Tuesday, June 11, 2013

Some thoughts on the British Banking System

While trying to come up with some printable British pound notes (and researching the British monetary system in general), I found the following article in Chaosiums “Kingdom of the Blind (Also Available as a PDF).  I can’t recommend this book enough, especially for people who don’t live in the UK (such as me).  As Horror on the Orient Express begins and ends in England, it just makes sense that a keeper needs to do some research to create the best world possible, and this book is marvelous in that capacity.

Though it is considered a rich nation, in the United Kingdom the inflations of the 1920s caused by the war and later, the return to the gold standard (which overvalued the pound sterling internationally), meant the average Britons income was something less than that of their American cousins.  While resulting in fewer of the frivolities and entertainments afforded those living in the United States, contrary to belief it was hard to starve in the UK - even if most things grew more expensive, food got steadily cheaper.
Of particular concern to modern players (and non-British investigators) is the UK's money system.  Considering the metric system an alien curio, the British Isles sticks with its pounds sterling, divided into Pounds, Shillings and Pence (written as £/S/D or spoken aloud as LSD).
20 shillings make one pound, and 12 pence make a shilling, resulting in 240 pennies to the pound.  Prices were written in numerous ways, but most commonly as £8/4/- (eight pounds and four shillings), or "2/6" (two shillings and six pence), for example.
Halfpenny (ha’penny)
½ D
Three-penny bit/thruppence
Shilling (Bob)
Two shillings (Florin)

Each coin featured the head of the monarch on one side, and Britannia on the obverse (although a number of coins broke this convention).  Unlike the others, which were made of copper alloys, the Sovereign was made of gold, and though meant to adhere to the gold standard (£1=$4.8) it was actually worth quite a bit more than its legal tender.  Note too that there is no Guinea coin: instead it’s a name for £1/1/- and often used for expensive items like pianos, horses and sometimes houses or rented accommodations.
Ten shilling note (introduced in 1928)
One pound note (introduced in 1928)
Five pound note
Ten pound note

Notes (bills in US English) were black and white and only printed on one side, at least up until the introduction of the double-sided colour notes in 1928.  This year also saw the introduction of the 10/- and £1 notes.  Anything larger than a £1 note is unlikely to be tended (or get change) and even if taken, users may be asked to sign the back.  Within the banking system notes up to a million pounds were circulated, but these weren’t released for public use.  While the Bank of England has the monopoly on notes in England and Wales, prior to 1921, the Somerset bank “Fox, Fowler and Company” were entitled to print their own money under a quirk of historical law.  These were technically still legal tender until used and some may have remained uncashed well into the 1930s.

Now, industrious keepers (or players) might want to download this .zip file, and use it to make some coins and notes.  Use your favourite photo manipulation software to resize the images to suit your purposes (while remaining within the bounds of the laws that bind you), then print them out and glue the coin images to some steel washers available from your local DIY store (Home Depot, Lowes, Ace, etc).  It would probably be smart to use coloured paper, and size things in such a way that no-one can ever accuse you of counterfeiting.  Enjoy!

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