“Bit” coins

… the new thing on the block …. not.

Regular readers will know of my penchant for “twisting the melon man” so it is I look at “bit”coins. So wrapped up we are in today’s tech especially our young that often these days don’t spend time
with their parents or grandparents and hear the stories of life from before. It is the burden of each generation to believe they invented everything until that is they read the history books. By history books I don’t mean wikipedia either.

Bitcoin was invented by Satoshi Nakamoto, maybe you think the bit relates to a byte; computer lingo for that small piece of code that consists of 8 bits, a unit of memory size. Strictly speaking a bit is the smallest unit that can hold a memory but it has, as every school kid knows, only 2 states; 0 or 1. But back, way back, in fact so far back even calculators weren’t invented  .. a bit was something else.


1946 “sixpenny” bit of George VI

Ever the computer enthusiast I was hoping beyond hope for a calculator for christmas, I wanted bits and bytes, in the UK “new money” was already in circulation but even so bits were a thing of the past, yes I said past. Before 1973 we had the “old money” which at the time was just called “money” but history gave some of the coins other names. For example much like today we had a “penny” a half of a penny was a “ha’penny” also a coin and we had not a two penny coin like today but a three penny coin called a “three penny bit (thre’penny bit)”. Much like the bits of today it had two states (0 or 1) in this case it was either you had a thre’penny bit or you didn’t. If you did of course you could spend it, thumbs up emoji. Oddly you also got a “tanner” which was sixpence or a “tanner bit” but  had to get up to 2 shillings before the next bit which was a “two bob bit”. A shilling by the way was 12 pennies therefore a two bob bit was 24 pennies or 8 thre’penny bits oh; and fourpenny bits are known as a “groat”.



The number 8 is interesting because in the U.S. a bit is equal to 1/8th of a dollar or 12 1/2 cents. In US terms this designation came from the early days when the Spanish dollar was the most common currency, pirates called them “pieces of 8” (arggghhh!) as it was worth 8 Spanish silver reales so 1/8th  of an American dollar became known as a “bit”. American decimalisation came in 1794 there was no coin worth 1/8th of a dollar but a quarter of a dollar 24 cents was known as 2 bits, 4 bits was half a dollar and 6 bits was well, err 6 bits before getting to the dollar.

“Two bits” or “two bit” continues in general use as a colloquial expression, as in the song “Shave and a Haircut, two bits.” In fact in the US “two-bit” describes something cheap or unworthy. In UK too the term “tuppence ha’penny” was used in the same fashion. “I wouldn’t give her tuppence ha’penny or his clothes ain’t worth tuppence ha’penny. Both sentences being derogatory.

Roger Miller‘s song “King of the Road” features these lines: Ah, but two hours of pushin’ broom buys an / Eight by twelve four-bit room. The New York Stock Exchange continued to list stock prices in eighths of a dollar until June 24, 1997, at which time it started listing in sixteenths. It did not fully implement decimal listing until January 29, 2001.

Danish West Indies

Finally from 1905 to 1917, the Danish West Indies used the bit as part of its currency system. In 1904, two new currency denominations were introduced, the bit and francs which were overlaid on the old cent and daler denominations. The four units were related as 5 bits = 1 cent, 100 bits = 20 cents = 1 franc, 100 cents = 5 francs = 1 daler. Coins were issued each denominated in two units, bits and cents, francs and cents, or francs and daler. Postage stamps were denominated in bits and francs; the lowest value was five bits.

So there you have it “bit”coins … I wonder if there is a “groat” crypto coin yet?