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What is the best way to explain the pre-decimal British Pound in a text that has multiple references to it.

I already have something written to explain how to convert from pre-decimal to post-decimal to add as an appendix, along with something to help convert the value (i.e £x y shillings and z pence in 1935 = £x.xx in 2020.

However: The text has multiple references to money spanning several decades, thus it becomes not just about converting from £sd to £p but accounting for inflation as well as £1 in 1935 doesn't amount to £1 in 1945 for example.

Leaving a footnote for each and every monetary reference seems overly messy as some pages have several such references.

Is there a better way to deal with this?

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  • Your formula leaves out the shilling and pence? Should be "£x, y shilling, z pence = £x.yz" perhaps? Anyway... You could give readers vital information by following all historic values with current values, as in, "He paid £30 8 shillings (£90 in 2021). You could state in an initial footnote that all historic monetary values are followed by the current value in parentheses, and explain that current values are converted to current decimal valuation and adjusted for inflation to a specific year. You would not need to repeat the qualifying words "today" or "in 2021" after the explanation.
    – user8356
    May 19 '21 at 14:56
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The solution may depend on your use case.

In the case that one of the numbers is more relevant than the others to bring your point across, you can convert just that one in a note and provide the formula used, so that a reader could convert the rest if so they wish.

In the case that you need to convert all the values, then place the current value in brackets next to each historical value and explain in one footnote the conversion formula and that you are showing current values in brackets next to the historical values.

In the case that the above cannot be done for whatever reason, then provide a note at the end of your text that mirrors the entire passage with all values replaced by current values. Always provide the conversion formula.

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Unless you need exact to the pence equivalents, it might be better to express each amount in terms of what it could typically buy at the appropriate period. Numbers don't always directly reflect inflation, availability, social restrictions.

This would especially work well in fiction where it would give the reader a better understanding of what the money would mean to the characters, e.g. a loaf of bread, a fur coat, a new house.

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