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Old 10-14-2007, 03:26 PM   #1
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English currency in the 1800s

My apologies to Marlys and job for the time it has taken to find solid reliable evidence. With all my books in New Zealand and my distrust of most of the stuff on the web, because I cannot verify the sources and references used, it has taken a while.

The comments and facts here come from an expert who is often employed by the British Museum and the Bank of England when they want to be historically correct about coins, mints, and anything to do with English (not British) currency. His exact words are quoted in italics, my comments are in plain font.


Pound notes.
'The Bank started to issue notes in return for deposits and the crucial feature that made Bank of England notes a means of exchange was the promise to pay the bearer the sum of the note on demand. This meant that the note could be redeemed at the Bank for gold or coinage by anyone presenting it for payment; if it was not redeemed in full, it was endorsed with the amount withdrawn.'

These Paper notes were not currency but were used like cheques by the businesses and the wealthy.

'These notes were actually tremendous amounts of money at the time. Even 20 would be something like 2000, and with far more buying power than today. So Bank of England notes were not items of daily life for most people, but only instruments of large financial transactions. Since the average income in this period (1800-1825) was less than 20 a year, most people went through life without ever coming into contact with banknotes.'

The govt currency was pounds sterling. There was no pound coin. There were golden guineas and half guinea coins though. People could make up a guinea or a pound using the multiplicity of coins and tokens which were in use in the early 1800s, groats, thrupennces, sixpences and shillings etc.
But I make the point again, most people never saw a pound, their money came in farthings, ha'pennies, pennies and tokens.

And yes, because of their low wages most people never had a guinea in their pockets either.

'Wages and currency values
Around 1800 the average weekly labour's wage was around 6 - 10 shillings
The value of the pound 1 in the first quarter of the nineteenth century would be approximately equal to 100 today! a useful figure for calculating the levels in gambling.'


Your middle classes and the gentry however would and did see and use guineas everyday. The notes would be used as cheques for travel or business or sending money to relations.

'The first notes were issued to specific depositors, but soon the Chief Cashier, usually, "or bearer" was listed as the payee, but they all were taken to the Bank and exchanged for coin until 1797, when a series of runs on the Bank, caused by the uncertainty of the war, drained its bullion reserve to the point where it was forced to stop paying out gold for its notes.'

Again I would ask you to consider this use of pound notes as cheques not cash in the hand.

Instead, it issued 1 and 2 notes.

This caused a huge scandel and questions were asked in the House of Commons. The Bank of England and the govt were roundly abused for not giving people their golden guineas in exchange for their cheques.

The Restriction Period, as it was known, lasted until 1821 when a full return to cash payments was made in 1821.
when a full return to cash payments was made in 1821
People like solid metal in their pockets and as soon as the Bank was allowed by the govt to pay out in gold, it promptly did so, even though one might argue that the middle classes and gentry had been using paper notes for 24 years. But they really hadn't had they? They used notes as cheques and expected real money when they took the five pounds their aunts sent them to the bank to exchange for cash.
Officers in the army and navy insisted on being paid in cash not notes, and I am not talking about those stationed overseas but all those at home in England and so officers always received guineas.

A fair summing up then would be:
Pound notes were rarely seen by the general public.
1 = around 100 today.
The average annual income circa 1800 was less than 20
The average weekly wage was around 6-10 shillings and many people earned far less.
People demanded metal coins.

Where does that leave us then on the guineas versus pounds?

The expert said, off the record, that as he couldn't come up with definite proof other than gut feeling based on his knowledge he would not like to be quoted one way or the other.

But for me, remembering people of my great aunts' generation who hated paper money, who liked gold, who still talked in guineas, it seems that it would be guineas not pounds the wealthy talked in for things like laying a bet or in general comments like "I wish I had a couple of guineas..."

Thinking generally about the early 19thC, England was at war with France, so people liked gold and silver coins because no matter what problems arose that metal had a value and could be exchanged for food and clothes. They preferred real gold in a sock hidden away. Their 1800s pound = 100 which was a lot. They used Bank pound notes more as a bank draft or postal order or cheque. But most telling is that people still used guineas in money usage right into the mid 20thC.

So can I ask you to consider this seriously.
The Old Bailey Records are fun but they are about the abnormal, not the normal.

If you'd like to take this further with the real experts go to the numismatists - coin collectors - because they are money enthusiasts and know!

You could also take up the matter of pound notes as cash or cheques with the Bank of England who have, I'm told, several on-line experts to answer questions.
But the odds are more in favour of people talking about guineas than pounds.
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Old 10-14-2007, 03:52 PM   #2
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I'm not sure how you can dismiss primary records of what people said simply by saying it was 'abnormal'. After all, it records what people asked for when they came into pawnbrokers ... isn't that 'normal' enough?

