s 6d" and spoken as "three and six". 5 shillings was written as "5s" or, more commonly, "5/-". The stroke, /, indicating shillings, was originally an adaptation of the long s.

Various coin denominations had, and in some cases continue to have, special names—such as crown, farthing, sovereign and guinea. See Coins of the pound sterling and List of British coins and banknotes for details.

By the 1950s coins of George III, George IV and William IV had disappeared from circulation, but coins (at least the penny) bearing the heads of any British king or queen from Queen Victoria onwards could be found in circulation. Silver coins were replaced by those in cupro-nickel in 1947 and by the 1960s the silver coins were rarely seen. Silver/cupro-nickel shillings (from any period after 1816) and florins (2 shillings) remained as legal tender after decimalisation (as 5p and 10p respectively) and the sixpences of 1816 and after remained legal tender until 1980 (as two and a half new pence).

History
The pound sterling is the world's oldest currency still in use.

Anglo-Saxon
The origins of sterling lie in the reign of King Offa of Mercia, who introduced the silver penny. It copied the denarius of the new currency system of Charlemagne's Frankish Empire. As in the Carolingian system, 240 pennies weighed 1 pound (corresponding to Charlemagne's libra), with the shilling corresponding to Charlemagne's solidus and equal to 12d. At the time of the penny's introduction, it weighed 22.5 troy grains of fine silver (30 tower grains; about 1.5 g), indicating that the Mercian pound weighed 5,400 troy grains (the Mercian pound became the basis of the tower pound, which weighed 5,400 troy grains, equivalent to 7,200 tower grains). At this time, the name sterling had yet to be acquired. The penny swiftly spread throughout the other Anglo-Saxon kingdoms and became the standard coin of what was to become England.

Medieval
The early pennies were struck from fine silver (as pure as was available). However, in 1158, a new coinage was introduced by King Henry II (known as the Tealby penny) which was struck from .925 (92.5%) silver. This became the standard until the 20th century and is today known as sterling silver, named after its association with the currency. Sterling silver is harder than the fine silver (i.e. 0.999/99.9% pure, etc) that was traditionally used and so sterling silver coins did not wear down as rapidly as fine silver coins. The English currency was almost exclusively silver until 1344, when the gold noble was successfully introduced into circulation. However, silver remained the legal basis for sterling until 1816. In the reign of Henry IV (1412–1421), the penny was reduced in weight to 15 grains (0.97 g) of silver, with a further reduction to 12 grains (0.78 g) in 1464.

Tudor
During the reigns of Henry VIII and Edward VI, the silver coinage was drastically debased, although the pound was redefined to the troy pound of 5,760 grains (373 g) in 1526. In 1544, a silver coinage was issued containing just one third silver and two thirds copper—equating to .333 silver, or 33.3% pure. The result was a coin copper in appearance, but relatively pale in colour. In 1552, a new silver coinage was introduced, struck in sterling silver. However, the penny's weight was reduced to 8 grains (0.52 g), meaning that 1 troy pound of sterling silver produced 60 shillings of coins. This silver standard was known as the "60-shilling standard" and lasted until 1601 when a "62-shilling standard" was introduced, reducing the penny's weight to 7 23⁄31 grains (0.50 g). Throughout this period, the size and value of the gold coinage fluctuated considerably.

Unofficial gold standard
In 1663, a new gold coinage was introduced based on the 22 carat fine guinea. Fixed in weight at 44½ to the troy pound from 1670, this coin's value varied considerably until 1717, when it was fixed at 21 shillings (21/-, 1.05 pounds). However, despite the efforts of Sir Isaac Newton, Master of the Mint, to reduce the guinea's value, this valuation overvalued gold relative to silver when compared to the valuations in other European countries. British merchants sent silver abroad in payments whilst goods for export were paid for with gold. As a consequence, silver flowed out of the country and gold flowed in, leading to a situation where Great Britain was effectively on a gold standard. In addition, a chronic shortage of silver coins developed.

Establishment of modern currency
The Bank of England was formed in 1694, followed by the Bank of Scotland a year later. Both began to issue paper money.

