When I was a wee lad in Australia the currency of the day was pounds, shillings and pence. Twelve pennies made a shilling, and 20 shillings made a pound.
This was based on the English sterling monetary system, which dates back a millennium or so, all of which you can bone up on via the internet. It was a romantic, if somewhat cumbersome currency, and was replaced in Australia in 1966 by the more functional decimal system of dollars and cents.
These days, coins are a nuisance, but back then they were magical. I remember kids walking around the school yard jingling coins in their pockets until their mates asked them how much they had! Those coins held real value.
Sixpence (called a “zack”) could buy you an ice cream on a stick, and a shilling (a “bob”), got you a meat pie. The grand-daddy of them all, the 2-shilling piece (a “florin”), got you that ice cream, the pie, and left you with enough change to get a zack’s worth of candy (which we called “lollies”).
What’s all this got to do with philately? Well, my love for the old coin has extended to stamps, where I have a penchant for pre-decimal issues from Great Britain and her commonwealth.
Not all British colonies followed their mother’s lead. India, for example, used the rupee from day one, as did Pakistan when it gained independence in 1947. Canada broke ranks in 1859, and any of her earlier sterling stamps are of considerable value (Scott 1-13). Likewise, with most of the Canadian provincial issues.
When Australia’s currency shifted to decimal, so did the stamps, marked by the 1966 definitive set featuring birds, fish, navigators and, of course, Queen Elizabeth II (Scott 394-417). Some of these stamps used designs from the pre-decimal definitives of 1963-65, while others were brand new.
New Zealand followed in Australia’s footsteps a year later, in 1967 (Scott 382-404), and Mother England converted to “new pence” in 1971 (Scott 648-650), when she started using “p” instead of “d.” Although Kenya still uses the word “shilling,” along with its 1/- symbol, its currency is decimal. The last usage of sterling currency was Nigeria in 1972 (Scott 284-286), after which it converted to the naira.
And thus ended an era.
As we get older, it seems that more and more of the world we knew as kids has disappeared. To be sure, many changes are for the better and should be fully embraced. But who among us doesn’t look back to our childhood through a rosy lens? Perhaps that’s what makes stamp collecting such a wonderful hobby. Perhaps that is what it is all about.