[DWJ] currencies (was: more not-spoiler, Pinhoe Egg)

Belben, Philip (Energy Wholesale) Philip.Belben at eon-uk.com
Fri Sep 15 08:29:12 EDT 2006

> >Not too long ago I was toying with currency reform for an imaginary
> >country.
> >Old currency: 1 noble = 80 pence.  Coins: Noble, half noble, ounce
> >(20d), half ounce, groat (4d), half-groat and penny.
> Why change it?  It's a perfect system, easy to subdivide, and each
> unit fits into the others without need of small change to pad gaps.

It was a good system, and people liked it, but bankers and shopkeepers
didn't like the expense of custom accounting software to handle the
base-80 stuff.  (The rest of us just used standard spreadsheets with
four decimal places, but there you are.)

You do need small change to pad gaps, by the way.  The groat doesn't fit
exactly into the half ounce.

The argument for decimalisation is actually much weaker now than it was
forty years ago.  Modern computers can easily handle complicated
relationships between pounds, nobles, ounces, shillings and pence,
whereas the mechanical calculators and early electronics of the 1960s,
happy with everything in one base, could do no more than add and
subtract as soon as you introduced different bases for different
columns.  If I were a real programmer - or even a quiche-eating
programmer - and not merely a dabbler, I'd write a Lsd add-in for
Microsoft Eggshell.

Brief excursion to the real world: were the UK and Ireland the last
countries to decimalise?  When did Thailand go decimal, for example?

> >Proposed reform:
> I'd rather call it "change"?  As with "progress", which can mean
> "moving in the wrong direction" just as much as it means "moving in
> the right direction", "reform" has come to be seen as inevitably
> improvement, which it isn't, always.  "Change" doesn't yet have that
> cosy veneer of automatic acceptability as conferring benefits.

You haven't seen the E.ON UK Behaviours Dictionary, have you?  In there,
"Change" is taken to be entirely positive.

As a friend (who has now left E.ON) used to say, "Oh no, not another

> > after much debate as to whether the noble or the penny
> >should be kept, the system that was chosen was 1 Noble = 100 cents.
> >The half-groat and penny will be phased out as coins, being too small
> >for everyday use.  The groat, now the smallest coin, will be worth 5
> >cents; the half ounce (12.5 c) will need to be replaced by a ten-cent
> >piece (the committee voted overwhelmingly against calling it a Dime),
> >but the larger coins can continue in use as before.
> Why this slavish insistence on a decimal system?  It's not ideal for
> the people who actually use the small units of a currency, merely more
> convenient for the people who add up large amounts of it and don't
> notice that their tax-demands (which to them are merely numbers with
> lots of noughts on the ends) make the difference between food and no
> food, heat and cold, to their victims.

See above for reasons.  Actually the penny and half groat were going to
have to go anyway, so we were quite relieved to get away with just one
more change of coin - the double groat for the half ounce.  The
intermediate coin between groat and ounce was always a difficult one -
with five groats to an ounce, that was where the awkward gap was bound
to occur.

The people will have twenty groats to the noble, and the banks will now
round all amounts to a fifth of a groat instead of a quarter, because it
makes their software cheaper.  I think that's the best compromise we
could have obtained, really.

(If you haven't worked out already how little the penny was worth, I'm
not giving you any more clues!)

> >PS a secondhand bookseller friend, now retired, once told me of a
> >request from the curator at a local museum.  The museum was setting
> >up an exhibit for some period (can't remember when, but can't have
> >been too long ago) and wanted some authentic books from the period.
> >My friend said yes, he could provide some books, and they'd be about
> >thirty bob each.  He was astounded when the curator didn't know what
> >"thirty bob" meant!
> For several years after Dismal Guernsey was inflicted on this country,
> the *other* George brother who had a bookshop in Bristol, not the
> "George's" on Park Street that was bought up by Blachwell or someone
> in the end but the little scruffy one on Christmas Steps, went on

Before my time, I'm afraid.  I was only 3 when we decimalised, after
all.  I remember the big Georges on Park Street, and a much smaller "St
George Books" in St George's (where else?).  (The latter is now long

> selling his books in pounds shillings and pence (more shillings and
> pence than pounds) and giving change in real money if it was an odd
> number of d that wouldn't fit into the newfangled p rubbish.  My
> theory was that this was just because he didn't want to have to write
> a new price into every book, but it was a small joy for quite a long
> time until he inevitably vanished from the booktrading scene.

The book trade attracts more than its fair share of eccentrics.

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