Sure we may not have records of every transaction at all pawnbrokers ... but why would the records of disputed transactions at pawnbrokers be different in this way from normal transactions?

According to the Old Bailey records, people seemed fluent in both:

Quote:
13th October 1810:

I paid him eleven pounds for it; that was the horse that I put along with Mr. Dalby's horses; he asked twelve guineas for it; I got it for eleven pounds; it was afterwards sold for sixteen guineas
People in those records also commented that a criminal might take something to a pawnbroker and ask for 'four pound ten'. Interesting that they used that term instead of 'four guineas six'.

Just to be more confusing, however, in the same testimony he mentioned another transaction where he gave 'three guineas and a half' A quick review seems to indicated that 'XX guineas and a half' seemed a common amount, but 'XX pounds and a half' seemed to be used almost entirely for weight - not money. I'm not sure why a coin collector would have an expert opinion on that - compared to our ability to check records of what people asked for at pawnbrokers.

Surely the evidence seems to indicate that both words seemed to be in use fairly commonly? Remember that the expert didn't want to be quoted one way or the other, and the only other evidence offered is the phrase your great aunt used.

If we believe that both were commonly used, then this certainly doesn't conflict with your great aunt using one phrase over the other.

Mac
(PS: I'm eternally grateful to whoever posted the link to the Old Bailey records. What a great era we live in, to have these records at our fingertips ... from the other side of the world!)

Last edited by Mac H.; 10-14-2007 at 04:23 PM.
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Old 10-14-2007, 04:23 PM   #3
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For what it's worth, all of the above rings true.

England's currency was Pounds, Shillings and Pence (20 shillings to the pound), tho' the Empire traded in Guineas of value 21 shillings, a cunning currency adjustment that ensured palms could be greased while maintaining the basic value of the transaction, as well as keeping the Pound strong since Bank of England didn't need to devalue the coin of the Realm.

As an aside, if it hasn't already been mentioned -- senior officers' annual mess fees often cost more than the officers' salary. Failure to pay said fees, due to bankruptcy or other unfortunate change of circumstances, would result in one being asked to resign one's commission. Up till mid-19C army ranks up to and including major could be purchased outright (Navy captaincies had to be approved by Admiralty so no such purchase was possible).

God save the Empire!

-Derek
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Old 10-14-2007, 07:51 PM   #4
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Oh for crying out loud -- pick a date. Look at the newspapers for that date, particularly the ads; look at the novels written then. Heck, look at the British Currency Appendix in the back of the Norton Anthology of English Literature.
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Old 10-14-2007, 09:23 PM   #5
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pdr--what you seem to be doing is digging your heels in and trying to support a particular position rather than looking at the evidence objectively. Until well into this century all bank notes were technically promissory notes, with a note saying that they could be exchanged for silver dollars at any bank (note: at least this is true in the U.S.--if it's not true where you're from, then I understand that you wouldn't be familiar with that concept). That didn't make them any less currency.

It is well clear from primary sources that all kinds of people possessed and used bank notes, and that pounds (as well as guineas, not in total exclusion to them) were discussed in everyday life whether someone had one in pocket or not.

Sorry, but the primary sources just do not back you up. What you do in your own books is your own business, but on this point I hope other people do their own investigating rather than follow you blindly.

Best of luck with your work.
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Old 10-15-2007, 04:17 AM   #6
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Hi pdr --

I love looking at this sort of stuff. Aside from the sheer fascination of history, I need to know what my characters actually carried in their purses and paid out across the counter.


So ... to take a single aspect of this ...

Quote:
Originally Posted by pdr View Post
20 would be something like 2000, and with far more buying power than today.
When your expert says,
'it's 2000
but with more 'buying power',

... I don't think he's saying -- 'use 2200 or 3457 or 2901 instead. .

He's probably acknowledging that historical money values are extremely complicated.
One way to look at historical money is to recognize that one needs dfferent multipliers for different segments of the economy.
There is no 'one size fits all' currency converter.

So ...

-- a multiplier of 50X, (rather than 100X,) works best with ordinary, everyday stuff produced locally -- a meal in a pub, beer, bacon, milk, bread, cheese, eggs.

-- Imports -- tea, sugar, wine, cloth -- were fiendishly expensive on the 1810 market. A 100X multiplier gives us tea for $40/lb and sugar for $30/lb. In these cases a multiplier of as low as 15X or 25X is needed to give something approaching modern values.

