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Guide to the Great British Pound

October 5, 2017 British Pound / GBP / Sterling

Guide to the GBP

Guide to the GBP

The Complete Guide to the Great British Pound

Want to convert your currency into sterling? Or just looking to learn more about the Great British Pound? Familiarise yourself with English currency in this handy guide. As the oldest currency still in use, the GBP has quite a celebrated history.

Name: The official name of the GBP is ‘pound sterling’, which is mainly used in formal situations to differentiate between other currencies with the same name (e.g. the Dutch pond).
Symbol: £
Nickname: ‘Quid’
Where it’s used: GBP is the currency in the UK, as well as Crown dependencies Guernsey, the Isle of Man and Jersey.

Coin denominations:
1p, 2p – ‘copper’
5p, 10p, 20p, 50p – ‘silver’
£1 – ‘gold’
£2 – ‘silver’ and ‘gold’

Note denominations:
£5 – blue (polymer)
£10 – brown
£20 – purple
£50 – red


  • Five and ten pound notes are commonly called ‘fiver’ and ‘tenner’.
  • Pence is known as ‘pee’.
  • A pound is often called a ‘quid’; the exact origin of which isn’t clear, but likely comes from the Latin quid pro quo, literally meaning ‘exchange’.

Looking to convert your currency into GBP? Find out how much you could get with our currency converter.

Features of the GBP

From the gradual switch to polymer notes, to the changing portrait of Her Majesty the Queen, the appearance of GBP coins and notes have modernised through the years.

The Royal Portrait

Every piece of UK currency in current use features a portrait of Queen Elizabeth II. The £1 note back in the 1960s was the first to feature Her Royal Highness, and since then the GBP has seen many updated portraits by different designers.

Coin portrait designers:

  • Mary Gillick
  • Arnold Machin
  • Raphael Maklouf
  • Ian Rank-Broadley
  • Jody Clark

Note portrait designers:

  • Robert Austin
  • Reynolds Stone
  • Harry Ecclestone
  • Roger Withington


When you flip a coin, chances are you’ll recognise ‘heads’ as the Queen’s portrait, but the tail side of coins feature a variety of designs.
Painter and coin designer Christopher Ironside, and later graphic designer Matthew Dent, won competitions to have their designs struck on the reverse of sterling coins. Dent’s more modern coin designs show a complete picture of the British Shield of the Royal Coat of Arms when placed together.

1p – Royally crowned portcullis with chains by Christopher Ironside. The Shield of the Royal Coat of Arms by Matthew Dent.
2p – Badge of the Prince of Wales by Christopher Ironside. The Shield of the Royal Coat of Arms by Matthew Dent.
5p – Royally crowned Scottish thistle by Christopher Ironside. The Shield of the Royal Coat of Arms by Matthew Dent.
10p – Royally crowned English lion by Christopher Ironside. The Shield of the Royal Coat of Arms by Matthew Dent.
20p – Royally crowned English rose by William Gardener. The Shield of the Royal Coat of Arms by Matthew Dent.
£1 – The many designs on this coin represent the four constituents of the UK, such as the Royal Arms representing the UK by Eric Sewell.
50p & £2 – These reverse designs often commemorate events, an example being a Team GB design in 2016 by Tim Sharp.


The backside of GBP banknotes feature images of iconic, inspirational individuals who have made great contributions to Britain. They currently show:

£5 – Sir Winston Churchill, twice Prime Minister of the United Kingdom.
£10 – Charles Darwin, naturalist, geologist and biologist famed for his contributions to the understanding of evolution.
£20 – Adam Smith, Scottish philosopher, author and economist.
£50 – Matthew Boulton and James Watt, whose engineering and manufacturing firm played a vital role in the industrial revolution.

History of the GBP

The name of the Great British Pound derives from libra pondo, Latin for ‘pound weight’. The appending word libra was dropped in its name, but the pound symbol (£) is an ornate representation of the letter L, retaining an element of this Latin word.

After being first established around 775AD, the pound became the national UK currency in 928, under the ruling of the first King of England.
Until 1971, the pound was divided into 240 pence – 20 shillings, with 12 pennies to each shilling. Following the example of France, the USA and Australia, decimalisation was introduced on 15th February 1971, making the pound the 100 pence currency we know today.

Until the 1980s, £1 was a banknote. On average, these notes lasted for 9 months due to such frequent use, whereas today’s £1 coins, released in 1983, can last for more than 40 years. The £2 coin is the newest in circulation, first issued in 1998.

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