Florence and Florins, Lira and Pounds, and the Gold Standard 1252 - today

In Italy, Lira Soldo and Denaro were the standard units of account, with one lira always equaling 20 soldi or 240 denari, corresponding to the Livre Sou and Denier in France, and the £ Libra-pondo shillings and pence in England.

Click here for the history of money, silver and gold, in scripture.

** Now following Constantinople's decline in the east in the face of Islamic, Turkish and Venetian expansionism, new gold coins were issued from Florence, starting in 1252. Worth one Florentine Lira, or 240 Florentine denari (that contained 35 grams of silver), this new gold coin (called a florin) contained 3½ grams of gold.

** In the "Great Fire" of 1204, a large part of Constantinople was burned down. It was caused by a riot of Venetian soldiers and sailors, led by their unscrupulous doge Enrico Dandolo, on the so-called "Fourth Crusade".

A similar coin, a gold franc, was issued in France in 1360 to pay a ransom for the French king, held prisoner by King Edward III in England.

As a standard, both coins were thus used in Europe to settle international debts. But a rapid devaluation of silver/copper denari in Italy, and silver/copper deniers in France as more and more copper were added to those coins meant that by 1500 in Florence, a gold florin had become the equivalent of seven Florentine lire. The years till 1860, though, saw only slight degradations.

In contrast, in England in 1489, King Henry VII issued a large gold coin, the English sovereign, weighing 15.55 grams and the equivalent of one English pound, £ or 240 grams / pennies of silver, a valuation ratio (to gold) of 15½ to one. Over the following 115 years, the silver content in English pennies and shillings then steadily decreased (by government policy) as England showed its preference when making trade payments for using gold, and its preference when it came to receiving payment, for silver.

Thus the heavy English gold sovereign became an international standard that increased in value to 30 shillings, until discontinued in 1604 in the reign of King James. Lighter English gold coins that were worth 20 shillings followed: 10 gram pound coins in the reign of Queen Elizabeth 1 known as unites after 1604 until 1662. Then came 8 gram guinea coins 1663 - 1814. The guinea's initial value was also 20 shillings, though it escalated to 30 shillings.

The Gold Standard. In 1717 until 1816 the guinea's value was officially fixed at twenty-one English shillings by Sir Isaac Newton, the "master" of the Royal Mint. And with this "fixing" or adherence to a gold standard, came the first Bank of England banknotes, very popular, making the Bank of England a bankers' bank. In 1817, after the wars with France, the gold sovereign valued at 20 shillings was reissued. Its 8 gram weight (minted in 22 carat i.e. 91.67% pure gold) meant it contained 7.32 grams by mass. Minting ceased in London in 1917 during the 1st World War, followed by the branches: Bombay 1918, Ottawa 1919, Sydney 1926, Melbourne and Perth 1931, Pretoria 1932. Minting restarted in London in 1957, though mostly now for collectors.



1260 (35.3g) — 1270 (23.5g) — 1280 (21.4g) — 1300 (19.0g) — 1310 (16.2g) — 1320 (12.8g) — 1330 (14.4g) — 1340 (12.2g) — 1350 (11.5g) — 1360 (11.6g) — 1370 (11.1g) — 1380 (10.6g) — 1390 (9.3g) — 1400 (9.2g) — 1410 (8.8g) —1420 (8.7g) — 1430 (8.6g) — 1440 (7.7g) — 1460 (7.1g) — 1470 (6.9g) — 1480 (6.3g) — 1490 (5.9g) — 1500 (5.6g) — 1530 (5.2g) — 1540 (5.0g) — 1550 (4.5g) — 1710 (4.3g) — 1730 (4.2g) — 1740 (3.9g) — 1780 (3.8g)

Data: R. A. Goldthwaite, The building of Renaissance Florence (Baltimore/ London, 1980), pp. 429-30; M. Bernocchi, Le monete della Repubblica fiorentina (Firenze, 1974-78).

Extract from pierre-marteau.com/wiki/index.php?title=Italy:Money#Florence