Weights, Measures and Money

Back in The Olden Days, our various units for weights and measures, as well as other things like money, were different from today's. For instance when I got married I weighed 12 stone 12 pounds, or 180 pounds, and my height was 6 feet (see below for a list of these units and their meanings).

Today I still weigh 180 pounds (although my centre of gravity is a bit lower) and my height is, in the old terms, 5 feet 11 inches. But our stones and pounds have been changed to kilograms and grams, and our feet and inches have been changed to metres (meters in US) and centimetres, so now I weigh almost 82 kilograms and I'm 178 centimeters (or centimetres) tall.

Feels like I've been re-modelled, somehow!

Picture of balance scales, with set of weights Balance scales
Spring scales needed adjustment from time to time as the spring became fatigued Spring scales
 Picture of modern three-in-one laser level Laser level
Picture of Australian penny Australian penny
Picture of twelve-sided threepenny piece Twelve-sided threepence
Picture of wooden ruler, with inch and metric units Inch/centimetre ruler
A chain was equal to 22 yards How many links in a chain?

In the "good old days" our money (in England and Australia anyway) was in pounds (yes, a different pound), shillings and pence, with 20 shillings to the pound and 12 pence (pennies) to a shilling. Then in 1966, Australia changed to decimal currency, with our newly-formed dollar equal to 1/2 a pound, or 10 shillings. The dollar (first named the Royal, but changed before coins were released) was divided into 100 cents, so a cent was worth 1.2 pence.

The English currency consisting of pounds, shillings and pence was changed to a decimal system in 1971. It dropped the shillings and pence, and replaced them with new pence; 100 new pence= 1 pound sterling. So an amount of 1 pound 12 shillings and 6 pence, which was 1 5/8 pounds, became about 1 pound 62 new pence. The word new was dropped in 1981.

For quite a while the decimal conversion was confusing, especially to us "old-timers" and we had to be very careful that we weren't "ripped off" by more agile-minded and shifty dealers. But overall, the change (no pun intended) was for the better, as it simplified calculations and made money-handling machines simpler.

The units for distance have also been changed, also for the better I believe. The old units of miles, yards, feet and inches have all been dropped in favour of the meter with its decimal based sub- and super-units, the kilometer, centimeter and millimeter. Some older units, the furlong, chain and link had already become redundant in most fields (again, no pun intended) except surveying and horse-racing.

Some of the tools for measuring weight, size and distance and many other things have also improved. Room and furniture sizes for instance, once done rather awkwardly with a tape-measure, can now be done with a laser device that is merely pointed at the distant point to accurately display the distance digitally.

Some Old Units And Their New Counter-parts

Old Unit Nearest New Unit Scale Value Comparative Value
Inch Centimeter 12inches=1foot 1 inch≈25.4 millimeters
Foot Centimeter 3feet=1yard 1 foot≈30.48 centimeters
Yard Meter 22yards=1chain 1 yard≈0.91 meter
Link inch 100 links= 1 chain 1 link= 7.92 inches
Chain Meter 80chains=1mile 1 chain≈20.1 meters
Mile Kilometer 1mile=1760yards 1 mile≈1.6 kilometers
Weight (Avoirdupois)
Ounce Gram 16ounces=1pound 1ounce≈28.35grams
Pound Gram 28pounds=1quarter 2.2pounds= 1kilogram
Pound Kilogram 14pounds=1stone Stones were mostly used for body-weight
Quarter Kilogram 4quarters=1hundredweight
Hundredweight Kilogram 20hundredweight=1ton
Ton Tonne (or Metric Ton) 1ton=2240pounds
Farthing cent 4 farthings=1 penny
Penny Cent 12 pence=1 shilling
Shilling Cent 20 shillings=1 pound
Florin Cent 2 shillings=1 florin
Half-Crown Cent 1 half-crown=2 shillings and 6 pence
Crown Cent 1 crown=5 shillings
Weight (Troy, or Precious Metal)
Grain Grain 24grains=1pennyweight
Pennyweight Pennyweight 20pennyweight=1ounce
Ounce Ounce 12ounces=1pound
Pound Pound 1pound=5760grains
Capacity (liquid)
Pint Litre 2 pints=1 quart 1 pint≈0.57 litre
Quart Litre 4 quarts=1 gallon

As you will see if you examine the third column, the simple act of adding or subtracting quantities in the olden days could be quite tedious, as the units had to be converted between the various sub-units by dividing or multiplying, and similarly for other actions.

For example adding 2 feet 6 inches to 3 feet 9 inches required the inches to be added (6+9=15) then divided by twelve to convert this to feet and inches (1 foot 3 inches), then added to the feet, giving a total of 6 feet 3 inches.

Using the decimal system, meters, to add say 1 meter 65 centimeters to 2 meters 50 centimeters, we simply add 1.65 to 2.5 giving 4.15 meters or 4 meters 15 centimeters.

Some side-effects for us "old-timers"

There are a few Weights and Measures changes that remain, if not problematic, at least niggling for me and others of my vintage.

  • I used to proudly claim that my car averaged thirty miles per gallon of fuel, which was pretty good. Twenty-five miles per gallon was ok, and even twenty was acceptable for larger cars.
    Now, economy is stated in litres per 100 kilometers, and my car would have been about 9 litres per 100k, and the larger car 14 litres per 100k. To someone who's grown up to regard a lower figure as desirable, adjusting our thinking can be a bit problematic.
  • I don't do much cooking, but I sometimes get called upon by my wife to convert quantities in recipes to those she's accustomed to. Some of her books give amounts in grams and in ounces, but most of her "old faithfuls" give only ounces, and to measure, say 12 ounces of butter from a 500 gram pack is a little awkward.
  • When travelling on country roads, our usual speed would be 60 miles per hour and at this speed, when we saw a sign that said our destination was 45 miles away, it was easy to say "ok, that's 45 minutes".
    Now, with country speed being about 100K per hour, it's not so simple. We have to divide the distance (ok, it is in kilometers) by 100, then multiply by 60 to find the time in minutes.
    Maybe the units for time should be decimalized: 10 seconds=1 minute, 10 minutes=1 hour... ?
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