On 15 February 1971, known as Decimal Day, the
United Kingdom and
Ireland decimalised their currencies.
This article is part of a series on
The History of the
The Anglo-Saxons (c. 600 – 1066)
Early Normans and the Anarchy (1066–1154)
Stuarts and Commonwealth (1603–1707)
20th century (1901–1970)
Decimal Day, 1971
Under the old currency of pounds, shillings and pence, the pound was
made up of 240 pence (denoted by the letter d for Latin denarius and
now referred to as "old pence"), with 12 pence in a shilling and 20
shillings (denoted by s for Latin solidus) in a pound.
The loss of value of the currency meant that the "old" penny, with the
same diameter as the US half-dollar, was of relatively slight value,
while the farthing, which was worth one-quarter of an old penny, had
been demonetised on 1 January 1961.
1 United Kingdom
1.3 After Decimal Day
1.4 Validity of old coins
1.5 Subsequent changes
2 Republic of Ireland
3 See also
4 References and sources
5 Further reading
6 External links
See also: Coins of the pound sterling § Pre-decimal coinage
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Coinage Act of 1792
Coinage Act of 1792 had officially authorized the
United States as
the first English-speaking nation to have decimalised currency,
Peter the Great
Peter the Great used the concept for the Russian ruble
close to a century earlier, in 1704, while China has used such a
decimal system for at least 2000 years. The United Kingdom's
Parliament rejected Sir John Wrottesley's proposals to decimalise
sterling in 1824, which was prompted by the introduction in 1795 of
the decimal French franc. After this defeat, little practical progress
towards decimalisation was made for over a century, with the exception
of the two-shilling silver florin (worth 1/10 of a pound) first issued
in 1849. A double florin or four-shilling piece was a further step in
that direction but failed to gain acceptance and was struck only from
1887 to 1890.
The Decimal Association was founded in 1841 to promote decimalisation
and metrication, both causes that were boosted by a realisation of the
importance of international trade following the 1851 Great Exhibition.
It was as a result of the growing interest in decimalisation that the
florin was issued.
In their preliminary report, the
Royal Commission on Decimal Coinage
(1856–1857) considered the benefits and problems of decimalisation
but did not draw any conclusion about the adoption of any such
scheme. A final report in 1859 from the two remaining
commissioners, Lord Overstone and Governor of the
Bank of England
Bank of England John
Hubbard came out against the idea, claiming it had "few merits".
In 1862, the Select Committee on
Weights and Measures
Weights and Measures favoured the
introduction of decimalisation to accompany the introduction of metric
weights and measures.
The decimalisation movement even entered fiction. In Anthony
Palliser novels (and more so in the television series based
Plantagenet Palliser is a passionate advocate of
decimalisation, a cause the other characters seem to find intensely
boring. Palliser's scheme would have divided the shilling into ten
(presumably revalued) pennies. This would have changed the threepence
into 2 1/2 new pence, the sixpence into fivepence and the half
crown into a two shilling, five pence piece. It would also have
required the withdrawal and reissuance of the existing copper coinage.
At the end of the fifth book in the series, The Prime Minister,
Palliser (now Duke of Omnium) muses that the reform will not be
accomplished, since it can only be done by a Chancellor of the
Exchequer sitting in the House of Commons, and the Duke now sits in
the House of Lords.
Royal Commission on Decimal Coinage (1918–1920), chaired by Lord
Emmott, reported in 1920 that the only feasible scheme was to divide
the pound into 1,000 mills (the pound and mill system, first proposed
in 1824) but that this would be too inconvenient. A minority of four
members disagreed, saying that the disruption would be worthwhile. A
further three members recommended that the pound should be replaced by
the Royal, consisting of 100 halfpennies (i.e. there would be 4.8
Royals to the former pound).
