After reaching a low of about $1.25, the Bank of England pound "sterling" has headed up in the past couple of years, toward $2. This is due not so much to the BofE's careful stewardship, as to the disastrous course of U.S. monetary and fiscal policy in that time, as the sterling exchange rates with the rest of the world have remained fairly stable.
It used to be a pound of silver. Before the reign of Henry VII, this "tower pound" was made up of 5400 grains. In 1527, the mint switched to using the slightly larger Troy pound. A Troy pound (smaller than a avoirdupois pound) is equal to 12 troy ounces, 240 pennyweights, or 5760 grains.
Before metrification, the pound used to be composed of 20 shillings (the guinea was made up of 21), and each shilling was equivalent to 12 pennies (abbreviated "d," after the latin "denarius." Thus, there were 240 pennies to the pound.
When the brits switched over to metric, the shilling was made equivalent to 5 newpence (abbreviated "p.").
The British pound sterling is, in fact, the last remnant of the system of weights and measures established by Charlemagne and once used throughout Western and Middle Europe. Under that system, the pound [libra] was divided into 12 ounces [unciae] for the measurement of most substances, and each ounce into twenty pennyweights [denarii]. For precious metals, however, it was the other way around, the pound being divided into 20 shillings [solidi] each of twelve pennyweight. As the Troy system eventually evolved, each pennyweight came to 24 grains, the grain being the average weight of a grain of wheat taken from the middle of the ear; an inch [also uncia] is the length of twelve such grains taken end-to-end. In case you are wondering, grains of European bread wheat are very uniform in mass and size, and the Troy system is so-called from being the standard of weight used at the fair of Troyes in France, the largest precious-metals market in the Western world during the late Middle Ages.
In former times, of course, before "managed currencies" and Keynesian economics, money was simply a commodity like any other, traded by weight for other commodities of equivalent value, and those commodities which were universally desirable, compact, and divisible were chosen for this service -- the precious metals gold and silver, to be exact. Read the Report of the Bullion Comission for a better picture of what is now considered an outmoded and barbarous concept...
In the late 18th century, new coinage was introduced in the UK, in which a penny when new weighed exactly one ounce. This was part of an effort to get a new and uniform system of coinage, weights and measures. The coins (called 'cartwheel pennies' because of their thick rims) were beautiful to look at, but deeply unpopular because the coins in any quantity weighed a lot more than the old coins and so there were endless complaints of money bags bursting and other impracticalities. In addition, as the coins became worn, they of course stopped weighing an ounce. Also, the coins were so big that they took a lot more metal to make and so fewer coins could be issued. This meant that those in circulation were used even more (and thus wore down faster). And because of the lack of legal coinage, local manufacturers and even town and city authorities started minting their own coins. The result was such a mess that eventually the whole scheme was scrapped and more sensible coins were introduced.
Since this has devolved into a discussion on the metric system versus the "normal" systen
I have a question: If I buy a cookbook from England (or another country where the metric system is rule) are the measurements in Millileters, Milligrams, etc., or would the recipe still be in cups and tablespoons?