Saturday, 13 February 2021

The theme for this month is -  Decimalisation


15 February is the fiftieth anniversary of Decimal Day in Britain when the new currency system was formally introduced. The great British public preferred counting from one to twelve rather stopping at ten. The number twelve divided by two or four.

The process of introducing the new coins had started some years before. It led to nostalgia about the loss of well-loved coins such as the penny, florin and halfcrown, along with nicknames and years of history. There was always a feeling amongst certain generation that coins had a value that modern coins do not. This included getting sixpence or threepence pocket money, handling bright shiny pennies or been given a halfcrown by a well off uncle. If you had a florin in pocket you had a lot of money. The modern new pence did not look much and there only multiples of pence not shillings.

Decimalisation itself brought inflation and this led to the reduction in size of coins and further disappearance of favourites. “New pee” did not sound right and many people thought the designs were bland.


Many coin collectors bewailed the loss of history but there was a short lived “check your change” enthusiasm for rare dates on pre decimal coins. In the 1960s and 1970s it was possible to find coins from the reigns of George V and Edward VII and even from the reign of Victoria. The Royal Mint issued older coins into circulation.

Shops had posters with conversion charts and “ready reckoner” booklets were available to buy. These were sometimes ignored. I was once due three old pence change and given a new penny. Fortunately I got over it… eventually.

A substantial publicity campaign took place in the weeks before Decimal Day, including a song by the singer and entertainer, Max Bygraves called "Decimalisation". 

The BBC broadcast a series of five minute programmes, titled "Decimal Five", to which The Scaffold contributed some specially written tunes. 

Things did improve with introduction of innovative designs such as the twenty pence and the twelve sided pound coin, the shield design of Matthew Dent in 2008 and the wide range of commemorative 50p and two pound coins.


In 1824, Parliament rejected proposals to decimalise sterling, which were prompted by the introduction of the French franc three decades earlier.

Silver florin, first issued on 1849.

double florin introduced in 1887, was struck only between 1887 and 1890.

The Royal Commission on Decimal Coinage reported in 1920 that the only feasible scheme was to divide the pound into 1,000 mills (the pound and mill system, first proposed in 1824

In 1960, the Government to set up the Committee of the Inquiry on Decimal Currency in 1961, which reported in 1963. 

Decimal Currency Act of May 1969.

In October 1969, the 50p coin was introduced.

The old halfpenny was withdrawn from circulation on 31 July 1969, and the half-crown followed on 31 December

Banks were closed from 3:30 pm on Wednesday 10 February 1971 to 10:00 am on Monday 15 February to enable all outstanding cheques and credits in the clearing system to be processed and customers' account balances to be converted from £sd to decimal. In many banks, the conversion was done manually, as few bank branches were then computerised. February had been chosen for Decimal Day because it was the quietest time of the year for the banks, shops and transport organisations.

On 31 August 1971, the 1d and 3d were officially withdrawn from circulation, ending the transition period to decimal currency.

The decimal halfpenny  which had been introduced in 1971, remained in circulation until 1984,

The 50p piece was reduced in size in 1997, following the reduction in size of the 5p in 1990 and the 10p in 1992 (the large versions of all the three have been demonetised). The 1p and 2p underwent a compositional change from bronze to plated steel in 1992. However, both coins remain valid back to 1971, the only circulating coins on Decimal Day that are still valid.

In 1982, the word "new" in "new penny" or "new pence" was removed from the inscriptions on coins, and was replaced by the number of pence in the denomination (for example, "ten pence" or "fifty pence"). This coincided with the introduction of a new 20p coin, which from the outset bore simply the legend "twenty pence". The £1 coin was introduced in 1983, and a £2 coin in 1997.