-- OTOH, labor was cheap. Services need to be multiplied by more than 100X to get equivalent values. (At least in my neck of the woods you can't get a full-time, live-in maid for $2000/year.)

BTW -- It is these very cheap labor costs, (and complications inherent in calculating true wages,) that give us the high overall multipliers you see when someone who is not an economic historian gives a fifty-word answer to 'what was the money worth?'

The important thing to remember is that these high multipliers tend to occur in labor segments of the economy. They are not applicable across the board.


Moving right along here to the real question, which is --
'what does it have in its pocketses?'
or
'would somebody carry a pound note or two around with him?'


Let's first of all remove the 'labor component' of the economy from this question.

The price of housemaids in Kent has nothing to do with what is in the pockets of a middleclass character. My sea captain is not walking the streets of London getting ready to pay off his housmaid.


Second, let us remove the class consideration from this question.

It is important to know that fieldhands in Yorkshire earned 1s/6d a day grubbing turnips and housemaids worked for 6/year and the denizens of St Giles rookery begged for groats and farthings.
You can't understand this era without knowing that most people are poor.

But ...
It doesn't matter what the average income is.

My sea captain's wallet contents are not related to the wages of a Yorkshire farm worker.

In modern terms, the bills stuffed in my wallet are not related to sweatshop wages in Mexico.

Two economic realities can exist in the same timeframe
without one causing the other.


Very sensibly ... what determines the contents of the captain's pocket is what he intends to spend that day.


When my merchant sea captain walks out of his house on a crisp September morning in 1810, he's planning to

take a hackney to Lloyds coffeehouse,
buy a coffee,
take another hackney to the docks,
see his shipping agent,
grab a bun from a peddlar,
stop by the chandlers to check on an order,
pay a boy to deliver a package from the chandler to his ship,
give alms to a sailor,
eat luncheon with a friend, (he'll pick up the tab,)
buy a bottle of ink at a stationer,
buy flowers for his hostess last night, (both of those will be delivered,)
take a hackney across the City to see his solicitor, then pick up another hackney back to the docks,
stop in a tavern in late afternoon to see yet another friend,
then take a hackney home for supper.

This cost him, in 1810 ...

coffee -- 6p
4 trips in hackney coaches (1s per mile) with tips-- 7s
bun -- 1d
delivery boy -- 1d
alms -- 1p
his luncheon -- 2/6
friend's luncheon -- 2/6
bottle of wine -- 3s
tip -- 2d
ink -- 1s
flowers and delivery -- 1s
beer in tavern self and friend -- 6d

Which adds up to about a pound.


Unreasonable?
Translate this into modern values ---
a businessman in New York City in September 2007 would pay roughly $120 to $180 for a day of Starbucks, four cab rides, lunch for two, a beer after work and flower delivery.
This works out with the 60X to 70X multiplier appropriate to the 'basket' of ordinary goods, premium goods, and just a few services which is his purchase for the day.


Now, the captain didn't make any special purchases or pay any bills.
The pound my captain spent was just 'walking around money'.

If the pound is a hundred-and-twenty to hundred-and-fifty dollar bill ...

(Can I see some hands ... who has a hundred dollar bill in her purse?
Who has two?
Three?
Four?
How many hundreds would you carry if you pulled all the credit cards out of your wallet?)

If a pound is the day's 'walking around' money,
and there are no credit cards
carrying four pounds doesn't seem excessive.

Four pounds is 80 shillings.
I really don't think my hero is lugging this around in coinage.
(No. He wouldn't be carrying guineas.)


Quote:
Originally Posted by pdr View Post
These Paper notes were not currency but were used like cheques by the businesses and the wealthy.
In this period, pound notes were fiduciary currency, true. That's not the same as being 'cheques'. There are historical bullionists-- there's every kind of theorist among historical economists -- but equating a fiduciary currency with cheques is going far even for them.

Bank notes were legal tender for all transactions. They could be used promiscuously by whoever had their hands on them. They were issued and backed by the government.
What do you think currency is?



Quote:
Originally Posted by pdr View Post
Bank of England notes were not items of daily life for most people,
... But I make the point again, most people never saw a pound, their money came in farthings, ha'pennies, pennies and tokens. And yes, because of their low wages most people never had a guinea in their pockets either.

As 'most people' in England in 1810 were illiterate, lice-ridden, disenfranchised fieldworkers, one narrow jump ahead of starvation ... yes.

But it's not relevant,
because I'm not writing their story.

Most women in 2007 are rural beasts of burden in China and India, far too poor to afford diamond engagement rings. Does this in any way affect the number of diamond engagement rings sparkling in the sunlight on Fifth Avenue at noon?

