Anglo-Saxon pound

The pound was a unit of account in Anglo-Saxon England, equal to 240 silver pennies and equivalent to one pound weight of silver. According to the Daily Telegraph it came into use around 775.[1] It evolved into the modern British currency, the pound sterling.

The accounting system of 12 pence = 1 shilling, 20 shillings = 1 pound was adopted from that introduced by Pepin or even earlier to the Frankish kingdom (see French livre). King Offa of Mercia is credited with causing the widespread adoption of the silver penny and the pound as a unit of account. Thomas Snelling writes that the division of the pound into 12 ounces was in use with the Romans, and the division of ounces into 20 pennyweights was introduced into France by Charlemagne, and then brought to England by William the Conqueror.[2]

The Latin word for "pound" is libra. The pound sign (£) is a stylised writing of the letter L (in historic blackletter type, ), a short way of writing libra. (A pound (mass) is similarly abbreviated "lb" from libra). Until typefaces and typewriters with a "£" symbol became common, it was conventional to write "L" or "l" instead of "£".[3]

The pound in use in King Offa's day, also known as the Saxon pound or moneyers' pound, remained essentially unchanged until 1527, by which time it had come to be known as the Tower pound,[4] after the Tower of London. In 1527, the Tower pound was replaced by the English modern troy pound of 373,3 g, which was, by law, equal to exactly 1615 of a Tower pound.[5][6] The fundamental unit of the pre-1527 English weight system known as Tower weights, was a different sort of grain known as the "wheat grain".[7] The Tower pound had a mass of 240 × 32 = 7680 wheat grain. The Tower wheat grain was defined as exactly 4564 of a troy grain.[8]:74 Expressed in modern English troy grains, the Tower pound was 7680 × 4564 = 5400 modern troy grains (350 g). The Tower pound was divided into 12 ounces, each ounce into 20 pennyweights, and each pennyweight into 24 barleycorns. There were thus 480 barleycorns to a Tower ounce, 5760 barleycorns to a Tower pound of 350 g.[9] The Anglo-Saxon pound (Saxon pound, moneyers' pound or Tower pound) remained in use for silver and gold coinage in England after the adoption of the medieval troy pound of 367.5 g. This pound of 12 ounces was in use in Troyes (Champagne fairs) where the mark of 8 ounces (also the Paris mark) weighed 245 g. The medieval troy pound weighed 240 pennyweights of 1.53 g or 24 medieval troy grains (15760 of the new pound and heavier than the real barleycorn). The Tower pound remained in use for weighing gold and silver until 1527.[10]

See also


  1. Kit Dawnay (8 October 2001). "A history of sterling". Daily Telegraph. Retrieved 26 July 2017.
  2. A View of the Silver Coin and Coinage of England. Retrieved 2016-09-19.
  3. For example, Samuel Pepys (2 January 1660). "Diary of Samuel Pepys/1660/January". Retrieved 23 September 2019. Then I went to Mr. Crew's and borrowed L10 of Mr. Andrewes for my own use, and so went to my office, where there was nothing to do.
  4. Henry Norris (1 January 2012). "Tower pound". Sizes. Royal Society. pp. One. Retrieved 18 November 2015.
  5. A proclamation of Henry VIII, 5 November 1526. Proclamation 112 in Paul L. Hughes and James F. Larkin, editors. Tudor Royal Proclamations. Volume 1. New Haven: Yale University Press,1964.
  6. R. D. Connor and A. D. C. Simpson. Weights and Measures in Scotland. A European Perspective. National Museums of Scotland and Tuckwell Press, 2004, page 116, quoting from H. W. Chisholm, Seventh Annual Report of the Warden for the Standards...for 1872-73 (London, 1873), quoting from 1864 House of Commons Paper.
  7. Zupko, Ronald Edward (1977). British weights & measures: a history from antiquity to the sixteenth century. University of Wisconsin Press. p. 11. Retrieved 18 December 2011.
  8. McDonald, Daniel McLean; Scarre, Christopher (1992). The origins of metrology: collected papers of Dr. Daniel McLean McDonald. McDonald Institute for Archaeological Research. Retrieved 15 September 2012.
  9. Society, Dozenal; Arthur Whillock. "A BRIEF HISTORY OF THE POUND". DozenalSociety. The Dozenal Society of Great Britain. pp. One. Retrieved 18 November 2015.
  10. Zupko, Ronald Edward (1977). British Weights and Measures: A History from Antiquity to the Seventeenth Century. University of Wisconsin Press. p. 11. ISBN 978-0-299-07340-4.
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