The History of the UK Banknote…

The UK banknotes have gone through some big changes since they were first introduced but do you know the story behind them?

In this blog, we guide you through the history of UK banknotes as we take a look at just how far they’ve come…

7th Century – China

The first recorded use of ‘paper’ money was in China back in the seventh century! However, it was until over a thousand years later that paper money made its way to Europe.

16th Century – Goldsmith-Bankers

In the 16th century, the goldsmith-bankers would issue receipts for cash, known as ‘running cash notes’. They were made out in the name of the depositor and also carried the words, ‘or bearer’, after the name of the depositor.

This similar phrase still appears on British banknotes today: “I promise to pay the bearer on demand the sum of…”

1694 – Bank of England

When the Bank of England was established in 1694 to raise money for King William III’s war effort, they issued notes in exchange for deposits. These were the first recorded bank notes to feature a cashier’s signature!

18th Century – Fixed Denominations

The issuing of fixed denomination notes first started in the 18th century. Notes were printed with the pound sign and the first digit included, but any following digits were then added by hand!

By 1745, notes were issued in denominations ranging from £20 to £1,000 but it wasn’t until 1759, as a result of gold shortages caused by the seven years of war, that a £10 note was issued.

The £5 note followed in 1793 at the start of the war against Revolutionary France and by 1797 the £1 and £2 notes were issued.

1853- Fully Printed

In 1853, the first fully printed banknotes were introduced, meaning hand-written denominations on notes were phased out.

Early 20th Century – 10 Shilling Note

During the First World War, the link between notes and gold was broken. The government needed to preserve bullion stocks and so the Bank stopped paying out gold for its notes.

In 1914 the Treasury printed and issued 10 shilling and £1 notes and in 1931, Britain left the gold standard.

Late 20th Century – Feature of Historical Figures

The late 20th century saw the first introduction of historical figures on the designs of UK banknotes. Since 1970, we’ve seen figures including scientist Isaac Newton, composer Edward Elgar and nurse Florence Nightingale featured on our banknotes.

21st Century – Polymer notes and BAME figures

In the 21st century we have seen the introduction of the polymer £5, £10 and £20 banknote, as a cleaner, safer and stronger alternative to the paper notes.

These notes have become incredibly popular with collectors, with some polymer £20 notes fetching far over their face value on the secondary market!

However, a lack of Black, Asian and Minority Ethnic (BAME) figures being recognised on legal tender led to campaigning for greater inclusivity in 2020.

These campaigns come after Chancellor Rishi Sunak stated he was considering proposals from a campaign group. He has since asked the Royal Mint to come up withnew designs honouring BAME figures who have served the nation – such as military figures and nurses.

Whilst details of these figures and designs remain under consideration, we look forward to hearing more as the story unfolds.

Did you know how far back in history our banknotes date? Let us know in the comments below!

Secure the last-ever £1 banknote to your collection!

Click here to secure your piece of British Numismatic history for just £10 (+p&p) >>


  1. David Ashford on September 23, 2020 at 12:04 pm

    I have collected – one of the first type 10/-: 3 “Britannia” 10/-: one of the first type £1: 2 “Britannia” £1:
    2 “Isaac Newton” £1: 1 “Britannia” £5: 1 “George Stephenson“ £5: 2 “Elizabeth Fry” £5: 1 “Lion and Key” £10:
    1 “Charles Dickens” £10: 1 “Adam Smith £20 (before they are called in)
    Unfortunately I don’t have a white £5 note
    I also have notes from USA, Cyprus, Central Bank of The Gambia, East Caribbean Currency Authority and Portugal (100 Escudos).
    Alwatys looking for more

  2. David Ashford on September 22, 2020 at 6:57 pm

    I have collected the following bank notes – A first type 10/-: Three “Britannia” 10/-: A first type £1:
    Two “Britannia” £1: A “Britannia” £5: A George Stephenson £5: 2 Elizabeth Fry £5: A “Lion and key” £10:
    An “Adam Smith” £20 (before they are called in).
    Unfortunately I don’t have a white fiver.
    I also have notes from the USA, Cyprus, The Central Bank of The Gambia, The East Caribbean Currency Authority and Portugal before the Euro.
    They are displayed in a stamp collectors’ stock album.

  3. Andrew on September 22, 2020 at 5:24 pm

    Shame I can’t post a picture here, I have a collection of 15 different £1 notes from, England, Scotland, Jersey, Guernsey, Gibraltar, Isle of Man and the British Armed Forces. Not old enough to remember using £1 notes, but I’d like to see them come back into circulation.

  4. Lliam Bruce on September 22, 2020 at 1:28 pm

    Brilliant Article, I recently was lucky enough to find a crisp good condition 10 bob note, which looks fantastic. I also got myself a Issaac Newton £1 note not long ago. I think banknotes compliment coins with their diverse images, colours and just general coolness. Do you guys sell banknote display pages so I can add them into my Change Checker Album?


    • Alexandra Siddons on September 22, 2020 at 2:52 pm

      Hi Lliam,

      How exciting that you found a 10 bob note! The Isaac Newton £1 banknote looks excellent alongside the 2017 Isaac Newton 50p, i’m sure you’ll agree!

      We used to sell a banknote collecting pack but unfortunately they’re out of stock at the moment and we can’t be certain when we’ll be getting any more in.

      Best regards,