In 1960, a report prepared jointly by the British Association for the
Advancement of Science and the Association of British Chambers of
Commerce, followed by the success of decimalisation in South Africa,
prompted the Government to set up the Committee of the Inquiry on
Currency (Halsbury Committee) in 1961, which reported in
1963. The adoption of the changes suggested in the report was
announced on 1 March 1966. The Decimal
Currency Board (DCB) was
created to manage the transition, although the plans were not approved
by Parliament until the Decimal
Currency Act in May 1969. Former
Greater London Council
Greater London Council leader
Bill Fiske was named as the Chairman of
Consideration was given to introducing a new major unit of currency
worth ten shillings in the old currency: suggested names included the
new pound, the royal and the noble. This would have resulted in the
"decimal penny" being worth only slightly more than the old penny
(this approach was adopted, for example, when South Africa, Australia
and New Zealand decimalised in the 1960s, adopting respectively the
South African rand,
Australian dollar and
New Zealand dollar
New Zealand dollar equal in
value to 10 shillings). But Halsbury decided, in view of the pound
sterling's importance as a reserve currency, that the pound should
British decimalisation training stamps in the same colours and values
as the upcoming decimal stamps.
Under the new system, the pound was retained but was divided into 100
new pence, denoted by the symbol p. New coinage was issued alongside
the old coins. The 5p and 10p coins were introduced in April 1968 and
were the same size, composition, and value as the shilling and two
shillings coins in circulation with them. In October 1969 the 50p coin
was introduced, with the 10s note withdrawn on 20 November 1970. This
reduced the number of new coins that had to be introduced on Decimal
Day and meant that the public was already familiar with three of the
six new coins. Small booklets were made available containing some or
all of the new denominations.
The old halfpenny was withdrawn from circulation on 31 July 1969, and
the half-crown (2s 6d) followed on 31 December to ease the
transition. (The farthing had last been minted in 1956 and had
ceased to be legal tender in 1960.)
There was a substantial publicity campaign in the weeks before
Decimalisation Day, including a song by
Max Bygraves called
"Decimalisation". The BBC broadcast a series of five-minute
programmes, "Decimal Five", to which
The Scaffold contributed some
specially written tunes. ITV repeatedly broadcast a short drama called
Granny Gets The Point, starring Doris Hare, the actress in On The
Buses, where an elderly woman who does not understand the new system
is taught to use it by her grandson. At 10 am on 15 February
itself (and again the following week) BBC1 broadcast 'New Money Day',
a 'Merry-go-Round' schools' programme in which puppet maker Peter
Firmin and his small friend Muskit encountered different prices and
new coins when they went to the shops.
Banks received stocks of the new coins in advance and these were
issued to retailers shortly before
Decimalisation Day to enable them
to give change immediately after the changeover. Banks were closed
from 3:30 pm on Wednesday 10 February 1971 to 10:00 am on
Monday 15 February, to enable all outstanding cheques and credits in
the clearing system to be processed and customers' account balances to
be converted from £sd to decimal. In many banks the conversion was
done manually, as most bank branches were not yet computerised.
February had been chosen for
Decimal Day because it was the quietest
time of the year for the banks, shops, and transport organisations.
Many items were priced in both currencies for some time before and
after. Prior to
Decimal Day the double pricing was displayed as e.g.
1s (5p); from
Decimal Day the order was switched to 5p (1s). For
example, this order was used on most football programmes during the
1970–71 season. High denomination (10p, 20p, and 50p) stamps were
issued on 17 June 1970. Post offices were issued with very simple
training stamps in the same colours as the upcoming decimal
Exceptions to the 15 February introduction were
British Rail and
London Transport, which went decimal one day early, the former urging
customers, if they chose to use pennies or threepenny pieces, to pay
them in multiples of 6d (2 1/2p, the lowest common multiple of
the two systems). Bus companies (at that time many state-owned by the
National Bus Company) were another exception, going decimal on Sunday
After Decimal Day
Decimal Day itself went smoothly. Criticisms included the small size
of the new halfpenny coin and the fact that some traders had taken
advantage of the transition to raise prices. Some used new pennies as
sixpences in vending machines. After 15 February, shops continued
to accept payment in old coins, but always issued change in new coins.
The old coins were returned to the banks and in this way the bulk of
them were quickly taken out of circulation.
