Do you remember how strange it felt to hold your first polymer £5 note when they were released back in 2016?

Billed as the most durable banknotes yet, the new polymer notes replaced the old paper versions with a thin and flexible plastic material which was said to be cleaner, safer and stronger.

And whilst it’s claimed they should last 2.5 times the lifespan of paper notes, it seems they might not be as durable as once thought…

It’s now been four years since the £5 notes were released, three years since the £10 notes were released and we’re just over a month away from the release of the new polymer £20 note.

Whilst we’re all really excited for the upcoming release of the new £20 note featuring JMW Turner, the question remains as to how durable this note will really be.

50 million damaged polymer banknotes replaced

Recent figures suggest that almost 50 million polymer £5 and £10 notes have been forced to be replaced due to the wear and tear sustained since they were released into circulation.

The Bank of England have said that the damage was mainly caused by “folds, tears, holes and foil wear”.

Figures from the Press Association news agency, say that roughly 20 million polymer £5 notes and around 26 million £10 notes have been swapped so far due to damage.

However, the Bank has never said the new notes are indestructible, instead claiming that they should last 2.5 times longer than paper notes, which were lasting an average of just two years in circulation.

The number of polymer banknotes being replaced only represents a small percentage of the total number which are circulating and the Bank suggests that this is in line with their expectations.

“While we expect the polymer notes to have a longer life, it is too early in the note’s lifecycle to yet understand the rate of replacement of polymer notes,” they said.

“The use of polymer means it can better withstand being repeatedly folded into wallets or scrunched up inside pockets, and can also survive a spin in the washing machine.”

In 2015, 21,835 paper banknotes were replaced due to damage from being torn, washed, contaminated, damaged and even chewed and eaten!

The new polymer material is resistant to dirt and moisture which means they will stay in a better condition for longer.

Plus, when a polymer note reaches the end of its life, it will be recycled, meaning the new notes are more environmentally friendly.

New polymer notes to be released

The new £20 note is due to enter circulation on 20 February 2020 and initially the note will be in circulation alongside the existing paper £20 notes.

2020 polymer £20 note. Credit: Bank of England

These will eventually be phased out as we have seen with the paper £5 and £10 notes in the past years.

We are also expecting the new £50 polymer banknote featuring mathematician and second world war codebreaker Alan Turing in 2021.

Are you looking forward to seeing the new polymer notes, and have you experienced any damage to your £5 and £10 polymer notes? Let us know in the comments below!


If you’re interested in coin collecting, our Change Checker web app is completely free to use and allows users to:

– Find and identify the coins in their pocket
– Collect and track the coins they have
– Swap their spare coins with other Change Checkers

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In 2016, the Bank Of England issued their first ever polymer banknotes to replace the paper £5 note with a cleaner, safer and stronger alternative.

Collecting banknotes is a serious hobby that many thousands of people all over the world enjoy, and so it’s no surprise that when these new notes were released, collectors were eager to start building their collection.

With so many stories in the press and listings on eBay claiming certain notes were worth way over face value, it’s easy to see how the nation got swept away with the idea of their new polymer banknote being worth thousands of pounds.

Credit: Bank Of England

So now, three years on, and with the release of a second polymer note, as well as plans for the new polymer £20 and £50 notes, how much are your polymer banknotes really worth?

‘Rare’ polymer banknotes

AA01

In the early days following the release of the new notes, I’m willing to bet that every single person in the country checked theirs at some point to see if they were lucky enough to find one with the prefix AA01.

The annual Bank Of England charity auction held at Spink and Son Ltd in London auctioned off a polymer £5 note with the serial number AA01 000017 for £4,150, however the following year, a Jane Austen Polymer £10 note with the serial number AA01 000010 sold for a staggering £7,200 – over double the guide price!

Whilst these first run banknotes may be desirable to some collectors, we must remember that 1 million AA01 banknotes were actually printed for each denomination.

Sold listing on eBay for an AA01 £5 banknote in 2019

They aren’t likely to fetch much more than face value, and our latest eBay Tracker suggests that prices for AA01 banknotes are actually going down, with the previous figure for AA01 £5 notes dropping by £4.50 to £10.