What most people have or do or see is not relevant to what these people do.



Quote:
Originally Posted by pdr View Post
but only instruments of large financial transactions. ,
I regret to say this is untrue. As one reference out of many, many contemporary references ...
Jane Austen sent her sister Cassandra five, one-pound notes.

While Jane Austen is certainly an institution, I do not think it is of the sort meant here.



Quote:
Originally Posted by pdr View Post
Your middle classes and the gentry however would and did see and use guineas everyday. The notes would be used as cheques for travel or business or sending money to relations.

Here's where it doesn't add up for me.
In 1810, we're still in the middle of that war inflation. The guinea had disappeared from circulation because the gold in it was worth more than 21 shillings. About 24, if I remember correctly.

This got cleared up later and the gold guinea went back into circulation, but in 1810 --
why do you say they were used for common commercial exchange in England. Am I incorrect in this 'not in circulation but instead being melted down for bullion' scenario?



Quote:
Originally Posted by pdr View Post
'The first notes were issued to specific depositors, but soon the Chief Cashier, usually, "or bearer" was listed as the payee, but they all were taken to the Bank and exchanged for coin until 1797, when a series of runs on the Bank, caused by the uncertainty of the war, drained its bullion reserve to the point where it was forced to stop paying out gold for its notes.'
... Again I would ask you to consider this use of pound notes as cheques not cash in the hand.

You'd consider them cheques because the currency isn't specie based?

Seems a little harsh. The US currency hasn't been backed by specie for fifty years, but that doesn't make it cheques.



'
Quote:
Originally Posted by pdr View Post
The first notes were issued to specific depositors, but soon the Chief Cashier, usually, "or bearer" was listed as the payee,
But this happened years and years before my folks were around. It's dim and distant past. It's not important for my story in 1810.



Quote:
Originally Posted by pdr View Post
People like solid metal in their pockets and as soon as the Bank was allowed by the govt to pay out in gold, it promptly did so,
But this happened a decade after my story, so it's not realy relevant either.

I just keep using that good old 70s word.
But it seems to fit.



Quote:
Originally Posted by pdr View Post
even though one might argue that the middle classes and gentry had been using paper notes for 24 years. But they really hadn't had they? They used notes as cheques and expected real money when they took the five pounds their aunts sent them to the bank to exchange for cash.
Umm ... not sure what all of this means.

In 1810 they couldn't get specie for bank notes, so they didn't take them to the Bank to get cash.

I'm not sure how the folks in 1810 thought about their bank notes. They seem to have sent them to one another, spent them, and so on.

They did know what personal cheques were. I've never seen any indication that folks of this time thought of bank notes as personal cheques.

I'm sure everybody would have preferred being paid in gold coins, because the gold coins were worth 20% more than their face value. Once they held gold coins, however, they did not wish to spend them.

Since they did not wish to spend them, they would not have carried them around in their pockets.


Quote:
Originally Posted by pdr View Post
Officers in the army and navy insisted on being paid in cash not notes, and I am not talking about those stationed overseas but all those at home in England and so officers always received guineas.
I'm not sufficiently familiar with military history to know.

But since gold guineas were worth about 20% more than their face value, I'm not surprised they wanted them.



Quote:
Originally Posted by pdr View Post
The Old Bailey Records are fun but they are about the abnormal, not the normal.
Well ... the OB records are 'primary sources'.

This means they haven't been filtered through some historian's opinion of what folks should have been carrying if they only acted the way he thinks they did.

The OB records are the story of what folks actually stole, as it were.
This seems to me a reasonable indication of what was available to steal.




Quote:
Originally Posted by pdr View Post
If you'd like to take this further with the real experts go to the numismatists - coin collectors - because they are money enthusiasts and know! .
I have found these sources very helpful in getting pictures of the coins in circulation.



Quote:
Originally Posted by pdr View Post
You could also take up the matter of pound notes as cash or cheques with the Bank of England who have, I'm told, several on-line experts to answer questions.
I don't think Bank of England notes were considered cheques in 1810.



Quote:
Originally Posted by pdr View Post
... the odds are more in favour of people talking about guineas than pounds.
Folks in this era speak of large numbers in both guineas and pounds. There may be subtle differences in where one is used and where the other.

When I'm talking about what is actually in folks pockets, however, it wouldn't be related to the use of guineas and pounds in discussion.

Last edited by job; 10-15-2007 at 04:35 AM.
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Old 10-15-2007, 06:09 AM   #7
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Goodness!

Hasn't this come a long way?

A pity some people couldn't debate, but preferred rudeness.

The original question was about what a middle class business man spoke of: pounds or guineas.

