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Farthings [quarters of old pennies] were used a lot, and everyday goods were usually priced to a farthing less than the next penny up, presumably to make them look cheaper at first glance.
For example, something that effectively cost three pennies was priced at two pennies and three farthings. This practice was so common that that, for example, if something cost one penny and three farthings, i.e. 1¾d, everyone said "a penny three".
In later years, as inflation increased prices and farthings were withdrawn, shopkeepers still used the sort of pricing policy to make goods look cheaper at first glance than they really were. Before decimalisation, goods would be priced at, for example, nine shillings and eleven pence, i.e. 9/11 rather than 10/- rather than ten shillings. After decimalisation goods tended to be priced at one new penny less than the next pound, i.e. £5.99 rather than £6.
In the 1940s and 1950s farthings had no significant buying power. They were minted right up to 1956 and decreed no longer legal tender from 1960. During this time, shopkeepers found them annoyingly fiddly. In the early 1950s, for example, I used to buy a small loaf of bread from the local bakers which I had sliced for 4¼d (fourpence-farthing). I usually carried a few farthings in my pocket for such purchases but if I tendered 4½d (fourpence-halfpenny), I would get disgusted looks if I kept my hand out waiting for the change.
One day in primary school a teacher was wiseing us up to shop keepers pricing things at the nearest pound less a penny. On the way home from school a friend and I spotted a window where everything was priced this way. We were laughing and pointing the price tickets out to each other when a policeman gave us a clip around the ears.
"That's no window for ye to be looking in", he said.
We had no idea what he meant. It was a window full of women's underwear! Being less than 10 years old we were innocents.
Incidentally we thought nothing of being clipped round the ears by a policeman. This was considered quite acceptable from authority figures in the early 1950s.
Paul Mc Cann