The Ankh-Morpork currency system:
- There is the $AM, the dollar, which is made up of twenty shillings.
- An older unit of currency is the Guinea, composed of only twenty-one shillings, (but this is falling from use)
- The shilling is composed of twelve pennies.
- Or two sixpences.
- Or four thruppeny bits.
- The Penny is composed of two Halfpennies.
- Each Halfpenny is composed of two Farthings.
- Each Farthing is composed of two Mites.
- Each Mite is composed of two Elims.
It is therefore easy to see that a Shilling may also be composed of twenty-four Halfpennies, forty-eight Farthings, ninety-six Mites (the little ones with the holes in the middle)or one hundred and ninety-two Elims.
There are also intermediate values, like the Crown (a five-shilling coin) and the Half-Crown (a coin worth two shillings and sixpence. Or if you prefer, ten thruppeny bits, sixty halfpennies, one hundred and twenty Farthings, two hundred and forty Mites, or four hundred and eighty Elims.)
It bears mentioning that the Ankh-Morpork dollar is much less inflated than modern currency. Five extra dollars per month is considered a respectable raise in Guards! Guards!. In Going Postal a senior government official makes 20 dollars per week, and a major construction project costs about 100,000 dollars.
Why the Royal Mint is in trouble
In the opening pages of Making Money, it is revealed that the production costs of each coin are as follows:-
- The $AM Dollar:- sixpence, so we're in pocket there;
- The sixpence: costs tuppence fathing to make each coin;
- The Thruppeny Bit - on account of all the sides, costs sevenpence to make;
- The tuppence coin - each coin costs sevenpence and an elim;
- The penny: costs a penny farthing to make;
The halfpenny:- costs nearly a penny to make;
- The farthing - costs a halfpenny to manufacture;
- The mite - costs sixpence, on account of being so small and having the hole in the middle;
- The Elim - so small and fiddly, on account of all the engraving, that it costs a shilling to make...
It is easy to conclude that a Mint which costs more to run than the value of the currency it produces is not going to be much of an asset to the Government that owns it. Especially, as Moist von Lipwig discovered (in a practical experiment in money circulation on Tenth Egg Street), in a city where for most people, the dollar is a theoretical notion, and virtually all transactions are done in small coin - including the all-important one of Banking in the Sock Under The Mattress (therefore taking small coin out of circulation and necessitating the continual production of replacements). To say nothing of the Byzantine pay practices for employees at the Mint, where the staff are responsible for making up their own pay packets - literally.... this is an uneconomical vicious circle that Vetinari charges Moist with breaking, but "no great rush"...
Based on evidence provided in Making Money, it appears that the Ankh-Morpork currency system is based very closely on the older British currency, which prevailed until 1971. (Although all the coins smaller than a halfpenny - all of which were real time-honoured British coinage - had ceased to be legal tender long before then, in some cases by over two hundred years before then. The last survivor of the small coins was the farthing, which was discontinued in 1960).
It is interesting that there also used to be the groat at an earlier epoch in British currency - this coin was an intermediate value of currency worth four pennies, and which along with the penny, threepenny bit and sixpence, provided another divisor value of twelve. It is referenced in one of the earlier Discworld novels as a coin in use. In fact, the set fee for the assassination of Foul Ole Ron is set at one groat, implying that during the lifetime of Ron, the groat was - perhaps still is - an accepted unit of currency. The Groat was last minted in Britain in the 1850's, and passed out of use by 1860, although it was still used in some colonies as late as 1955. The reason why its use persisted as long as it did was that it was a multiple value coin worth four pennies: this was the minimum permissible charge in a public hackney cab and useful to pay the driver. It makes sense that it may have persisted in Ankh-Morpork, perhaps today only as a useful name for a sum of four pennies or two tuppences. It lives on as a name - Tolliver Groat.
As noted somewhere in the text of Good Omens, the British resisted the contaminated foreign notion of decimal currency for a long time because (a) it was foreign; and (b) they thought it was too complicated.
Britain's pre-decimal currency was called LSD, which is also the acronym for a perception-altering drug, under whose influence the strangest concepts start to make perfect sense... "LSD" was a simplification of £sd, standing for £Pounds, Shillings, Denarii (pence) - or, in Latin, "Librae, Solidi, Denarii"
Also, the British Royal Mint's coin manufacturing plant at Llantrisant in Wales notoriously ran at such an operating loss, that in Government circles (the kind that wouldn't dream of moving anything really important from London to the Provinces, it's alright for labourers and junior civil servants, but not for chaps like us) it was referred to as "The Hole With The Mint In It"
Britain has since again reformed its currency, so that the situation where "copper" coins were worth more for their bronze value than for their face value as currency and cost far more than their face value to manufacture, is now a thing of the past. Since the early 1990's, our "copper" coins now consist of a thin veneer of bronze over a steel core.... this avoided the embarrassing (and illegal) situation where copper coins were dissappearing from circulation because their value as scrap metal was four times their worth as coinage.. Evidently it's not only the good people of Ankh-Morpork who could spot an unorthodox business opportunity involving turning copper into gold...
The Mite, also an historical coin in Britain, (the Widow's mite (Mark 24:41-44)- may be a reference to it) was also known as the minita in the Doomsday book. (Source The Chambers Journal, vol 47)