I think I'll stick with my British experts' opinions, because they are British and know the culture and history from the inside.
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Old 10-15-2007, 06:36 AM   #8
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Quote:
Originally Posted by pdr View Post
The original question was about what a middle class business man spoke of: pounds or guineas.

I think I'll stick with my British experts' opinions, because they are British and know the culture and history from the inside.
But you say that your British experts' opinion was "he couldn't come up with definite proof other than gut feeling based on his knowledge he would not like to be quoted one way or the other" !!!!

There is no disagreement there! You want to stick to the expert's opinion - fine. The expert is NOT disagreeing that both phrases were spoken of commonly. (Or as commonly as the wages of the era allow them to be used)

Mac
(PS: People are debating here. They are pointing out flaws in each other's arguments ... that is part of debating. Simply saying that you stick to your original opinion isn't debating!)

Last edited by Mac H.; 10-15-2007 at 06:43 AM.
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Old 10-15-2007, 07:16 AM   #9
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Um...

actually I said that the expert I quoted told me his opion off the record. I can't quote it, I didn't either.

The other British experts' opinions, (plural, please look again at my post, I wrote experts' opinions,) who include a researcher for the BBC, authors who write historicals set in the period 1800-1840, and a professional researcher, all think that the middle and upper classes would lay a bet, or wager, or speak of wishing for money in terms of guineas.
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Old 10-15-2007, 07:26 AM   #10
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Good lord people.

I'm now seriously cranky. This isn't rocket science; it's really not. Go to the library; get a copy of Coins of England; it's the standard numistatic text. Get decent annotated copies of Victorian novels, like the Norton Critical editions of Dickens, or, even, the UC Press Dickens editions. Do the same for other contemporary publications.

You'll be able to actually search online copies of the books for references to currency, and, lo, you'll find out things like this--which by the way is a standard Dickens footnote. It's in most editions of Great Expectations:

And yeah, this stuff is also in the Norton Anthology Appendix on British Coins.

Quote:
Originally Posted by Discovering Dickens
Guineas: When Miss Havisham gives Pip a premium of 25 guineas, she uses a coin that, although still legal tender, was no longer minted after 1813, and was out of circulation by 1817 (it is about 1819 when Joe and Pip visit her in Chapter 13). The critical consensus about this donation seems to be that Miss Havisham, reclusive since the turn of the century, would be drawing on an old supply of coins, and unaware that the guinea was no longer in regular circulation (Meckier 184). The guinea was a gold coin, issued first in 1663; though worth 20 shillings (one pound) initially, after 1717 it was worth slightly more than a pound -- 21 shillings (OED, "guinea").
http://dickens.stanford.edu/archive/...sue4gloss.html

You've got primary sources; use 'em.
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Old 10-15-2007, 07:56 AM   #11
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JoB, I saw the plug for your Spymaster's Lady book on Dear Author --- congratulations, it looks great!

I've been reading this thread with interest, but I can't see a compelling reason to dismiss the Old Bailey testimony. I'll take a primary source over any number of British experts who insist on anonymity any day.
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Old 10-16-2007, 07:36 AM   #12
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Right...

has everyone cooled down?

I have to say I really was disappointed. I've enjoyed the Historical Genre board because of the lack of bitching and sniping, the lack of patronising posts, and the willingness of everyone in the small group of regular posters to discuss and take up new ideas. It has been stimulating.

So please can we have less of the playground, and more of actually reading carefully and thinking about what has been posted? We are not scoring credits here, we discuss points, not personalities and we all need a willingness to acknowledge that there is something very valuable in this discussion for all of us.

And on that topic too, let's make something very clear. Only an irresposible idiot would give proper names and contacts on a very public, well read message board like this, and I am not an irresponsible idiot.
I do not know what American privacy laws are, but British and New Zealand ones are the same. In a situation like this public message board I cannot, and would not, post another person's name or details without their written consent, or even with it. It's not safe or sensible.

NOW to the really interesting things which have emerged.

The problem of whether middle class and upper class people actually spoke more of pounds or guineas in 1800 or 1810 is something we can, at the moment, not actually know. No definite proof either way.

The only proof I have is those history lessons at school, my upbringing in the culture amidst people born in the 1870s who hated paper money and spoke of guineas, and an understanding of a monetary system which has had one of the most checkered histories in Europe. I also read the Bank of England comments about notes in a different way because I can remember how people disliked paper notes.

Researching this (and most other topics) we are rather like a deaf person who has never heard music, but who studies the notes and patterns and so thinks they understand music and know what it is. But they have missed that one vital component, the actual hearing of the sounds that make the music.
Doing historical research is like that. We put things together so that they make sense for us, but we will never be able to go back in time and find out how right we got it!

