My apologies to Marlys and job for the time it has taken to find solid reliable evidence. With all my books in New Zealand and my distrust of most of the stuff on the web, because I cannot verify the sources and references used, it has taken a while.

The comments and facts here come from an expert who is often employed by the British Museum and the Bank of England when they want to be historically correct about coins, mints, and anything to do with English (not British) currency. His exact words are quoted in italics, my comments are in plain font.


Pound notes.
'The Bank started to issue notes in return for deposits and the crucial feature that made Bank of England notes a means of exchange was the promise to pay the bearer the sum of the note on demand. This meant that the note could be redeemed at the Bank for gold or coinage by anyone presenting it for payment; if it was not redeemed in full, it was endorsed with the amount withdrawn.'

These Paper notes were not currency but were used like cheques by the businesses and the wealthy.

'These notes were actually tremendous amounts of money at the time. Even 20 would be something like 2000, and with far more buying power than today. So Bank of England notes were not items of daily life for most people, but only instruments of large financial transactions. Since the average income in this period (1800-1825) was less than 20 a year, most people went through life without ever coming into contact with banknotes.'

The govt currency was pounds sterling. There was no pound coin. There were golden guineas and half guinea coins though. People could make up a guinea or a pound using the multiplicity of coins and tokens which were in use in the early 1800s, groats, thrupennces, sixpences and shillings etc.
But I make the point again, most people never saw a pound, their money came in farthings, ha'pennies, pennies and tokens.

And yes, because of their low wages most people never had a guinea in their pockets either.

'Wages and currency values
Around 1800 the average weekly labour's wage was around 6 - 10 shillings
The value of the pound 1 in the first quarter of the nineteenth century would be approximately equal to 100 today! a useful figure for calculating the levels in gambling.'


Your middle classes and the gentry however would and did see and use guineas everyday. The notes would be used as cheques for travel or business or sending money to relations.

'The first notes were issued to specific depositors, but soon the Chief Cashier, usually, "or bearer" was listed as the payee, but they all were taken to the Bank and exchanged for coin until 1797, when a series of runs on the Bank, caused by the uncertainty of the war, drained its bullion reserve to the point where it was forced to stop paying out gold for its notes.'

Again I would ask you to consider this use of pound notes as cheques not cash in the hand.

Instead, it issued 1 and 2 notes.

This caused a huge scandel and questions were asked in the House of Commons. The Bank of England and the govt were roundly abused for not giving people their golden guineas in exchange for their cheques.

The Restriction Period, as it was known, lasted until 1821 when a full return to cash payments was made in 1821.
when a full return to cash payments was made in 1821
People like solid metal in their pockets and as soon as the Bank was allowed by the govt to pay out in gold, it promptly did so, even though one might argue that the middle classes and gentry had been using paper notes for 24 years. But they really hadn't had they? They used notes as cheques and expected real money when they took the five pounds their aunts sent them to the bank to exchange for cash.
Officers in the army and navy insisted on being paid in cash not notes, and I am not talking about those stationed overseas but all those at home in England and so officers always received guineas.

A fair summing up then would be:
Pound notes were rarely seen by the general public.
1 = around 100 today.
The average annual income circa 1800 was less than 20
The average weekly wage was around 6-10 shillings and many people earned far less.
People demanded metal coins.

Where does that leave us then on the guineas versus pounds?

The expert said, off the record, that as he couldn't come up with definite proof other than gut feeling based on his knowledge he would not like to be quoted one way or the other.

But for me, remembering people of my great aunts' generation who hated paper money, who liked gold, who still talked in guineas, it seems that it would be guineas not pounds the wealthy talked in for things like laying a bet or in general comments like "I wish I had a couple of guineas..."

Thinking generally about the early 19thC, England was at war with France, so people liked gold and silver coins because no matter what problems arose that metal had a value and could be exchanged for food and clothes. They preferred real gold in a sock hidden away. Their 1800s pound = 100 which was a lot. They used Bank pound notes more as a bank draft or postal order or cheque. But most telling is that people still used guineas in money usage right into the mid 20thC.

So can I ask you to consider this seriously.
The Old Bailey Records are fun but they are about the abnormal, not the normal.

If you'd like to take this further with the real experts go to the numismatists - coin collectors - because they are money enthusiasts and know!

You could also take up the matter of pound notes as cash or cheques with the Bank of England who have, I'm told, several on-line experts to answer questions.
But the odds are more in favour of people talking about guineas than pounds.