The new halfpenny, penny, and twopence coins were introduced on 15
February 1971. Within two weeks of Decimal Day, the old penny (1d) and
old threepenny (3d) coins had left circulation, and old sixpences were
becoming rare. On 31 August 1971, the penny and threepence were
officially withdrawn from circulation, ending the transition
The government intended that in speech the new units would be called
"new pence", but the public decided that it was clearer and quicker to
pronounce the new coins as "pee". Shortenings such as "tuppence" are
now rarely heard, and terms such as "tanner" (the silver sixpence),
which previously designated amounts of money, are no longer used.
However, some slang terms, such as "quid" and "bob", survived from
pre-decimal times. Amounts denominated in guineas (21s or £1.05) are
reserved for specialist transactions, such as the sale of horses and
A "Decimal Adder"
The public information campaign over the preceding two years helped,
as did the trick of getting a rough conversion of new pence into old
shillings and pence by simply doubling the number of new pence and
placing a solidus, or slash, between the digits: 17p multiplied by
2 = 34, – approximately equal to 3/4 ("three and four", or
three shillings and four pence), with a similar process for the
reverse conversion. The willingness of a young population to
embrace the change also helped. In general, elderly people had more
difficulty adapting and the phrase "How much is that in old money?" or
even "How much is that in real money?" became associated with those
who struggled with the change. (This phrase is now often used to ask
for conversion between metric and imperial weights and
measures.) Around the time of
Decimalisation Day, "Decimal
Adders" and other converters were available to help people convert
between the old and new coins. The following is a table showing
conversions between the decimal and pre-decimal systems.
1/48s ≈ 0.104p
1/24s ≈ 0.208p
1/12s ≈ 0.417p
Validity of old coins
All pre-decimal coins (except for certain non-circulating coins such
as crowns, sovereigns, and double florins which were explicitly
excluded from demonetisation) are now no longer legal tender. Public
outcry at the proposed demise of the old sixpence (6d), worth exactly
2 1/2p and originally slated for early withdrawal, postponed its
withdrawal until June 1980.
Shillings and florins, together with their same-sized 5p and 10p coin
equivalents, co-existed in circulation as valid currency until the
early 1990s. In theory this included coins dating back to 1816; in
practice the oldest were dated 1947, when these coins stopped
containing silver. The coins were withdrawn when smaller 5p and 10p
coins were introduced in 1990 and 1992 respectively.
The face value of Maundy money coins was maintained, increasing all
their face values by a factor of 2.4, as the coins continued to be
legal tender as new pence. The numismatic value of each coin,
though, greatly exceeds face value.
The decimal halfpenny (1/2p), introduced in 1971, remained in
circulation until 1984, by which time its value had been greatly
reduced by inflation. It was not struck, except for collectors' sets,
after 1983 (those dated 1984 were struck only as proofs or in
Uncirculated Mint Sets) and was demonetised on 31 December 1984. The
50p piece was reduced in size in 1997, following the reduction in size
of the 5p in 1990 and the 10p in 1992 (the large versions of each of
the three are now demonetised). The 1p and 2p underwent a
compositional change from bronze to plated steel in 1992. However,
both coins remain valid back to 1971, the only circulating coins valid
Decimal Day still to be valid.
In 1982, the word "new" in "new penny" or "new pence" was removed from
the inscriptions on coins, to be replaced by the number of pence in
the denomination (i.e. "ten pence" or "fifty pence"). This coincided
with the introduction of a new 20p coin, which, from the outset,
simply bore the legend "twenty pence".
A £1 coin was introduced in 1983, and a £2 coin in 1997.
Republic of Ireland
Irish pound § Pre-decimal system
When the old pounds, shillings, and pence system was in operation, the
United Kingdom and Ireland operated within the Sterling Area,
effectively a single monetary area. The
Irish pound had come into
existence as a separate currency in 1927 with distinct coins and
notes, but the terms of the Irish
Currency Act obliged the Irish
currency commissioners to redeem Irish pounds on a fixed 1:1 basis,
and so day-to-day banking operations continued exactly as they had
been before the creation of the
Irish pound (Irish: punt
This state of affairs continued until 1979 when Irish obligations to
European Monetary System forced them to break the historic link
In Ireland, all pre-decimal coins, except the 1s, 2s and 10s coins,
were called in during the initial process between 1969 and 1972; the
ten shilling coin, which, as recently issued and in any event
equivalent to 50p, was permitted to remain outstanding (though due to
silver content, the coin did not circulate). The 1s and 2s were
recalled in 1993 and 1994 respectively. Pre-decimal Irish coins may
still be redeemed at their face value equivalent in euro at the
Central Bank in Dublin.