The Old Bailey notes alone are not enough. They are not dealing with the normal. It would be like telling someone to research 20thC America by watching Hollywood films. They too would form a very one sided view.
Obviously in this group, most of us know to use newspapers, diaries, letters, novels written at the time about the time. I spent a lot of writing time doing this. So have we all.

So why the problems?

I think we have to consider two things.

One:
How difficult it is for anyone to write about another country's history and culture. No matter how hard you try you will always put the things together in a pattern that's not quite right to those who are of the actual country and culture.
Two:
How difficult it is to shed our own modern mindsets about life and slip into the whateverC we write about. We know we have to do it, but we can't always manage it in every aspect of our research.

Last edited by pdr; 10-16-2007 at 07:42 AM.
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Old 10-16-2007, 08:02 AM   #13
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Originally Posted by pdr View Post
So please can we have less of the playground, and more of actually reading carefully and thinking about what has been posted?
Absolutely.

I'll carefully read and think about what has been posted.


Quote:
The problem of whether middle class and upper class people actually spoke more of pounds or guineas in 1800 or 1810 is something we can, at the moment, not actually know. No definite proof either way.
We have plenty of evidence, though. Evidence includes:

* Transcripts of what witnesses in court cases said
* Letters & diaries from the era

etc

Quote:
The only proof I have is those history lessons at school, my upbringing in the culture amidst people born in the 1870s who hated paper money and spoke of guineas, and an understanding of a monetary system which has had one of the most checkered histories in Europe.
Umm - how is that 'proof' better than the evidence we've already discussed ? A middle-aged person in 1810 would have been born almost a hundred years before the people born in the 1870s you are comparing them too! When you are talking about 'common terms' or slang .. does today's generation have the same attitude/slang and culture as their great-grandparents ?

Quote:
I also read the Bank of England comments about notes in a different way because I can remember how people disliked paper notes.
Person 'A' has a particular attitude. Therefore Person A's great-grandfather had the same attitude? THAT is seriously the 'proof' that trumps first-person accounts of the era?

Quote:
The Old Bailey notes alone are not enough.
Agreed. But it has to be a better starting point than the idea that people have the same attitude and outlook as their great-grandparents did!

Quote:
They are not dealing with the normal. It would be like telling someone to research 20thC America by watching Hollywood films.
Surely a better analogy would be 'like trying to research what words people in 20th Century America used for money by reading court transcripts of the era which featured people talking about money' ?

Yes, it is clearly an imperfect method - people in court may be likely to use a more formal way of speaking to pick an obvious example.

So, is this a fair summary?

Theory: Middle-class people in 1810 spoke predominantly in 'guineas' rather than 'pounds'.
Evidence for:
* People in pdr's family who were the great-grandchildren of people in 1810 had that tendency.
* It fits in with pdr's understanding of the history of the monetary system

Evidence against:
* Court transcripts of the era showed didn't show a predominance of 'guineas' rather than 'pounds' - both terms seem to be used.

(Note: Only the evidence for & against that has been presented in this thread has been summarised)

Theory: Middle-class people in 1810 didn't consider paper notes to be 'money', they considered them to be promissory notes like cheques
Evidence for:
* People in pdr's family who were the great-grandchildren of people in 1810 had that tendency.
* It fits in with pdr's understanding of the monetary system

Evidence against:
* Records from the era (such as court transcripts) showed people spoke of pound notes as money - they didn't use phrases like "a promissory note for 2 pounds was stolen' - they used phrases like '2 pounds was stolen'

(Note: Only the evidence for & against that has been presented in this thread has been summarised)

Is that a fair summary of the evidence for and against the theories?

---------------

Quote:
job and I are still wrangling (politely, I hope!) about English people's names for their money in use as general currency in 1810. I stand by the use of, and can cite for, guineas because the sovereign (the pound coin) was not minted and introduced until 1816 ... What did the people say? Hard to find out when the average annual wages were less than five pounds!
Yeah - I'm wrangling (politely, I hope!) about Australian people's names for their money in use as general currency in 1978. Some people claim it was the 'dollar' but the dollar coin wasn't minted and introduced until 1984 !