The story is much the same with AA01 £10 notes, which were initially selling on eBay for between £40 and £70, but have now dropped considerably – from £18 last June to £15 in January 2019 (as taken from our eBay Tracker).

AK47

Considered collectable due to the machine gun connotations, polymer notes with the prefix AK47 were thought to be worth tens of thousands of pounds following the new £5 release in 2016.

This idea emerged after a £5 banknote with the prefix AK47 fetched a winning bid of £80,100 on eBay. Whilst the seller must have been overjoyed with the jackpot amount, it actually turned out the buyer had no intention of paying up.

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Bidding on eBay for an AK47 £5 banknote in 2016

As exciting as a novelty serial number may be, there’s no way we could imagine paying anywhere near £80,000 for it! Could you?

A quick look at the most recent eBay sold prices for this serial number now show that people are willing to spend around £7.50 to get their hands on this note now, which we think is far more reasonable!

Whilst the same excitement picked up again following the polymer £10 launch in 2017, with some collectors paying between £20 and £40 for an AK47 £10 note, prices have again come down to a much more reasonable level, with AK47 £10 banknotes selling for around £15 on eBay now.


Sold listing on eBay for an AA01 £10 banknote in 2019

James Bond theme

Another novelty serial number collectors were searching for was the 007 James Bond theme.

This banknote, described as an “AK37 007 James Bond Bank of England Polymer £5 note” in a lovely condition, sold for £5,000 back in 2016.

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James Bond themed £5 which sold for £5,000

Although there must be plenty of James Bond fanatics out there, we can think of so many other items of James Bond memorabilia that fans could spend £5,000 on!

Whilst some chancers are still listing notes with 007 in the serial number for exaggerated prices on eBay, the sold listings reflect the fact that buyers just aren’t interested now that the hype has faded, with very few sold listings of the 007 £5 note and none of the 007 £10 note.

Key Jane Austen dates

In 2017, a polymer £10 note with serial number AH17 75 (the year of Jane Austen’s birth) sold on eBay for a whopping £3,600 – 360 times face value!

c2a310 note ebay - A new Polymer Jane Austen £10 note has sold for £3,600!
Jane Austen £10 note with serial number AH17 75 sold for £3,600

Key serial numbers collectors would be interested in include 16 121775 and 18 071817 which would represent the author’s date of birth and death respectively. Serial number 17 751817 would be her birth and death year combined.

Considering all the possible prefix variations that could accompany these serial numbers, there would be just 676 notes issued for each of the key dates mentioned above, from prefix AA through to ZZ.

Whilst these might become more popular with collectors in future, the initial excitement has now died down, with hardly any genuine Jane Austen birth or death date banknotes listed for sale on eBay anymore.

Genuine Rarities!

Jane Austen micro-engraving

In December 2016, specialist micro-engraver Graham Short came up with the idea of engraving a 5mm portrait of Jane Austen on the transparent part of the new plastic £5 notes.

View image on Twitter
Credit: BBC

He included a different quote around each one, ensuring that each note was unique.

According to Gallery owner Mr Huggins-Haig, artist Graham Short’s work has an insurance valuation of £50,000!

The first of four notes featuring art by specialist micro-engraver Graham Short was found in a cafe in South Wales, whilst another was found inside a Christmas card in Scotland. The third £5 note was found by a mystery old lady in Eniskillen in Northern Ireland who donated it to charity.

So that means there is just one more rare £5 note left to find with the handiwork of Birmingham micro-artist Graham Short…

For those of you hunting down the last remaining fiver, the serial number to look out for is AM 32 885554.

Harry Kane micro-engraving

As football fever hit the nation in the summer of 2018, Graham Short was at it once again, creating six unique £5 notes, each engraved with a tiny portrait of footballer Harry Kane with the inscription ‘World Cup Golden Boot Winner 2018’.

Two of the notes were given away – one to Harry Kane himself and the other to the FA – but the remaining four notes were distributed around the county and each note is insured for £50,000, so anyone lucky enough to get their hands on one can expect that sum if they auction off the fiver!

As of yet, we haven’t heard of these notes being found, so keep checking your £5 notes for the portrait of Harry Kane and look out for these serial numbers:

Harry Kane £5 serial numbers. Credit: Graham Short

Serious Collectors: What to look for…

Generally, collecting banknotes is not about the serial number it possesses, but instead the chief cashier is of most interest, particularly on UK banknotes. 