Currency of the United Kingdom
The pound scots had begun equal to sterling but had suffered far higher devaluation until being pegged to sterling at a value of 12 pounds scots = 1 pound sterling. In 1707, the Kingdom of England and the Kingdom of Scotland merged to form the United Kingdom of Great Britain. In accordance with the Treaty of Union, the currency of the 'united kingdom' was sterling with the pound scots being replaced by sterling at the pegged value.

Gold standard
During the Revolutionary and Napoleonic wars, Bank of England notes were legal tender and their value floated relative to gold. The Bank also issued silver tokens to alleviate the shortage of silver coins. In 1816, the gold standard was adopted officially, with the silver standard reduced to 66 shillings (66/-, 3.3 pounds), rendering silver coins a "token" issue (i.e., not containing their value in precious metal). In 1817, the sovereign was introduced. Struck in 22-carat gold, it contained 113 grains (7.3 g) of gold and replaced the guinea as the standard British gold coin without changing the gold standard. In 1825, the Irish pound, which had been pegged to sterling since 1801 at a rate of 13 Irish pounds = 12 pounds sterling, was replaced, at the same rate, with sterling.

During the late 19th and early 20th centuries, many other countries adopted the gold standard. As a consequence, conversion rates between different currencies could be determined simply from the respective gold standards. The pound sterling was equal to 4.85 U.S. dollars, 4.89 Canadian dollars, 12.10 Dutch Guilders, 25.22 French francs (or equivalent currencies in the Latin Monetary Union), 20.43 German Marks or 24.02 Austro-Hungarian Krones. Discussions took place following the 1865 International Monetary Conference in Paris concerning the possibility of the UK joining the Latin Monetary Union and a Royal Commission on International Coinage examined the issues,resulting in a decision against joining monetary union.

The gold standard was suspended at the outbreak of the war in 1914, with Bank of England and Treasury notes becoming legal tender. Prior to World War I, the United Kingdom had one of the world's strongest economies, holding 40% of the world's overseas investments. However, by the end of the war the country owed £850 million (£30.7 billion as of 2010)., mostly to the United States, with interest costing the country some 40% of all government spending. In an attempt to resume stability, a variation on the gold standard was reintroduced in 1925, under which the currency was fixed to gold at its pre-war peg, although people were only able to exchange their currency for gold bullion, rather than for coins. This was abandoned on 21 September 1931, during the Great Depression, and sterling suffered an initial devaluation of some 25%. Use in the Empire
Sterling circulated in much of the British Empire. In some parts, it was used alongside local currencies. For example, the gold sovereign was legal tender in Canada despite the use of the Canadian dollar. Several colonies and dominions adopted the pound as their own currency. These included Australia, Barbados, British West Africa, Cyprus, Fiji, Irish Free State, Jamaica, New Zealand, South Africa and Southern Rhodesia. Some of these retained parity with sterling throughout their existence (e.g. the South African pound), whilst others deviated from parity after the end of the gold standard (e.g. the Australian pound). These currencies and others tied to sterling constituted the Sterling Area.

Bretton Woods
In 1940, an agreement with the U.S.A. pegged the pound to the U.S. dollar at a rate of £1 = $4.03. This rate was maintained through the Second World War and became part of the Bretton Woods system which governed post-war exchange rates. Under continuing economic pressure, and despite months of denials that it would do so, on 19 September 1949 the government devalued the pound by 30.5% to $2.80. The move prompted several other currencies to be devalued against the dollar.

In the mid-1960s, the pound came under renewed pressure since the exchange rate against the dollar was considered too high. In the summer of 1966, with the value of the pound falling in the currency markets, exchange controls were tightened by the Wilson government. Among the measures, tourists were banned from taking more than £50 out of the country, until the restriction was lifted in 1979. The pound was eventually devalued by 14.3% to $2.40 on 18 November 1967.

Decimalisation
On 15 February 1971, the UK decimalised, replacing the shilling and penny with a single subdivision, the new penny. The word "new" was omitted from coins after 1981.

Free-floating pound
With the breakdown of the Bretton Woods system—the pound floated from August 1971 onwards. It at first appreciated a little, rising to almost $2.65 in March 1972, from 2.42 when it had been fixed. The Sterling Area effectively ended at this time when the majority of its members also chose to float freely against the pound and the dollar.

