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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Basingstoke 

  • NatWest, 3 London Street, Old Market Square, Basingstoke, RG21 7NS

Bath

  • HSBC, 41 Southgate, Bath, BA1 1TN
  • NatWest, 8-9 Quiet Street, Bath, BA1 2JN

Birmingham 

  • HSBC, 130 New Street, Birmingham, B2 4JU 
  • Lloyds Bank, 36-38 New Street, Birmingham, B2 4LP 
  • NatWest, 144 New Street, Birmingham, B2 4NY 
  • Santander, Unit 6, Caxton Gate, Corporation Street, Birmingham, B2 4LP 
  • TSB, 134 New Street, Birmingham, B2 4NS 
  • Virgin Money, Temple Point, 1 Temple Row, Birmingham, B1 5YB

Bradford 

  • Santander, 9 Nelson Street, Bradford, BD1 5AN 

Bristol

  • Eurochange, Cribbs Causeway, Bristol, BS34 5QT

Cwmbran

  • NM Money, 15 South Walk, Cwmbran, NP44 1PU

Edinburgh

  • TSB, 28 Hanover Street, Edinburgh, EH2 2DS 

Leeds 

  • HSBC, 33 Park Row, Leeds, LS1 1LD 
  • Santander, PR Work Café, 10-12 Park Row, Leeds, LS1 5HD 
  • Yorkshire Bank, 94-96 Briggate, Leeds, LS1 6NP

Leicester 

  • Santander, Carlton Park, King Edward Avenue, Narborough, Leicester, LE19 0AL 

Liverpool 

  • Santander, 45 Lord Street, Liverpool, L2 6PB 
  • TSB, 81-83 Lord Street, Liverpool, L2 6PG

London 

  • Barclays, 2 Churchill Place, Canary Wharf, London, E14 5RB 
  • Barry’s Food & Wine, 149 Hoxton Street, London, N1 6PJ
  • HSBC, 165 Fleet Street, London, EC4A 2DY 
  • Halifax, 118-132 New Oxford Street, London, WC1A 1HL 
  • NatWest, 1 Princes Street, London, EC2R 8BP 
  • NatWest, 34 Henrietta Street, London, WC2E 8NL 
  • NatWest, 10 Southwark Street, London, SE1 1TJ 
  • Post Office, 52 Blackfriars Road, London, SE1 8NN 
  • Post Office, 39-41 Farringdon Road, London, EC1M 3JB 
  • Post Office, 11 White Kennet Street, Houndsditch, London, E1 7BS 
  • Post Office, 19a Borough High Street, London, SE1 9SF 
  • Post Office, 125-131 Westminster Bridge Road, London, SE1 7HJ 
  • Santander, 48-54 Moorgate, London, EC2R 6EJ 
  • Santander, 164-167 Tottenham Court Road, London, W1T 7JE 
  • Santander, 2 Triton Square, Regents Place, London, NW1 3AN 
  • The Cooperative Food, 185 Old Street, Shoreditch, London, EC1V 9NP 
  • TSB, 55 Bow Bells House, Cheapside, London, EC2V 6AT 
  • Virgin Money, 154-158 Kensington High Street, London, W8 7RL

Manchester

  • Lloyds Bank, 42-46 Market Street, Manchester, M1 1PW 
  • NatWest, 1 Hardman Blvd, Manchester, M3 3AQ 
  • TSB, 21 Market Street, Manchester, M1 1WR 

Margate 

  • Santander, 110-112 High Street, Margate, Kent, CT9 1JR 

Milton Keynes 

  • Santander, 201 Grafton Gate East, Milton Keynes, MK9 1AN

Newcastle 

  • Santander, 112-118 Northumberland Street, Newcastle, NE1 7DG 

Salford

  • Barclays, Unit 2 Blue, MediaCityUK, Salford, M50 2AD 
  • Lowry Outlet Mall, The Lowry Designer Outlet, Salford Quays, M50 3AH

Sheffield 

  • Post Office, 12 Ellesemere Road, Sheffield, S4 7JB 
  • Yorkshire Bank, Fargate, Sheffield, S1 1LL

Swindon 

  • Nationwide, Nationwide House, Pipers Way, Swindon, SN3 1TA 

Wales 

  • Post Office, 56-58 Oxford Street, Mountain Ash, Mid Glamorgan, CF45 3HB 
  • Santander, 5-7 Queen Street, Cardiff, South Glamorgan, CF10 2AF

In just a few days time, the brand new polymer £20 will be officially released and we certainly can’t wait to start seeing the notes featuring artist JMW Turner in our change!

