The pound sterling is the oldest currency still in use today, it dates all the way back to around 760 AD when King Offa of Mercia introduced the silver penny which spread across the Anglo-Saxon Kingdoms. At the time of its original introduction it weighed around 1.5g.
The early pennies were struck from the purest, fine silver available at the time, up until 1158 when King Henry II introduced a new coinage – which was known as the Tealby penny, this was struck from 92.5% silver. This coin then became the standard until the 20th century and is today known as sterling silver. Sterling silver is made up from 99.9% pure silver in order to ensure the silver coins did not wear down as rapidly as fine silver coins. Silver pennies were the sole coinage used in England up until the introduction of the shilling in 1487 and the pound, just two years later in 1489.
The symbol, £, originates from an ornate L – for Libra which is the Latin word for weight or balance.
Minting of coins was introduced in the 1660’s along with added design features such as edge lettering in order to prevent coin-clipping. Coin-clipping used to be a common issue that involved people clipping the edges of coins in order to harvest the precious metal, before then passing on the coin for its original value.
The pound was once worth US $5 in 1934, the highest ever value of the pound, this dropped significantly when the outbreak of WWII led the British government to peg the value of the pound to the dollar. (Pegging is a type of exchange rate where a currency’s value is fixed against either the value of another single currency, to a basket of other currencies, or to another measure of value – such as gold.)
Now however, due to the Brexit ruling in 2016 the current value of the pound is equal to US $1.33, the lowest value of the pound in 30 years.