The 1976 sterling crisis
James Callaghan came to power in 1976. He was immediately told the economy was facing huge problems, according to documents released in 2006 by the National Archives.Financial markets were losing confidence in sterling. The UK treasury could not balance its books, while Labour's strategy emphasised high public spending. Callaghan was told there were three possible outcomes: a disastrous free fall in Sterling, an internationally unacceptable siege economy or a deal with key allies to prop up the pound while painful economic reforms were put in place.

1979-1989
The Conservatives arrived in power in 1979, on a programme of fiscal austerity. The pound rocketed, moving above the $2.40 level, as interest rates rose in response to the monetarist policy of targeting money supply. The high exchange rate was widely blamed for the deep recession of 1981. Sterling fell sharply after 1980. At its lowest, the pound stood at just $1.03 in March 1985, before returning to the US$1.70 level in December 1989.

Following the Deutsche Mark
In 1988, Margaret Thatcher's Chancellor of the Exchequer Nigel Lawson decided that the pound should "shadow" the West German Deutsche Mark, with the unintended result of a rapid rise in inflation as the economy boomed due to inappropriately low interest rates. (For ideological reasons, the Conservative Government declined to use alternative mechanisms to control the explosion of credit. For this reason, former Prime Minister Edward Heath referred to Lawson as a "one club golfer").

Following German re-unification in 1989, the reverse held true, as high borrowing costs to fund Eastern reconstruction, a need exacerbated by the political choice to make the ostmark equivalent to the deutschemark, meant rates in other countries shadowing the DM, especially the UK, far too high relative to the domestic circumstances, leading to a housing decline and recession.

Following the European Currency Unit
On 8 October 1990 the Conservative government decided to join the European Exchange Rate Mechanism (ERM), with the pound set at DM2.95. However, the country was forced to withdraw from the system on “Black Wednesday” (16 September 1992) as Britain’s economic performance made the exchange rate unsustainable. Speculator George Soros famously made approximately US$1 billion from shorting the pound.

'Black Wednesday' saw interest rates jump from 10% to 15% in an unsuccessful attempt to stop the pound from falling below the ERM limits. The exchange rate fell to DM2.20. Proponents[who?] of a lower GBP/DM exchange rate were vindicated as the cheaper pound encouraged exports and contributed to the economic prosperity of the 1990s

Following inflation targets
In 1997, the newly elected Labour government handed over day-to-day control of interest rates to the Bank of England (a policy that had originally been advocated by the Liberal Democrats). The Bank is now responsible for setting its base rate of interest so as to keep inflation in the Consumer Price Index (CPI) very close to 2%. Should CPI inflation be more than one percentage point above or below the target, the governor of the Bank of England is required to write an open letter to the Chancellor of the Exchequer explaining the reasons for this and the measures which will be taken to bring this measure of inflation back in line with the 2% target. On 17 April 2007, CPI inflation was reported at 3.1% (inflation of the Retail Prices Index was 4.8%). Accordingly, and for the first time, the Governor had to write publicly to the government explaining why inflation was more than one percentage point higher than its target.

Euro
As a member of the European Union, the United Kingdom could adopt the euro as its currency. However, the subject remains politically controversial. Gordon Brown, then Chancellor of the Exchequer, ruled out membership for the foreseeable future, saying that the decision not to join had been right for Britain and for Europe.

The government of former Prime Minister Tony Blair had pledged to hold a public referendum to decide on membership should "five economic tests" be met, to ensure that adoption of the euro would be in the national interest. In addition to these internal (national) criteria, the UK would have to meet the EU's economic convergence criteria (Maastricht criteria), before being allowed to adopt the euro. Currently, the UK's annual government deficit, as a percentage of the GDP, is above the defined threshold. In February 2005, 55% of British citizens were against adopting the currency, with 30% in favour.The idea of replacing the pound with the euro has been controversial with the British public, partly because of the pound's identity as a symbol of British sovereignty and because it would, according to critics, lead to suboptimal interest rates, harming the British economy. In December 2008 the results of a BBC poll of 1000 people suggested that 71% would vote no, 23% would vote yes to joining the European single currency, while 6% said they were unsure.The pound did not join the Second European Exchange Rate Mechanism (ERM II) after the euro was created. Denmark and the UK have opt-outs from entry to the euro. Technically, every other EU nation must eventually sign up.

