The Historians Magazine; Platinum Jubilee Edition 8

Page 12

What’s that in old money? Pounds,

Shillings and Pence.

By Ollie Green

T 1970’s

he current physical (and digital) money that is used by Britain is only 52 years old, it was introduced in February 1971, leading to at least 2 generations left constantly calculating new money into old money. Coined as decimalisation day (OR D-Day), 15th February 1971, it took 5 years of preparation and advertisement to prepare the country for the first stages of change. Britain was late to the game on decimalisation and had flirted with the idea before, The Russian Ruble was the first decimal currency to be used in Europe,(1704), Followed 90 years later by France with the Franc (1794), and the Netherlands was the third European country to go decimal in 1817 with the Dutch Guilder. The issue of dealing with a complex monetary system was raised in 1874 by MP, John Bowing, and His reasoning was “Every man who looks at his ten fingers, sees an argument of its use, and evidence of its practicability.” The fellow MPs agreed and one coin, The Florin became one-tenth of a pound. However, that’s as far as it went at the time. It wasn’t until March 1966



that an announcement was made by the Chancellor of the Exchequer, James Callaghan that a new coinage system was to be replacing pounds, shillings, and pence. Britain became very close to renaming the new coinage, dollars, and cents. However, it was finally settled on Pounds and Pence, five new coins were designed in a similar shape to the old coinage. The scale of the task was huge, so much so the royal mint that produces all the coins for Britain had to vacate its premises at Tower Hill & The Tower of London, where it had been in operation since pre-Tudor times, to a new purposebuilt site in Llantrisant, South Wales. The decimal currency board was set up and the market was flooded with posters, leaflets, radio slots, TV adverts etc, to prepare for the radical change over. The BBC broadcast a series of five-minute programmes known as Decimal Five and ITV broadcast Granny Gets the Point, a short drama where an elderly woman was taught to use the new decimal system by her grandson. Christopher Ironside, A life drawing teacher at the RCA was chosen to design the new coins, His work was all to take place in total secrecy. In 1969 Ironside wrote ‘The work of a great many artists who are geniuses is never recognised and probably eventually disappears. But if one is a coin designer, one’s work lasts possibly long after death, everyone becomes familiar with it and it forms a small part of the history of the country for which it was designed, and one becomes famous. Not because one is a genius, or a saint or a monster, but simply because one is a coin designer.’ The first new coins to be introduced alongside the current system were the 5p and 10p in 1968, The new coins corresponded exactly in value and size to the shilling and the florin, making them easy to run together with their contemporary counterpart, often dubbed as “decimal twins” By the time the official Decimal Day had arrived in February 1971, the Royal Mint had struck around 2,000 million

coins that had been dispensed to banks and shops all over the UK. Banks had to close for 4 days to enable their systems to clear all cheques written in the old pounds, shillings and pence format. Prior to this date and to help shoppers, conversion charts were used, and all prices were given in both new and old money. As far as understanding the decimal system, a large proportion of coins had already been circulated and the relentless media coverage and press campaigns for the past 5 years meant that the switch went rather smoothly. Over the coming years, old coins were removed gradually whist new coins replaced them, British coins have been updated and changed several times over the past 52 years, The 6d disappeared fully in 1980 and the ½ p was dissolved fully in 1984. The 20p began circulation in 1982 and the £1 coin only stepped out onto the stage in 1983, (before this the £1 note existed). The 5p and 10p were re-sized in 1990 and 1992, then a new smaller 50p coin entered circulation in 1997. Since 1992, every coin that is circulated in Britain has carried the head of our current reigning monarch (Queen Elizabeth II), This has not happened since medieval times. See more;