Seriously, though, I'm really just aghast that we are having his conversation when we live in an era when we can google people's diaries so easily.

eg: google [pound 1810 diary] gives a Yorkshire diary (and scrapbook of newspaper clippings) with this as its first hit:

Quote:
Mr Pitt Died in Debt 80-000 pounds had only 10-000 assets, yet made a will when dying to give His Physician 1000s for a few weeks attendance and to give his Ser’ts double wages - The people are saddled by Parli’t with half his debts and 10s in the pound will be lost by his Creditors. The King his Master is 150-000 minus to be paid by Johnny Bull - what excellent examples these, set by the great and good!
Yes, guineas were referred to as well, but this is the way the newspapers reported people's assets - in pounds not guineas.

Surely the DIARIES and NEWSPAPERS of people would be a good indication of what words they used !!!

Good luck,

Mac

Last edited by Mac H.; 10-16-2007 at 08:51 AM.
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Old 10-16-2007, 09:17 AM   #14
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Diaries, newspapers, and personal letters--which we have in abundance.

Good lord, we have Dickens' household account books--you can find what the various maids were paid, what the butcher charged . . . we have his publisher's correspondence too, as well as that of Thackery. I reckon there are equally good primary source records for scores of other folk too--this was an age of diarists, and there are huge collections of personal letters from all sorts of people.

It's. Not. Hard. Literary scholars do this all the time in an effort to either understand literature, or to understand authors.
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Old 10-16-2007, 01:05 PM   #15
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has everyone cooled down?

I have to say I really was disappointed. I've enjoyed the Historical Genre board because of the lack of bitching and sniping, the lack of patronising posts, and the willingness of everyone in the small group of regular posters to discuss and take up new ideas. It has been stimulating.

So please can we have less of the playground, and more of actually reading carefully and thinking about what has been posted? We are not scoring credits here, we discuss points, not personalities and we all need a willingness to acknowledge that there is something very valuable in this discussion for all of us.
Agreed. Although this is not my area and I have nothing to add to this debate, I have been following it with interest and was disappointed when things began to take a turn towards rudeness.

That being said, I am wondering if this debate really has anywhere left to go. It seems like all arguments on both sides have been presented and re-presented.
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Old 10-16-2007, 06:28 PM   #16
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Quote:
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Agreed. Although this is not my area and I have nothing to add to this debate, I have been following it with interest and was disappointed when things began to take a turn towards rudeness.

That being said, I am wondering if this debate really has anywhere left to go. It seems like all arguments on both sides have been presented and re-presented.
I agree with PastMidnight. I squirmed a bit when I read recent posts on this thread. And I think we may have scared at least one new enthusiastic person away. Is this point important enough to collapse a whole story? One where the characters and plot and setting and conflict are well-written?
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Old 10-16-2007, 07:13 PM   #17
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I think the simple answer is that both pounds and guineas were used in common conversation.

One of the things I routinely do with 'iffy' words and phrases is run them through Googlebooks.

(Yesterday's example of this
was the phrase 'what with',
as in 'what with the weather being so hot ...'
which turns out to be perfectly current in 1810 England.
Who knew?
But I digress.)

Before Googlebooks (B.G.),
(jo bows to the west, towards Mountain View, where Google lives in a rather spiffy building overlooking some of the vast brown wasteland that is California,)
I kept about a hundred idiomatic, contemp refs that I had pulled out of Gutenberg in etext form.
I put these in big .doc files. I'd search these refs for my words and phrases, to see how they were used. It's still a fast, easy way to run a check.

In the 'Letters and Journals of Byron', guineas is used 19 times. Pound (in this monetary sense) is used 36 times.
(Byron spent a lot of time talking about his weight ... which people apparently discussed in pounds as well as stone. Isn't that nice to know?)
Looking at eight novels by Jane Austen, guineas is used 14 times, pound, 76 times.

So, in middle and upperclass speech, both words seem to have been used with excellent frequency. I can't discern a difference in usage between the two ... but I suspect there is a world of nuance and shade I am missing.
As I feel the same way about most modern situations, I am not surprised.

For me, what's important is the reminder that I must give attention to when guinea fits in a character's mouth and when pound fits, and, of course, when quid might serve better.

I also ran across 'half a guinea' which continues to boggle my mind ...

Last edited by job; 10-16-2007 at 07:20 PM.
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Old 10-16-2007, 07:49 PM   #18
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I also ran across 'half a guinea' which continues to boggle my mind ...
*is slightly scared of joining in this thread, but...*

Why does that boggle your mind?
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Old 10-16-2007, 08:30 PM   #19
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Originally Posted by girlyswot View Post
*is slightly scared of joining in this thread, but...*

Why does that boggle your mind?
Well ... if a guinea is 21 shillings, then 'half a guinea' doesn't come out even.

Ten and a half shillings?
We want to talk about ten and a half shillings?
Why not just say ten shillings?
Weird.

I think you have to be English to be mentally comfy with this.