The Scottish Conservative Party claims that there is an issue for Scotland in that the adoption of the euro would mean the end of regionally distinctive banknotes, as the euro banknotes do not have national designs.The Scottish National Party claims an independent Scotland would have nationally distinctive coins, and its party policy includes entry into the single currency. On 1 January 2008 the British sovereign bases on Cyprus (Akrotiri and Dhekelia) began using the euro (along with the rest of the Republic of Cyprus)

Current exchange value
The pound and euro fluctuate in value against one another, although there may be correlation between movements in their respective exchange rates with other currencies such as the US dollar. Inflation concerns in the UK led the Bank of England to raise interest rates in late 2006 and 2007. This caused the pound to appreciate against other major currencies, and with the US dollar depreciating at the same time, the pound hit a 15-year high against the US dollar on 18 April 2007, having reached US$2 for the first time since 1992 the day before.The pound and many other currencies continued to appreciate against the dollar, and sterling hit a 26-year high of $2.1161 on 7 November 2007 as the dollar fell worldwide. From mid-2003 to mid 2007, the pound/euro rate remained rangebound (within ± 5%) of €1.45.However, following the global financial crisis in late 2008, the pound has since depreciated at one of the fastest rates in history, reaching a 24-year low of $1.35 per £1 on 23 January 2009 and falling below €1.25 against the euro in April 2008.A further decline was seen during the remainder of 2008; most dramatically in December when its euro rate hit an all-time low at €1.0219 (29th).The pound appreciated in early 2009 reaching a peak in mid-July of €1.17. The following months saw a steady decline, with the pound's current (Feb '10) value at €1.14 and USD$1.56. On 5 March 2009, the Bank of England announced that they would pump £75 billion of new capital into the British economy, through a process known as quantitative easing. This is the first time in the United Kingdom's history that this measure has been used, although the Bank's Governor Mervyn King suggested it was not an experiment.

The process sees the Bank of England creating new money for itself, which it then uses to purchase assets such as government bonds, bank loans, or mortgages.The initial amount stated to be created through this method was £75 billion, although Chancellor of the Exchequer Alistair Darling had given permission for up to £150 billion to be created if necessary.It is thought the process is likely to occur over a period of three months with results only likely in the long term. By 5 November 2009, some £175 billion had been injected using quantitative easing and the effectiveness of the process remains questionable.

The Bank of England has stated that the decision has been taken to prevent the rate of inflation falling below the two percent target rate.[33] Mervyn King, the Governor of the Bank of England, also suggested there were no other monetary options left as interest rates have already been cut to their lowest level ever of 0.5% and it was unlikely they would be cut further.

Coins
Pre-decimal
The silver penny (plural:pence; abbr.: 'd') was the principal and often sole coin in circulation from the 8th century until 13th century. Although some fractions of the penny were struck (see farthing and halfpenny), it was more common to find pennies cut into halves and quarters to provide smaller change. Very few gold coins were struck, with the gold penny (worth 20 silver pence) a rare example. However, in 1279, the groat, worth 4d was introduced, with the half groat following in 1344. 1344 also saw the establishment of a gold coinage with the introduction (after the failed gold florin) of the noble worth six shillings and eight pennce ('6/8') (i.e. 3 to the pound), together with the half and quarter noble. Reforms in 1464 saw a reduction in value of the coinage in both silver and gold, with the noble renamed the ryal and worth 10/- (i.e. 2 to the pound) and the angel introduced at the noble's old value of 6/8.

The reign of Henry VII saw the introduction of two important coins, the shilling (abbr,: 's') (known as the testoon) in 1487 and the pound (known as the sovereign, abbr.: '£' or 'L') in 1489. In 1526, several new denominations of gold coins were added, including the crown and half crown worth five shillings ('5/-'), and two shillings and six pence ('2/6', 'two and six') respectively. Henry VIII's reign (1509–1547) saw a high level of debasement which continued into the reign of Edward VI (1547–1553). However, this debasement was halted in 1552 and a new silver coinage was introduced, including coins for 1d, 2d, 3d, 4d and 6d, 1/-, 2/6 and 5/-. The reign of Elizabeth I (1558–1603) saw the addition of silver ¾d and 1½d coins, although these denominations did not last. Gold coins included the half crown, crown, angel, half sovereign and sovereign. Elizabeth's reign also saw the introduction of the horse-drawn screw press to produce the first "milled" coins.

