What Does Sterling Mean?
The word sterling refers to metals and coins of a standard value. It is also used, as in “pounds sterling”, to distinguish British pounds from other currencies. The pound sterling (symbol: £; ISO code: GBP), is the official currency of the United Kingdom, Jersey, Guernsey, the Isle of Man, South Georgia and the South Sandwich Islands, the British Antarctic Territory, and Tristan da Cunha. It is subdivided into 100 pence (singular: penny, abbreviated: p).
A number of nations that do not use sterling also have currencies called the pound. At various times, the pound sterling was commodity money or bank notes backed by silver or gold, but it is currently fiat money, backed only by the economy in the areas where it is accepted. The pound sterling is the world’s oldest currency still in use and which has been in continuous use since its inception.
Sterling is said to be derived from the Easterlings, who were German coiners and were brought to England by King Henry II to improve the quality of the money. Another suggestion is that the word comes from the star with which some early Norman coins were stamped.
In 1300 King Edward I ordered that all silver worked by silversmiths should be of the same purity as the silver coins. This purity was called the sterling standard. It was introduced to prevent silversmiths from debasing silver with cheap metals. Sterling silver contains 92.5 per cent silver. The other 7.5 per cent is usually copper and is used for hardening.
Sterling silver is prone to tarnishing, and metals other than copper can be used in alloys to reduce tarnishing, as well as casting porosity and firescale. Such metals include germanium, zinc, platinum, silicon, and boron. Recent examples of alloys using these metals include Argentium, Sterlium, Sterilite, and Silvadium.
When fixing this standard, Edward also instituted a system called hallmarking. This meant that every single piece of silver worked by the smiths had to be tested or assayed at the Goldsmiths’ Hall. If the article passed the test, it was then stamped with a leopard’s head. (A crown was later used for gold). In 1544 the mark for English silver was changed to a walking lion, or lion passant. This is still used to stamp silver in London.