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!


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Held today at Spink and Son Ltd in London, the Jane Austen Polymer £10 note charity auction raised a fantastic £260,900! 

Proceeds from the sale will be donated to three charities: Candelighters, Haven House Children’s Hospice and Macmillan Cancer support.

Which notes sold for the most money?

The lowest serial numbered note, AA01 000010 sold for a huge £7,200, over double the guide price!

The lowest serial numbered note sold for £7,200

In comparison, the lowest polymer £5 note AA01 000017 sold for £4,150 at last year’s auction.

Other notes that fetched a handsome sum were AA01 000011 and AA01 000014, selling for £5,200 and £3,500 respectively.

The lot that sold for the most was a sheet of 54 consecutively numbered £10 notes, fetching an incredible £13,500.

A sheet of 54 consecutively numbered notes sold for £13,500

Finally, consecutive notes AA01 000999/001000 sold for £4,800.

Such was the popularity of this auction, every one of the 122 lots sold for more that the guide price, in many cases double.

Did any Change Checkers manage to win a note at the charity auction? If so, we’d love to hear.

On the day the new Polymer £10 note was released, we published a blog detailing which of the new Polymer Jane Austen £10 notes you should all be looking out for.

We predicted that notes which feature key Jane Austen dates, such as the year of her birth and death, will prove to be very popular with collectors…and it seems that we were right!

A Polymer £10 note with serial number AH17 75 (the year of Jane Austen’s birth) has sold on eBay for a whopping £3,600 – 360 times face value!

A Polymer Jane Austen has sold for £3,600

As expected, notes whose serial number starts with AA (the first off the press) are also proving very popular; AA01 notes have sold for between £40-£70 on the auction site.

AK47 notes are also catching the eye of collectors with these selling for between £20 – £40.

Bank of England Charity Auction

On the 6th October, Spink and Son auctioneers will be selling some of the very lowest serial numbered Polymer £10 notes on behalf of the Bank of England. All money raised from the sale will be donated to three charities: Candleighters, Haven House Children’s Hospice and Macmillan Cancer Support.

In total they are 137 lots with the lowest serial numbered note AA01 000010 estimated to fetch between £2,000 – £3,000. The highest serial number in the auction is AA01 002016 which is expected to be sold for between £200 – £300.

The lowest serial numbered note is expected to be sold for between £2,000 – £3,000

There is also a sheet of 54 £10 notes available to bid on and this could reach between £4,500 -£6,500!