Notes on currency values

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A 1712 liard coin

The conversion of local currency

To facilitate the interpretation of early documents an understanding of the units of currency in the islands is essential. Whilst some Spanish and English coinage was in circulation, the predominant currency was French. The units were livres tournois, sous, deniers and liards and their values converted to pounds sterling varied over the centuries. English currency did not become the sole form of legal tender in Jersey until 1834. French currency was not finally demonetised in Guernsey until 1921 and up until 1969, the livre tournois was used in the computation of trespassing fines.

Tournois and sterling

The moneys of account are of the same denominations to both tournois and sterling, for Le Quesne wrote in the 1850s that many people still kept their accounts in tournois, and not until May 1887 does the Jersey almanac note that French coinage was no longer acceptable as currency. Thus:

An 1831 Jersey penny worth one-thirteenth of a shilling
Livres tournois Pound sterling
2 oboles or mailles = 1 denier 2 halfpence = 1 penny
12 deniers = 1 sou or sol 12 pence = 1 shilling
20 sous = 1 livre 20 shillings = 1 pound

The denier originating in the Roman denarius, the sou or sol in the Roman solidus, and the livre in the Roman libra, which the £ sign also reflects. England's Norman conquerors adopted the Anglo-Saxon silver penny, whereas in Normandy coinage virtually ceased after the Council of Lillebonne in 1080, the base pennies or deniers of neighbouring areas being allowed to take its place. Thus the Channel Islands had the base and lightweight coinage current in Normandy, and from 1204, when France adopted as standard the denier of Tours, tournois, the Channel Islands had that, augmented by whatever sterling came in from England and the English territories in France. As well as being initially lighter, Tournois coinage was debased at a faster rate than sterling, so that the livre tournois became a steadily smaller fraction of the pound sterling.

An 1830 Guernsey four double coin

Conversion rates

To evaluate the silverware listed in Channel Island wills and inventories, where these are expressed in tournois, it is necessary to know what the livre tournois was worth in sterling silver coin, since silverware was a form of wealth readily convertible into silver coin, and, like silver coin, was valued according to its weight. Therefore the only rates of exchange for livres tournois applicable to values of silverware are those applicable to silver coin, to bills of exchange expressed in it, or l9th century gold coins representing fixed numbers of silver fractions.

The British pound sterling in gold and silver coin equalled:

Date Livres tournois Source
1270 7.42 Florentine bank rate to gold florin
1300 3.2 Florentine bank rate to gold florin
1331 4 Extente
1350 8.22 Florentine bank rate to gold florin
1400 7.33 Florentine bank rate to gold florin
1450 8.24 Florentine bank rate to gold florin
1500 8.45 Florentine bank rate to gold florin
1530 12 Acte, Jersey
1537 12 Ordonnance, Guernsey
1646 12 Jean Chevalier, Jersey
1649 12 Acte, Guernsey
1694 12 Acte, Jersey
1696 12 Acte, Guernsey
1714 14.2 Ordre, Jersey
1729 14.2 Ordre, Jersey
1771 14.2 Code des Lois, Jersey
1797 25.33 Ordonnance, Guernsey
1848 25.26 Ordonnance, Guernsey
1870 25 Ordonnance, Guernsey

Note that in the l9th century local as opposed to British sterling, the pound was fixed at 24 livres tournois, this being the French gold coin of 20 francs and its immediate predecessor; thus the Jersey silver tokens of 3 shillings and ls.6d. were reckoned at 3 livres 12 sous and 36 sous respectively

An 1813 silver Jersey 18 penny token

Multiples of the denier tournois were :

  • 2 mailles or oboles = 1 denier
  • 1 double = 2 deniers
  • 1 liard or grand double = 3 deniers

Original rates

These being the original rates surviving in book-keeping into the l9th century, but obsolete in coin long before, due to fluctuations in supply. From the beginning of the 18th century, if coin rather than money of account is meant, this is apparent because there are between 14 and 20 deniers to the sou instead of 12, and the liard or grand double is conflated with the double and there may be 6 liards to the sou instead of 4.

When interpreting documents it should be borne in find that values may not invariably be in tournois, for although sterling did not become the sole legal tender in Jersey until 1834 and Guernsey until 1921, it was legal tender with tournois and other currency at such earlier dates. The shilling, for instance, appears in the Jersey Extente of 1528 and in a Guernsey Acte of 1649, and this implies the acceptability of its divisions and multiples. But chelin, unless stated to be British, in l9th century Guernsey documents means franc.

Though Jersey switched to sterling in 1834, this does not mean that values expressed in documents after that date are invariably sterling, for Le Quesne wrote in the 1850s that many people still kept their accounts in tournois.

From circa 1800 until 1834 in Jersey and 1921 in Guernsey, sterling moneys of account are likely to be local and not British sterling, this deriving in part from the local premium on gold and silver coin. British sterling stood at £1 1s 6d Guernsey in 1797, £1 1s 3d in 1848 and £1 0s 10d in 1870 by Ordonnances de la Cour Royale.

Francs are the units of account in some documents. The franc of late 16th - early 17th century inventories is valued by a Guernsey Ordonnance of 1586 at 2s sterling, that is £T 1. 4s., a premium on its notional value of a livre d'argent. The franc of l9th century documents, usually in Guernsey, is approximately 10d. sterling or 1 shilling Guernsey, that is 1 livre tournois.

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