A deep dive into decimalisation…

In 1971, Britain officially went ‘decimal’ after a long period of campaigns in preparation for the move.

The transition to decimalisation was the biggest change to the UK’s monetary system in over 1000 years and understably was met with caution by the public.

Rationale presented by decimal enthusiasts was opposed by those who were cautious of the effects of a new decimal coinage system.

In this blog, we take a close look at this controversial monetary move as we take a deep dive into Decimalisation…

The Decimal Debate

For centuries, Britain’s coinage consisted of pounds, shillings, pence, farthings, crowns, half pennies… the list goes on!

This complex system had first been raised for debate in 1847 by Sir John Bowring, who proposed a call for it to be changed to a currency based on units of ten. As a result of his proposal, the nation’s first decimal coin appeared – the farthing.

1874-1895 UK Farthing. Credit: Numista.

It wasn’t until 1961 however, that the Government set up a special committee to think about whether Britain should introduce a decimal currency.

On 1 March 1966 the Chancellor of the Exchequer, James Callaghan, announced that pounds, shillings and pence would be replaced by a decimal currency, with a hundred units in a pound.

Making the Change

The changeover was a huge task and the public and businesses of Britain required all the necessary information to make the changeover as smooth as possible. 

Decimal change over posts. Credit: The Royal Mint Museum.

The volume of coins required to be produced was far greater than The Royal Mint’s production capabilities at Tower Hill and it brought about their move to Llantrisant, South Wales, in 1968. It was here that the first of almost six billion coins required for decimalisation went into production.

Staff from Tower Hill visiting the new Royal Mint site in Llantrisant. Credit: royalmintmuseum.org.uk

In 1968 the new 5p and 10p coins were introduced. They were the same size and value as the existing one and two shilling coins to make the transition easier for the British public.

It was in 1969 that the first seven sided coin – the 50p – was introduced to replace the 10-shilling note as a more economical alternative and then finally, on Monday 15 February 1971, the transition was complete when the half penny, 1p and 2p coins were also introduced.

Our Dear Decimals

From Britannia to the Royal Shield design, we’ve grown to love our decimal coins but in their 50th anniversary year, it’s wonderful to see the journey they’ve made.

We’ve seen over 100 different designs of our 50p coin since it’s introduction in 1969, over 60 different £2 coin designs since 1986, and a complete re-design of our £1 coin’s specification to a 12-sided coin, from the original round pounds in 1983.

In 2018 we even saw our first-ever commemorative 10p coins, with over 26 designs celebrating quintessentially British icons!

We’ve certainly been blessed with lots of decimal coins to collect and here’s hoping there’s many more to come! There’s not been a new £1 coin design since 2016 so perhaps that will come next…

Let us know in the comments which decimal coin is your favourite!

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1 Comment

  1. Jim on January 8, 2021 at 12:25 pm

    The Farthing was an ancient pre-decimal coin, 960 in a pound. The first serious attempt at decimalisation was the Florin (One Tenth of a Pound) first issued for circulation in 1849 (proofs issued 1848) – often referred to as the “Godless Florin” due to “Dei Gratia” (by the Grace of God) having being missed from the Victoria’s titles.