This will be third polymer banknote to be released in the UK, following the release of the polymer Churchill £5 in 2016 and the polymer Jane Austen £10 note in 2017.

And, as ever, keen collectors will be eagerly awaiting the chance to hunt down the most sought-after serial numbers for the new note.

When the UK’s first polymer £5 note was released in September 2016, serial numbers became the talk of a nation and stories of early serial numbers selling for thousands of pounds were commonplace.

In fact, an “AK37 007 James Bond Bank of England Polymer £5 note” even sold for £5,000 on eBay – 1,000 times its face value!

A ‘James ‘Bond’ £5 note sold for £5,000 on eBay

But as we await the release of the new note on the 20th of February, which serial numbers should you be looking to get your hands on?

AA01 – the first notes to be printed

AA01 are the first serial numbers to be printed and always prove popular with collectors.

Our eBay Tracker follows the prices of the UK’s Top Coins and Banknotes, including the AA01 polymer £5 and £10 notes, which are currently selling for £10 and £15 respectively. However when the notes were first released we saw a collecting frenzy, with people paying (and demanding) vastly inflated prices for low serial number notes.

Prefixes on the £5 notes started at AA and there are 60 notes on a sheet, AA01- AA60. For each of these cyphers there are 999,000 serial numbers printed: 000001 to 999000. Therefore for the first AA cypher there’s an incredible 59,940,000 notes!

Whilst the £20 note is larger than the £5, meaning less notes will be printed per sheet, there are still A LOT of combinations for AA cyphers on the new £20 – so make sure you keep your eyes out for them!

UK Bank notes are produced in very large batches (Image: the Bank of England)

However, The Bank of England will always hold back some of the notes with the earliest serial numbers, donating them to people or institutions that were involved in the development of the note or who traditionally receive a note when a new series is issued.

For example, the Queen receives AA01 000001 and for the release of the £5 note the Churchill War Rooms received one with serial number AA01 001945, the date that WWII ended.

Key dates to look out for

It’s always worth looking out for certain serial numbers matching key dates relating JMW Turner that could become collectable.

For example, 23 041775 represents Turner’s date of birth, whilst 19 121851 relates to his death and 17 751851 would be his birth and death combined.

True Turner fans might also look for 18 381839 representing the date he painted ‘The Fighting Temeraire’ (featured on the new £20 note) and the date the painting was exhibited at the Royal Academy respectively.

Turner’s ‘The Fighting Temeraire’ was painted in 1838 and features as a backdrop to the new £20 note

Novelty numbers and Consecutive notes

There may well also be a rush to find the AK47 serial numbers again and James Bond 007 will likely be popular once more.

Consecutively numbered notes are always interesting to collectors too – one man sold three consecutive AA01 notes for £456!

Q&A

Can you request specific serial numbered notes from the bank?

Sadly not. For the launch of the new £5 note 440 million banknotes were printed and these were printed in very large batches.

There will be even more new £20 notes printed than the £5, to service the country’s 48,000 ATMs for example, so it’s just not possible for the bank to separate certain serial numbers.

How much should I pay for a new £20 note?

The simple answer is, it’s completely up to you. An early serial numbered £20 note will be a genuine piece of the country’s history. It’s likely The Bank of England will hold an auction of early editions, so if you have the disposable income, why not?!

Will the old paper £20 note still be legal tender?

You will still be able to use the paper £20 note until The Bank of England withdraw it from circulation. This will be announced after the new note has been issued and they will give six months’ notice of the withdrawal date.

Many banks will accept withdrawn notes as deposits from customers. The Post Office may also accept withdrawn notes as a deposit into any bank account you can access at the Post Office. And, you can always exchange withdrawn notes with The Bank of England directly.

Where will I be able to find the new polymer £20 note?

We will be publishing a list of locations where the polymer £20 note will be available on the 20th, when the new note is released.


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