(jo is still struggling with 'half crowns' when there aren't any actual crowns, y'see.)

Traditional British coinage is to American coinage what pictograph writing is to the Latin alphabet. ... Mind expanding,
and all,
but my brain keeps bonking against the inside of my skull when I try to think about it.
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Old 10-16-2007, 09:12 PM   #20
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Job, there is no problem with half a guinea: it would, I believe, quite routinely have been referred to as 'Ten and six' and shown as 10/6 or 10s6d. (12 pennies to the shilling, 20 shillings to the pound. 21 shillings=one guinea. So half a guinea was ten shillings and 6 pence.) NZ abandoned pounds, shillings and pence in 1967 for a decimal system of dollars and cents. I clearly recall the use prior to that date of the term guineas although I don't think we had any guinea coins.
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Old 10-16-2007, 09:14 PM   #21
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Quote:
Originally Posted by job View Post
Well ... if a guinea is 21 shillings, then 'half a guinea' doesn't come out even.

Ten and a half shillings?
We want to talk about ten and a half shillings?
Why not just say ten shillings?
Weird.
That'll be ten shillings and sixpence, not ten and a half shillings, guv'nor. That extra sixpence was worth something back then, you could feed your family for sixpence, it wasn't just loose change.

Quote:
I think you have to be English to be mentally comfy with this.
Or British, anyway. I was brought up with this stuff; the UK went decimal in 1971, I think. Black day, black day.

Quote:
(jo is still struggling with 'half crowns' when there aren't any actual crowns, y'see.)
Of course there were crowns! Of value 5/- (5 shillings) which is half of ten bob (10/- or 10 shillings). Half a crown was 2/6 (two-and-six, aka two shillings and sixpence, i.e. half of 5/-). I was given a silver Churchill crown (special Mint collectors' issue) when I was a lad, I think I've still got it somewhere, it might be worth a bob or two, as they say.

Quote:
Traditional British coinage is to American coinage what pictograph writing is to the Latin alphabet. ... Mind expanding,
and all,
but my brain keeps bonking against the inside of my skull when I try to think about it.
Perhaps that was one of its advantages -- no one but the British could understand its mysteries.

Ah, nostalgia. Carry on.

-Derek

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Old 10-16-2007, 09:46 PM   #22
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Quote:
Originally Posted by job View Post

I think you have to be English to be mentally comfy with this.

(jo is still struggling with 'half crowns' when there aren't any actual crowns, y'see.)
Ah, I see. I'm English, though strictly of the decimal era (born 1974). But it must be in the blood. 10/6 is completely meaningful to me.
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Old 10-16-2007, 09:55 PM   #23
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I don't see rudeness so much in this thread as exasperation. pdr put forth a theory. Others refuted it with period evidence, and asked what period sources she was using that said differently. She responded by creating this thread in which, instead of presenting period evidence, she cited another (unidentified) modern voice that she says agrees with her.

She also cites (unidentified) experts including "authors who write historicals set in the period 1800-1840, and a professional researcher," ignoring the fact that, well, she's talking to authors who write historicals set in the period 1800-1840, some of whom are or have been professional researchers themselves.

After a certain amount of evidence (court records, newspapers, period novels, diaries, letters, account books) has been presented and ignored, exasperation seems like a valid response to me.
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Old 10-16-2007, 11:33 PM   #24
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Quote:
Originally Posted by job View Post

(jo is still struggling with 'half crowns' when there aren't any actual crowns, y'see.)
Half a crown was a coin in general circulation when I was a child. There haven't been crowns in general use for currency for a long time (though there were crowns struck for collectors to mark special occasions)
I think there were also half guineas in general circulation though much longer ago.
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Old 10-17-2007, 12:07 AM   #25
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Truly, I didn't mean to ruffle any feathers by saying that there was 'rudeness' in this thread. I am just surprised that, given the thoughtful debates we generally have on this forum, why this particular one seems to have gotten so heated.

Research has been done on both sides of the issue. Although it is true that pdr didn't list sources in this particular thread, she has done so when this argument has come up previously. While I agree that it is frustrating to those wishing to know more, I understand and respect the decision not to name the expert source that she has quoted here if he didn't give permission to be identified as such.

I agree with c.e.. Is this really a make-or-break issue? Especially, given that (as has been pointed out multiple times in this thread), both terms were in use? Methinks that this has devolved into an argument about research methods rather than an argument about guinea vs. pound.

The arguments have been presented on both sides. Anyone hoping to decide whether to use 'guinea' or 'pound' in their novel likely has adequate information. I have to ask, are we just beating a dead horse here now? Maybe we should move on.
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