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Introduction

Unicode defines multiple strokes; of interest to this question is U+002f (solidus: ‘/’), U+2044 (fraction slash: ‘⁄’) and U+2215 (division slash: ‘∕’). I cannot—however—find these well defined. In Unicode 12.1.0 the strokes are defined as such:

Fraction Slash. U+2044 fraction slash is used between digits to form numeric fractions, such as 2/3 and 3/9. The standard form of a fraction built using the fraction slash is defined as follows: any sequence of one or more decimal digits (General Category = Nd), followed by the fraction slash, followed by any sequence of one or more decimal digits. Such a fraction should be displayed as a unit, such as ¾ or nut fraction ¾ (3/4). The precise choice of display can depend on additional formatting information. If the displaying software is incapable of mapping the fraction to a unit, then it can also be displayed as a simple linear sequence as a fallback (for example, 3/4). If the fraction is to be separated from a previous number, then a space can be used, choosing the appropriate width (normal, thin, zero width, and so on). For example, 1 + thin space + 3 + fraction slash + 4 is displayed as 1¾.

Other notes on the stroke include the following:

Several punctuation marks, such as colon, middle dot and solidus closely resemble mathematical operators, […]

And finally:

Two small form variants from CNS 11643/plane 1 were unified with other characters outside the ASCII block: 213116 was unified with U+00B7 middle dot, and 226116 was unified with U+2215 division slash.

Question

This specific question relates to the historical usage of a stroke to denote shillings and pence, the so-called ‘old money’. Which stroke is the typographically correct stroke to be used for this? I am quite sure that I somewhere read that the regular stroke (U+2f) is wrong, that one should rather use the division slash (U+2215). In any case, the fraction slash (U+2044), as it is designed for fractions and thus triggers specific behaviours in word processors, web browsers and the like when frac or afrc is called for.

Two follow-up questions are in order: Should zero pence be written with an n-dash or hyphen? And which space should be used to separate pounds from shillings, if one uses a space rather than a stroke?

Alternatives, all with thinspaces and n-dashes:

  1. U+002f (‘solidus’):
    1. £1 5/–
    2. £1/5/–
  2. U+2215 (‘division slash’):
    1. £1 5∕–
    2. £1∕5∕–

It might well be that a hairspace would be desired for the final two examples.

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In predecimal currency notation in the UK, the symbol should be the solidus symbol, because the word "solidus" comes from the Latin name of a coin. Pounds shillings and pence were also denoted with £, s, and d, which came from the Roman silver coinage denominations librae, solidi (plural of solidus), and denarii (plural of denarius).

The solidus wasn't used as a divider. It actually stands for shillings/solidi

So you would never write £1/5/- It would be written as £1 5/-

Pennies were added after the solidus, for example £1 5/9d, sometimes with or without the d.

It could also be written as £1-5s-9d, sometimes with a centre dot as separators instead of a hyphen, or a long dash instead of a hyphen. Sometimes just a space separated pounds from shillings. For example £1 5/-

It's also interesting to note that instead of £1 5/- people would often convert it to shillings when writing it - for example 25/- or 25s.

My sources: An old person (82) who I just asked. Also if you look at some old newspaper adverts you will see how they actually did it. Sometimes the solidus was something more akin to a long apostrophe. There's an example here.

Another example here for a higher priced item priced in shillings. In this case 79/6, instead of £3 19/6d.

Another interesting thing to note is that very high priced items such as a television set were often priced in guineas - abbreviated GNS. A guinea was £1 1/-. So in this example 78GNS would be equivalent to £78 and 78 shillings, or £81 18/-

All I can say is thank God for decimalisation. Imagine having to work this all out in your head! 240 pennies to the pound, 12 pennies to the shilling, 20 shillings to the pound, 21 shillings to the guinea. There were also halfpennies to contend with, ½d, and prior to 1961 farthings, ¼d. It was completely insane!

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    Not only does the name ‘solidus’ come from the name for the coin, the symbol itself (at least as it relates to monetary usage) is derived from the cursive ‘long’ s as well, so writing “£1 5/“ is simply a cursive way of writing “£1 5s”. – Janus Bahs Jacquet Aug 6 at 18:14
  • I am aware of the origin of the word, but it is a good thing you pointed it out! (I am also a latinist, as well as an historian with a university course in Gothic writing and a BA on English mediaeval economy, so the history of solidus → s written as ſ → / is known to me.) However, it is known that there are symbols in Unicode that have downright misleading names, but Unicode never changes a symbol’s name nor description once it has been decided upon, so I wouldn’t count the name of the symbol (solidus) as proof in and of itself of which character to use. – Canned Man Aug 10 at 11:33
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    However, I think the most telling line in your answer is this: ‘The solidus wasn't used as a divider.’ For that reason, I’ve chosen your answer as final. Thanks a lot, mate! (Also, the examples you gave are enlightening.) – Canned Man Aug 10 at 11:34
  • @CannedMan - you're welcome. Although I must admit I do ramble on a bit. Anyway, glad you found it useful. – Billy Kerr Aug 10 at 11:48

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