Heather's Monthly Articles

The New Pound Coin

February 2017

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The new pound coin

All change! The UK Government is once again changing the look and feel of its money. Last November, the five pound note went from paper to plastic and next month the Royal Mint will introduce a new 12-sided pound coin. For those of us born before the 1970s the new coin may conjure up remembrances of the old threepenny ("thrupenny") bit, which went out of circulation with the advent of decimalization.

Ah, decimalization – the Valentine's Day "treat" of 1971. For hundreds of years the Brits had worked with a currency that contained 240 pence to the pound, 12 pence in a shilling and 20 shillings in a pound. Come February 15th, 1971, although the math was simpler, with everything being in multiples of 10, e.g. 100 pennies to the pound, the currency change was not well received. Many found it confusing, with polls at the time showing that barely four out of ten approved of "going decimal". Old folk were particularly befuddled, and – in those pre-pocket calculator days - took to carrying around Decimal Adders – a clunky push button contraption that would help them convert their old "real" money to the new coinage. Or vice versa.

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The old pound coin

It wasn't just the practicalities of dealing with the new money though that upset people. The English language was full of idioms that related to the old coins and people were no doubt concerned that those too would be thrown on the scrap heap along with the money that was going out of circulation.

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Old Threepenny bit

How, for instance, could something "turn on a sixpence", when a sixpence no longer existed? Or, if you saw someone looking downcast and wanted to tell them that they "look like they've lost half a crown and found a sixpence", would your words bring more distress with the reminder of a pre-decimalized existence? And what about the fact that it was now going to cost more to "spend a penny" – i.e. use a public bathroom. The phrase, which originated in the mid-1800s with the introduction of public lavatories only accessible by inserting a penny into the door lock, became not only redundant seeing as the beloved big old penny was being discontinued, but the new pence piece was the equivalent of more than double that of the old penny.

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Old British Sixpence

Although the shilling, or "bob" as it was nicknamed, was also discontinued, "Bob A Job Week" - the age-old fundraiser, where local Boy Scouts would knock on strangers' doors to see if they wanted any odd jobs done - wasn't scrapped until twenty years later, owing to health and safety concerns.

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Pre-decimalization penny

How well the new pound coin is received remains to be seen. It's been 30 odd years since it replaced the pound note. A lot of thought has certainly gone into its redesign. Apart from the 12 sides, there's also a hi-tech aspect to it in the form of a hologram-like image effect that makes the pound symbol change to a number one when seen from different angles. This is to help combat counterfeiting as currently, according to the Royal Mint, “an estimated one in 30 pound coins are fake”.

The new pound will be introduced on March 28th with October 14th being named the deadline for people to spend their old pound coins, which on October 15th, will cease to be legal tender. Providing of course they're not fake.

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