Few mourn forgotten days of half-crowns and tanners

Decimal currency is 25 years old, defying prophets of doom. Glenda Cooper reports
Arsenal achieved the double, Opportunity Knocks was Britain's favourite television programme, and "Chirpy Chirpy Cheep Cheep" topped the charts. But the event of 1971 that touched Briton's lives most closely was when they said goodbye to threepenny bits, tanners, florins and half-crowns.

Decimalisation is 25 years old today and despite protests and grumbles at the time, few people now mourn the passing of pounds, shillings and pence, according to a new report.

The NOP survey, commissioned by the National and Provincial Building Society, shows that "old money" has largely been forgotten.

Three-quarters of the over-40s surveyed said they preferred the post- 1971 decimal system. Only 25 per cent remembered that decimalisation was introduced in 1971 although men (27 per cent) had slightly better powers of recall than women (23 per cent).

Less than half correctly recalled that there were 240d to the old pound - men again scoring higher than women.

Britons have a slightly better recollection of the coins themselves with 58 per cent of the 1,000-strong sample remembering that the tanner was the popular name for the sixpence and 54 per cent recalling that the florin was two shillings.

Although the guinea was rarely used and rarely seen, even in 1971, it is remembered more easily than any other coin in the old system with two-thirds knowing that it was equivalent to 21 shillings.

"Britain had operated the pennies and shillings system since 1849, so the prophets of doom in 1971 predicted that we would never get used to decimalisation and that the country would quickly crumble because we wouldn't be able to get to grips with all the new coins," Phil Read of N&P said. "But not only did we soon get used to the decimal system, most people appear to have forgotten we ever had sixpences and shillings."

Today, the Royal Mint and the Bank of England are opening an exhibition at the bank's museum which will include some of the original decimal coin designs, including a 50p note which was never circulated and publicity material by the Decimal Currency Board.

Decimal currency underpants, playing cards and dusters are also displayed.

For those who never managed to say goodbye to pounds, shillings and pence, valuable coins could be lurking in your home. A spokesman for the leading coin merchant, A D Hamilton, said: "Anything minted before 1947 has silver content and is worth twice its face value."

Alternatively, The King's Head pub, in Islington, north London, remains one of the last bastions of pre-decimal Britain with prices displayed and quoted in pounds, shillings and pence and takings deposited in an "old money" cash register.

Dan Crawford, the landlord, grudgingly accepts "new money" but occasionally - much to his delight - receives tanners, bobs and florins over the bar.

Prices then and now

Item 1971 1996

Milk 6d (2.5p) a pint 50p a litre

Valentine card 1/6d (7.5p) pounds 1.50-plus

First-class stamp 5d (2p) 25p

Two-bedroom house pounds 7,000 pounds 50,000