Back in the 1960’s the 10 Shilling Note, or ‘ten bob’ as it was commonly known, would go pretty far – buying you 6 pints of beer, 10 loaves of bread, or 17 pints of milk.

Nowadays it’s hard to imagine the decimal equivalent, the 50p, buying so much. In fact, 50p can only just buy you one pint of milk today! And you can certainly forget that pint of beer!

But before the much loved 50p came along, the old 10 Shilling banknote had a fascinating history.

From being issued by the Government in a wartime emergency, changing colour to avoid forgery from the Nazis and eventually being replaced by the world’s most popular coin, it’s important that the history of the ten bob isn’t forgotten.

The Emergency Banknote

In August 1914, the British economy was in turmoil due to the instability caused by the oncoming war on the continent.

Bankers and politicians were desperately looking for ways to secure Britain’s finances and prevent the banks from collapsing.

The Government decided that a large supply of banknotes should be made available for the value of 10 Shillings, making it easy for the public to make small transactions.

However, The Bank of England was not able to prepare and print the required number of notes quickly enough, so the Government took the unprecedented step of deciding to issue the notes itself.

1914 10 Shilling Banknote

These banknotes became known as the Treasury banknotes and were unlike anything the British public had ever seen.

Until this point the lowest denomination banknote was £5, and in those days this was such a large sum that many people would never have seen or used a banknote before.

By issuing a 10 Shilling banknote, the Treasury created the first widely circulated banknotes in England.

The Wartime colour change

In 1928, the responsibility for printing 10 Shilling notes was transferred to the Bank of England.

However, not long afterwards, Britain once again found itself at war and again found its currency under threat.

During World War II, Nazi Germany hatched a plan to undermine British currency.

Through ‘Operation Bernhard’ they believed they had discovered a method to manufacture counterfeit ‘White Fivers’, and planned to distribute these in huge numbers to destabilise the British currency.

The Bank of England decided to take preventative action and, as a result, the 10 Shilling note was changed for the duration of the war to a distinctive pink and blue colour in an attempt to prevent counterfeiting.

Second World War 10 Shilling Banknote

It was also revolutionary in the progression of banknote technology by incorporating a metal security thread.

The Nazis couldn’t compete with this high level anti-forgery technology and hence the British 10 Shilling note held strong and supported the British wartime economy, as it had done since its conception.

The 50p revolution

After undergoing a colour change during the Second World War, the ten bob note reverted to its familiar red-brown until 1961, when a new design featuring a portrait of Queen Elizabeth II was introduced.

Despite a new design for the 10 Shilling note featuring Sir Walter Raleigh on the reverse being approved in 1964, as part of the process of decimalisation it was dropped in favour of the new fifty pence coin introduced in 1969.

1969 ‘New Pence’ 50p coin

The principle reason for the change was to save the Treasury money.

The notes had an average lifetime of around five months, whereas a coin could last for fifty years.

The 50p has since gone on to become the world’s most popular and collected coin, but nowadays few realise the fascinating history of its predecessor, the 10 Shilling banknote!

Do you remember the ten bob note? Let us know in the comments below!


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