The Great British Pound


A Brief History of the Great British Pound

The British Pound is the world’s oldest currency still in existence, as well as one of the most traded currencies around the world. The British Pound has been the official legal tender in the United Kingdom since England and Scotland merged in 1707, however its origins date back to the year 760!

Interestingly, the British Pound was not only used in the UK but also used in the colonies of the British Empire all around the world (Australia, New Zealand and Canada to name just a few).

All pounds sterling notes were handwritten until 1855 when the Bank of England (established in 1695 and one of the oldest central banks in the world) started printing notes.

During the late 19th and early 20th centuries many countries began to tie their currencies to gold. A ‘gold standard’ was created which allowed conversion rates to be determined between different currencies. Sterling was on the Gold Standard prior to the outbreak of WWI, when the paper currency became legal tender. A form of gold convertibility resumed in 1925, but the Great Depression forced its abandonment.

The pound was permitted to float in August 1971 – the same year the UK currency was decimalised. Since then the British Pound has floated freely against most major currencies, although it did experiment with the European Exchange Rate Mechanism of 1990 at a GBP/DEM rate of DM 2.95 versus the German Deutschemark. This failed spectacularly and is commonly referred to as “Black Wednesday”.

Although the UK is a member of the European Union, it has yet to adopt the euro as its currency.


The Great British Pound in the Global Foreign Exchange Market

The British Pound is the fourth most traded currency in the world (behind the US dollar, the euro and the Japanese Yen) accounting for around 12-13% of the daily foreign exchange market.

The Pound trades most often against the euro (EUR/GBP) and the US dollar (GBP/USD) with GBP/USD commonly referred to as “cable” in recognition of the method of communication used to converse about the GBP/USD exchange rate across the Atlantic in years gone by. The British Pound is also the third most held reserve currency in global reserves around the globe, accounting for 4% of these reserves.

A popular nickname for the British Pound is “quid”, which is both a singular and plural term. In addition, “pounds” or “sterling” are sometimes used separately to symbolise British Pounds.

Fact Table:

Currency Name: Great British Pound
Nicknames: Pound Sterling, Sterling, Quid, Nicker
Currency Code: GBP
Currency Symbol: £
Central Bank: The Bank of England
Countries Used In: The UK
Major Unit: One Pound
Minor Unit: One Penny (plural Pence) = 1/100 of one Pound
Note Denominations: £1, £5, £10, £20, £50
Coin Denominations: 1p, 2p, 5p, 10p, 20p, 50p, £1, £2


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