August 10, 2015

Horse 1955 - My Favourite Number

Because I work in an accounting firm, people sometimes ask me what my favourite number is, as if that's the sort of thing that they expect accountants to have. I like to joke that if they are prepared to give me that many dollars, then my favourite number is 28 million. There's also this assumption that I must like the number pi because of its apparent nerdiness and whilst pi does make for a very nice nerdulent answer, unless you do happen to be going something which involves practical geometry, then pi is about as useful as putting a knitted beanie on the Sydney Town Hall - it might look cool but its impractical and mostly useless.
So then, for the purposes of answering the question of what my favourite number is, I shall now decide upon one. That number is: 240.

Those of you who happen to be reading this and were born before about 1956 will more than likely understand why I've chosen 240; that is that there are, or rather were, 240 pennies in the pre-decimal pound. Granted that I do have a penchant for old things and if I had access to time travel I'd go to the 1930s and fit out my wardrobe from that period but my reasoning for picking 240 is one of usefulness.

Decimal currency was invented because it was supposedly useful. 100 cents in the dollar means that you can do most calculations in a hurry but in the world of accounting and tax returns, we almost exclusively use whole dollars and tax returns explicitly state "Do Not Show Cents".
Believe it or not, the pre-decimal pound was in fact decimal. It even had a coin which at one point had the words "one tenth of a pound" clumsily written on it; that coin was the florin. A pound of 20 shillings divides to ten 2 shilling parts evenly. This is just one of many useful divisions that the old pound could be evenly sliced.

240 parts = 1d.
120 parts = 2d.
80 parts = 3d.
60 parts = 4d.
48 parts = 5d.
40 parts = 6d.
30 parts = 8d.
24 parts = 10d.
20 parts = 1/-
16 parts = 1/3
15 parts = 1/4
12 parts = 1/8
10 parts = 2/-
8 parts = 2/6
6 parts = 3/4
5 parts = 4/-
4 parts = 5/-
3 parts = 6/8
2 parts = 10/-
1 part = £1

Unlike a decimal dollar of 100 cents, the old pound divided into many useful parts. Allocating monthly expenses come out to whole pennies because 240 divides into twelve but 100 cents does not and you have to round off. Halves, quarters and thirds are all useful fractions of things to be playing with but you can still get a tenth of something if you desire.

As for the argument that a decimal dollar is easier to understand, I think that is demonstrably untrue. People survived quite happily with the old pound and I don't know if that says that the general populace was more intelligent than today or if society has progressively got stupider but even if both of those positions are correct, everyone has more computing power in their smart phones these days than the entire Apollo Program which sent people to the moon; so I don't think that's much of an issue. It is my general experience that most people don’t do simple maths (as opposed to can’t) and so how the currency is divided is largely irrelevant.
Actually, for a country like Japan which has the Yen divided into 100 Sen and 1000 Rin, those divisions are irrelevant anyway. The last time that any Rin coins were minted was 1892 and the Sen disappeared in 1953. Australia’s cent coins have already fallen by the way side and the 5 cent coin should follow New Zealand’s lead and just go away.

Back in Horse 1109* I already wrote of the usefulness of the number 12 which can be divided by 2, 3, 4 & 6. 240 continues that usefulness but to a much larger degree. The pre-decimal pound even had an element of decimalness about it anyway. The two shilling coin, the florin, from its inception in 1849 until 1892 bore the legend “one tenth of a pound”. Technically you could if you wanted to write an amount like £5.7 and it still would have been meaningful and come out to an exact amount. It’s just that £5.7 equals £5/14/-.

I’m guessing that the reason for people asking about someone’s favourite number is as a starter for small talk. Intrinsically there isn’t anything particularly special about any number, it’s just that as humans who live in a world of stories, we like there to be some story behind people’s motives and desires. We are all natural storytellers.
When you think about it, every single human endeavour be it the sciences, human drama, sport, religion, faith, love, even life itself is bound up in stories. Stories are the currency of life. It’s just that my favourite number is a story not only about currency but about a world which has passed and about a lament for a system which is more practically useful.

*Horse 1109 - 

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