This is where real rarities can be found –  in the form of Chief Cashier signatures.

Banknote designs rarely change but on average cashiers change every 5 or 6 years with some in the position for as little as 3 years.

change checker cashiers bank of england 003 - Why your AK47 £5 note isn't worth £80,000 and other myths about the polymer banknote

So if you are genuinely interested in collecting banknotes, the chief cashier is what you should really be looking for.

What about the £20 and £50 polymer notes?

The Bank Of England will be issuing a new polymer £20 note featuring
artist JMW Turner in 2020
and also plan to issue a £50 polymer note after this.

The £50 will feature someone who has contributed to science and the chosen person will be announced in summer 2019.

Polymer £20 note concept image. Credit: Bank Of England

Are you a banknote collector and if so, which notes do you have in your collection? Let us know in the comments below!


If you’re interested in coin collecting, our Change Checker web app is completely free to use and allows users to:

– Find and identify the coins in their pocket
– Collect and track the coins they have
– Swap their spare coins with other Change Checkers

Change Checker Web App Banner 2 Amends 1024x233 1 1024x233 - Your January 2019 Scarcity Index update!

Sign up today at: www.changechecker.org/app

First Trust Bank, one of four main banks in Northern Ireland, will become the first Northern Ireland-based bank to end the practice of printing its own-denomination banknotes. The bank revealed it will scrap its own banknotes next year and switch to dispensing Bank of England notes from its ATM network.

Although the UK has a vast variety of different notes in circulation, The Bank of England is the only bank to issue notes for England and Wales, while there are seven different banks in Scotland and Northern Ireland that currently produce their own notes.

First Trust Bank currently their own banknotes in denominations of £10, £20, £5 and £100. Image Credit: The Irish Times

The decision is thought to be an economic issue and means that all existing First Trust banknotes will not be able to be used for payments from midnight on 30th June 2022. They can however be exchanged  for Bank of England banknotes, or other sterling banknotes of equivalent value at Post Offices up until  30th June 2024.

Why do Scotland and Northern Ireland issue their own banknotes?

The UK has a vast variety of different notes in circulation and although those of us living in England and Wales don’t see many, there are three different banks in Scotland and four in Northern Ireland that currently produce their own notes.

In fact the tradition of printing banknotes was considered the norm centuries ago as most of the UK’s banks produced their own banknotes.  However over time they weren’t all doing it responsibly and were not able to back the notes up with actual assets. The law changed in the 1840’s in England and Wales so all production of banknotes was moved to The Bank of England bar Scotland who argued for an exception as they were not having the same issues. The Bank Notes Act of 1928 allowed banks in Northern Ireland to produce their own notes.

For people living in Scotland and Northern Ireland, the banknotes are part of the furniture and a part of their cultural identity that usually feature local landmarks and historical figures. These issuing banks have also considered the notes as part of their marketing as customers are seeing the name of their banks in their hands as they spend cash.

Can you spend Scottish and Northern Irish banknotes in England?

Yes. The notes are legal currency and backed with physical assets with the Bank of England so can technically be accepted anywhere in the UK.  However, the problems come as shops are not always overly familiar with all the different types of notes and may not be sure on how to check them for counterfeiting so don’t like to accept them.

Is this the beginning of the end for Northern Irish and Scottish banknotes?

The decision is scrap the printing of banknotes at First Trust Bank is thought to be an economic issue and comes as other Northern Ireland banks prepare for the change over to modern Polymer notes in the very near future. The update is needed in order to produce counterfeit resilient notes to protect against forgery and ensure the security of circulating notes. But this costly change could be too much for First Trust handle.

Scotland’s Clydesdale Bank was the first bank in the UK to issue a Polymer note in 2015. Image Credit: RBS

There are also a lot fewer of these notes changing hands and with the increasing use of digital payment methods and mobile technology, it could be the reasoning behind the decision to scrap the notes.

The other three Northern Irish banks are currently in various stages of issuing their own polymer £5, £10 and £20 notes and it is clear that Scotland are completely committed to keeping their own notes as Clydesdale Bank was the first bank in the UK to issue a Polymer note back in 2015.