Thursday, 6 February 2020

pieces of eight

Almost a year to the day ahead of the decimalization of the United Kingdom and Ireland’s currency of pounds, shillings and pence—money retaining its former value and only the breakdown of sub-units reconfigured, the Overseas Territory officially adopted the Bermudian dollar, now pegged to the US dollar but significantly for the time a departure, a prefiguring of the Commonwealth’s broader trend away from accounting for twenty shillings to the pound, each shilling made up of twelve pence.
Eventually each new pence, “p,” was worth two and four-tenths times an old pence, “d.” Meanwhile, China had been employing an intuitive decimal-based currency for the past two millennia, Imperial Russia had made its ruble so since 1704, the US Coinage Act of 1792 favoured a base-ten system (despite their infamous recalcitrance when it comes to Imperial Weights & Measures) as did the French in 1795. The United Kingdom resisted through the ensuing centuries but did concede by minting the florin in 1849—a two shilling coin and thus one-tenth of a pound, which they did propose calling a dime but instead went with the former after due to its similarity in size and value to a Dutch coin already in circulation at the time. The florin is still used in neighbouring Aruba. The success of Bermuda’s transition and ease of currency exchange helped instill confidence that the same could be replicated for the whole of the Commonwealth.