Tag Archive | Regency Romance

Regency Coin — What Did it Cost?

Proper ConductIn Proper Conduct, the heroine spends a good deal of time worrying about money that is not there, particular after her father spends nearly 1,000 pounds on a horse.  Not an excessive sum to someone such as the Prince Regent, whose racing stud farm cost him 30,000 pounds a year.  But all these numbers seemed to need a bit perspective.

We also have to remember that back in the 1800’s England was not on a decimal system–you had to know your farthings, pennies, and shillings. And coins were far more common for use than any paper money. Banknotes–slips of paper that promised payment for a set amount–were initially issued by individual banks. In the late 1600’s the Bank of England was established and by the late 1700’s their notes were viewed as being as good as gold (or silver). But Scottish banks issue their own notes until the mid 1800’s, and other private banks o issue their own notes until the mid 1800’s, and the last English private banknote was issued in the early 1900’s.

Banknotes began to be standardized in the mid 1700’s, with ten and five pound notes appearing. These were all hand-lettered and signed–and 1821 banknotewere viewed by many with deep suspicion. A coin, after all, was to hold the value of itself within it’s metal. And for many, a bit of gold or silver in hand was better than any promise given in a bit of paper. Banknotes were much easier to forge than any coin–another good reason for anyone to prefer payment in solid coin.

So we look to coinage as the most common form of currency.

In the Regency, we have as the main coins denominations:

  • Farthing – four farthing made a penny
  • Penny or Pence – twelve pennies (or twelvepence) made a shilling
  • Shilling – five shillings made a crown
  • Crown
  • Pound – twenty shillings made a pound
  • Guinea – twenty-one shillings made a guinea

In ledgers, a pound is often written with the pound mark–£. Shilling is written as an “s” or a slash mark, as in 6/ is six shillings. And a penny is written up as “d” for denarius, a Roman silver coin that had the same value as the English penny. So 4d is four pence.

Coinage in use in the Regency included:

  • Gold for one, two, five and half-guinea coins
  • Silver for one, two, three, four, and six penny (or pence), shilling, and crown coins
  • Copper for half-pence and farthing coins

Two-penny coins were called tuppence. And there were all sorts of slang names for coins including a quid (pound), a bob (shilling), and a goldfinch (guinea).

Due to a shortage of copper and silver coins in the late 1700’s, firms began to use tokens to pay wages.  There was also a growth in payments by foreign coins at this time.

The annual expenses of a great house could run between 5,000 and 6,000 pounds a year including housekeeping, repairs, stables, parklands, gardens, home farm costs, servants, and taxes.

Mrs. Whitney’s  Boarding School for Young Ladies at Buckingham cost twelve guineas a year, and one guinea extra if tea and sugar were required to be served.

In Bath, one paid two guineas were paid for subscription balls, five shillings for concert tickets, and ten shillings sixpence for a subscription to the booksellers.

With an income of 400 pounds a year, one could employ two maids, one groom and keep one horse in London.  On 700 hundred a year, one could have one manservant, three maids and two horses.  With an income of 1,000 pounds a year, one could have three female servants, a coachman, a footman, two carriages and a pair of horses in London.

There were three to four hundred families whose income was over 10,000 pounds a year, due to vast land holdings (hence, these were called “The four hundred” — it was a small world at the top).

During the London season, the lease on house in the West End could cost as much as 1,000 pounds.

Anyone with a debt of twenty pounds or more could be sent to debtor’s prison.  However, a member of Parliament could not be imprisoned while Parliament was sitting.

The capital to secure an estate was approximately thirty times the desired income–so, if you want to make 1,000 pounds a year, you need 30,000 to secure the amount of good land that could produce such an income.

The Earl of Egremont saw a rise in income due to land rentals from 12,976 pounds in 1791 to 34,000 pounds in 1824.

In Somerset (where Proper Conduct is set) 30 acres for let went for 35 pounds per annum, with the tenant paying all taxes except land tax.

In 1801, a 100-acre estate in Sussex sold for 3,500 pounds.

In 1804, due to the silver shortage, the Bank of England issued light-weight token silver coins for one shilling, three shilling and six pence coins.

From 1811 to 1812, an estimated 250,000 people lived comfortably on more than seven hundred pounds a year each.  A half million shopkeepers made a hundred and fifty pounds a year each, two million artisans lived on the edge of poverty at 55 pounds per annum, and one and one half million laborers earned only 30 pounds a year each.

In 1813, a cow fetched about 15 pounds at the market, while a ewe went for 55 to 72 shillings.

In 1816, a new British one pound coin made of gold, the sovereign, began to be produced.

In 1820, 1,100 years after the first English silver pennies were minted, the last British silver pennies were minted.

Christmas Stories

It’s Dicken’s fault–he started the trend. Now, maybe there were Christmas stories around before A Christmas Carol (favorite film version being the one with Alistair Sim), but Dicken’s became the one trotted out every year with the trees and holly and mistletoe. And why fight success. But I actually never set out to write a Christmas story.

Under the Kissing BoughUnder the Kissing Bough started life as a short story. It was supposed to be about 100 pages, and I actually didn’t start out with a time of year, but I did want to see if I could do a novella. I’d been writing a lot of novels and hadn’t done any shorter fiction in a long time, and I actually really, really like the shorter format. It’s a challenge to work in, but can be rewarding. I forgot one thing–you cannot do a short story with lots of characters. Not and do all the characters any kind of justice.

You see, I love to give every character a ‘star turn.’ I think of them all as actors, and every actor–even ones with bit parts–loves to have that great screen moment with wonderful dialogue that moves the story (and the audience). All this mean that with large families (heroine has two sisters, and her parents; hero has father, two brothers, and a former love interest who is now married), I knew that by page seventy, no way was this story ever going to fit into 100 pages. So I put it aside.

And then my then editor at Kensington asked if I’d like to do a holiday book–a Christmas story. “Sure” is always the immediate answer I provide in such situations. And then I had to figure out what I could do for Christmas. Because I can’t just stick on some holy and call it holiday. To me, if an element is not important in the story–and to the characters–it’s got no business being stuck in.

This mean research–as in I needed to dig into English Christmas customs (not difficult since I had a grandmother from Yorkshire and a lot of handed-down family traditions). And I dug out my short story to take another look.

The December setting suited my characters very well–I’d already set up a ‘marriage of convenience’ story (always a wonderful plot to use for historical fiction). Now I could weave in the holiday customs, make them part of the plot and the story (because, in England, you really, really need a very good reason to get married in the cold of winter). There were a few things I couldn’t quite fit into the story due to the limitations of page counts (from the days when that mattered so very much in print)–as in it would have been fun to do more with Twelfth Night celebrations. But I did get other things in there that I loved adding.

And I ended up with a Christmas story.

I’m toying this year with rereading it. I don’t often reread my own work. When you’ve spent a long time writing and revising, another read seems more of a burden than a treat. But it would be fun to do another holiday story. Mmmm…maybe Guy Fawkes day.