Tuesday, 6 July 2010

Lost a Shilling and found a Sixpence

I was wandering around the World Wide Web, wondering how you spelt ‘six pence’ when it was concerning old British money.  For some reason, I thought I’d seen it written as ‘sixpence’ or maybe it was only ever written as ‘6p’.  And isn’t there a ‘d’ in there somewhere too?  Whatever the right way, (I’ve found all three on the net so I’m none the wiser) some of the definitions for the expression, ‘Lost a shilling and found a sixpence,’ were quite amusing. 

I stumbled upon a debate started in October 2006, which extended into the new year, where an Italian speaker wanted to know what the expression meant.  The respondents got themselves in a bit of a pickle because they were all too young to know whether a sixpence was worth more or less than a shilling.  I am too, I hasten to add, but I went to the type of school where they thought it important to teach you these things – although not that well, clearly, or I would know whether it was ‘sixpence’, ‘six pence’ , ‘6p’ or something with a ‘d’ in it. 

People offered various theories on the thread but interestingly none of them had the categorical answer to the conundrum: lose a shilling, find a sixpence – how happy would you be?

I can answer that.

At the beginning of June I found out that I hadn’t got through to the final of the Brits Unpublished.  I wrote about it in my last post, I hope I wasn’t too grumpy about it.  I’d lost my shilling that day, and my right to the dream that the competition would catapult me into the higher echelons of potential publishing deals.

A couple of weeks later, my attention was drawn to an email offering a bright, shiny sixpence. 
“I’m sorry,” the email said, “that you were not one of the finalists, however you did come very close.”  In fact, Glass Houses had survived into the top 30 of novel entries. 

I picked up my sixpence and held it tightly.  It sparkled.   The time lapse between dropping my shilling and finding my sixpence made it shine all the more brightly.

My prize? Two complimentary tickets to the Awards Ceremony at the O2 Arena in London.  I’m taking my lovely friend, Fiona, one of the many people who is massively supportive of my writing endeavours and the only person not in the business who has read the whole book. 

Others have asked to read it, pleaded in fact, but, well, somebody has to buy it when it’s published, don’t they?

I hope you find your shilling AND a sixpence this week.  And if you know how to spell ‘sixpence’, please do let me know.


  1. I'm far too young to know this (honest) but...

    An old pound was divided into 240 pennies, they were known as d for some reason, don't know why.
    A shilling was 12 pence, so there were 20 shillings in a pound. So a shilling was worth two sixpences and you would be unhappy to have lost one and found the other.

    After decimalisation, there are 100 pennies in a pound. Confusingly they kept the shilling coin, but it was now worth 5 new pence. This is where I think the confusion comes from. As the shilling coin was now worth less than six (new)pence.

    Well done on getting that far, have a good time at the O2

  2. 'Sixpence' is right. 6d is the shortened version--like saying 6p now, only you wouldn't say 6p because 6d is actually 2 1/2p.
    I'm just about old enough to remember the pre-decimalisation coins--remember my infant school teacher very solemnly showing us all the bright, shiny new coins that would be legal currency in a few days.

  3. It's 'sixpence,' Jackie. And it would have been 6d, never 6p. P only came in after decimalization, when the old 'd' of £.s.d, i.e. pounds, shillings and pence was replaced by the new 'p' of pence (which were very far from being the equivalent of the old pennies.) I suppose I'm showing my age, here!
    love from Gerry (Gerry McCullough, Belfast Girls)

  4. Thanks Gerry, yes showing your age but at least your memory hasn't gone :-)

  5. Kathryn, that makes you a smidge older than me, tee hee :-) Do you remember the commemorative coins they used to do - big, fat £5 ones? Do they still do them? My grandpa used to buy them for me and my sisters which was very exciting. Nowadays I just have great angst about the fact I don't know where they are.
    Thanks for the info!

  6. Sonic, thank you my accountant friend, not just a funny man...


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