Pre-decimal Irish coins and stamps' values were denoted with Irish
language abbreviations (scilling ("shilling", abbreviated "s") and
pingin ("penny", abbreviated "p")) rather than abbreviations derived
from the Latin solidi and denarii used in other Sterling countries.
Irish people and business otherwise used "£sd" just as in other
countries. Thus prior to decimalisation coins were marked '1p', '3p'
etc. rather '1d' and '3d' as in Britain. Low-value Irish postage
stamps likewise used 'p' rather than 'd'; so a two-penny stamp was
marked '2p' in Ireland rather than '2d' as in the UK. After
decimalisation, while British stamps switched from 'd' to 'p', Irish
stamps (but not coins) printed the number with no accompanying letter;
so a stamp worth 2 new pence was marked '2p' in the UK and simply '2'
Banknotes of the pound sterling
Introduction of the euro
References and sources
^ Heeffer, Albrecht (24 May 2016). "Welk land voerde als eerste het
decimale stelsel voor zijn valuta in" [Which country was the first to
introduce a decimal system for their currency] (in Dutch). Retrieved
30 May 2016.
^ "Preliminary report of the Decimal Coinage Commissioners". Royal
Commission on Decimal Coinage, 1857. Archived from the original on 29
^ BOPCRIS. Final Report of the Decimal Coinage Commissioners Archived
28 April 2005 at the Wayback Machine..
^ Department of Trade and Industry. Report (1862) from the Select
Weights and Measures
Weights and Measures Archived 16 February 2008 at the
Royal Commission on Decimal Coinage Decimal coinage Archived 12
February 2006 at the Wayback Machine..
^ The American Economic Review Vol. 54, No. 4 (June 1964) pp.
^ "Speech by
Chancellor of the Exchequer
Chancellor of the Exchequer to the House of Commons 1
March 1966". Retrieved 2 June 2017.
^ a b All Change, p. 9
^ "Search Results - BBC Genome". genome.ch.bbc.co.uk. Retrieved 23
^ "Another view" by Douglas Myall in British Philatelic Bulletin, Vol.
51, No. 5, January 2014, pp. 149–151.
^ All Change, p. 9, 23
^ a b All Change, p. 23
^ All Change, p. 9, 20
^ Daily Mail, 15 February 1971, p.1
^ "old-money noun - Definition, pictures, pronunciation and usage
notes - Oxford Advanced Learner's Dictionary at
Retrieved 23 November 2017.
^ "Extra's – What's that in old Money?". www.downthelane.net.
Retrieved 23 November 2017.
^ Coincraft's Standard Catalogue English & UK Coins 1066 to Date,
Richard Lobel, Coincraft. ISBN 0-9526228-8-2, 1999 ed., p. 637
^ "Coinage Act 1971". www.statutelaw.gov.uk. Retrieved 23 November
^ Murray-West, Rosie. "Maggie's 'brassy' pound coin prepares for 30th
birthday". Daily Telegraph. Retrieved 6 March 2015.
Currency Act, 1927".
^ From the £ (pound sterling) to the Punt (IRP) and to the €
^ "Irish Decimal Postage Stamps Issued 1970 - 1980".
The Royal Mint, All Change: 25th Anniversary of Decimal
Britain (pamphlet distributed with 1996
Royal Mint silver proof sets)
Moore, N. E. A. (1973). The
Decimalisation of Britain's Currency.
London: H.M.S.O. ISBN 0116303220.
Currency – The System a public information film produced to
educate the public about the new system
Committee of the Inquiry on Decimal Currency: report
D Day delivers new UK currency (BBC News, On this Day, 15 February
Britain to go decimal in 1971 (BBC News, On this Day, 1 March 1966)
Decimalisation (Royal Mint)
The History Files:
Decimalisation in the UK.
Musical satirist Tom Lehrer singing a song about plans for the
decimalisation of the UK's currency on the D