Following the succession of the Scottish King James VI to the English throne, a new gold coinage was introduced, including the spur ryal (15/-), the unite (20/-) and the rose ryal (30/-). The laurel, worth 20/-, followed in 1619. The first base metal coins were also introduced, tin and copper farthings. Copper halfpenny coins followed in the reign of Charles I. During the English Civil War, a number of siege coinages were produced, often in unusual denominations. Following the restoration of the monarchy in 1660, the coinage was reformed, with the ending of production of hammered coins in 1662. The guinea was introduced in 1663, soon followed by the ½, 2 and 5 guinea coins. The silver coinage consisted of denominations of 1d, 2d, 3d, 4d and 6d, 1/-, 2/6 and 5/-. Due to the widespread export of silver in the 18th century, the production of silver coins gradually came to a halt, with the half crown and crown not issued after the 1750s, the 6d pence and 1/- stopping production in the 1780s. One response was the introduction of the copper 1d and 2d coins and the gold ⅓ guinea (7/-) in 1797. The copper penny was the only one of these coins to survive long.

To alleviate the shortage of silver coins, between 1797 and 1804, the Bank of England counterstamped Spanish dollars (8 reales) and other Spanish and Spanish colonial coins for circulation. A small counterstamp of the King's head was used. Until 1800, these circulated at a rate of 4/9 for 8 reales. After 1800, a rate of 5/- for 8 reales was used. The Bank then issued silver tokens for 5/- (struck over Spanish dollars) in 1804, followed by tokens for 1/6 and 3/- between 1811 and 1816.

In 1816, a new silver coinage was introduced in denominations of 6d, 1/-, 2/6 and 5/-. The crown was only issued intermittently until 1900. It was followed by a new gold coinage in 1817 consisting of 10/- and £1 coins, known as the half sovereign and sovereign. The silver 4d coin was reintroduced in 1836, followed by the 3d ("thruppence") in 1838, with the 4d coin issued only for colonial use after 1855. In 1848, the 2/- florin was introduced, followed by the short-lived double florin in 1887. In 1860, copper was replaced by bronze in the farthing (quarter penny, 1⁄4d), halfpenny and penny.

During the First World War, production of the half sovereign and sovereign was suspended and, although the gold standard was restored, the coins saw little circulation again. In 1920, the silver standard, maintained at .925 since 1552, was reduced to .500. In 1937, a nickel-brass 3d coin was introduced, with the last silver 3d coins issued seven years later. In 1947, the remaining silver coins were replaced with cupro-nickel. Inflation caused the farthing to cease production in 1956 and be demonetised in 1960. In the run-up to decimalisation, the halfpenny and half-crown were demonetised in 1969.

Decimal
British coinage timeline:

  • 1968: The first decimal coins were introduced. These were cupro-nickel 5p and 10p coins which were equivalent to and circulated alongside the 1/- and 2/- coins.
  • 1969: The curved equilateral heptagonal cupro-nickel 50p coin replaced the 10/- note.
  • 1971: The decimal coinage was completed when decimalisation came into effect in 1971 with the introduction of the bronze ½p, 1p and 2p coins and the withdrawal of the 1d and 3d coins.
  • 1980: Withdrawal of 6d coins, which had circulated at a value of 2½p.
  • 1982: The word "new" was dropped from the coinage and a 20p coin was introduced.
  • 1983: A £1 coin was introduced.
  • 1983: The ½p coin was last produced.
  • 1984: The ½p coin was demonetised
  • 1990s: The 5p, 10p and 50p coins became smaller.
  • 1991: The old 1/- coins, which had continued to circulate with a value of 5p, were demonetised in 1991 after the 5p coin became smaller.
  • 1992: Bronze was replaced with copper-plated steel
  • 1993: The 2/- coins were similarly demonetised.
  • 1998: The bi-metallic £2 coin was introduced.
  • 2007: By now the value of copper in the pre-1992 1p/2p coins (which are 97% copper) exceeded the value to such an extent that melting down the coins by entrepreneurs was becoming worthwhile (with a premium of up to 11%, with smelting costs reducing this to around 4%)—although this is illegal, and the market value of copper has subsequently fallen dramatically from these earlier peaks.

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