[Dave Birch] I don’t normally read Paul Johnson‘s Spectator articles, in fact I don’t normally read The Spectator (although I am reading “A City Spectator: Bulls, Bears, Booms and Boondoggles”, the collection of Christopher Fildes’ superb Spectator columns on the City), but I happened on his recent piece on gold. It includes the story of the guinea, which I’m ashamed to say I didn’t know. In 1663, under Charles II, a new gold coin was minted in England. It became knows as the guinea, because the gold had come from the West African coast. It was originally worth one pound Sterling, but by 1694 it had risen to thirty shillings (note to non-British readers or British readers under the age of 40 or so: there were twenty shillings in one pound) because of inflation. Remember that England’s currency was a bit of a mess at the time, which is why the cleverest man who ever lived, Sir Isaac Newton (who, as an aside, invented the catflap as well as universal theory of gravitation), was put in the charge of the mint. The value of the pure gold guinea rose against the debased coinage of the realm. Under the currency reform of William III, it was pegged at 21 shillings and six pence (note for younger viewers: there were twelve pence in a shilling). In 1717, it was fixed at 21 shillings, which is why to this day in merry England (and other parts of the United Kingdom) a guinea is one pound and one shilling, or one pound and five pence in new money. From the eighteenth century onwards, the professional classes — as distinct from the working classes — dealt in guineas rather than pounds: I’m pretty sure that horses are still priced in guineas today although bills from gardeners and such like no longer have this charm.

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Meanwhile, blog friend Chris Leather points me to a cute publicity stunt by Travelex, the National Space Centre and the University Of Leicester: “coins” for use in space. The Quasi Universal Intergalactic Denomination – or Quid for short – is the world’s first currency that can be used in space. Quids — plastic disks with pictures of the planets — are supposedly safe for use in zero-gravity. So guineas may not boldly go where no coin has been before, but quids will!

These opinions are my own (I think) and presented solely in my capacity as an interested member of the general public [posted with ecto]

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