Royal Mint marks 50th anniversary of Decimal Day

Monday marks 50 years to the day that Britain said goodbye to centuries of monetary tradition as shillings, florins and crowns were replaced by the decimal currency system.

On February 14, 1971, there were 12 pennies to the shilling and 20 shillings to the pound.

But when Britons woke up the next morning on D-Day – or decimal day – £1 was worth 100 pence and shillings were replaced with 5p coins. 

The country’s currency hadn’t seen such a drastic overhaul since the pound was first introduced in Anglo-Saxon England – as early as 775AD.

Britain’s currency had evolved since then – with the shilling introduced by Henry VII in the 1500s and the farthing under Queen Victoria in 1860 – but never with such a monumental social shift.

The decimal system – having a currency based on simple multiples of 10 and 100 – was formally adopted on February 15 1971 and involved around five years of planning once the switch was decided in 1966.

Monday marks 50 years to the day that Britain said goodbye to over 1,000 years of shillings and pennies and the decimal currency system was born. Pictured: One shilling

Monday marks 50 years to the day that Britain said goodbye to over 1,000 years of shillings and pennies and the decimal currency system was born. Pictured: One shilling

Shillings were replaced with 5p coins (pictured)

Shillings were replaced with 5p coins (pictured)

Monday marks 50 years to the day that Britain said goodbye to centuries of shillings, florins and crowns and the decimal currency system was born. Shillings (left) were replaced with 5p coins (right)

The decimal system (pictured) - having a currency based on simple multiples of 10 and 100 - was formally adopted on February 15 1971 and involved around five years of planning once the switch was decided in 1966

The decimal system (pictured) - having a currency based on simple multiples of 10 and 100 - was formally adopted on February 15 1971 and involved around five years of planning once the switch was decided in 1966

The decimal system (pictured) – having a currency based on simple multiples of 10 and 100 – was formally adopted on February 15 1971 and involved around five years of planning once the switch was decided in 1966

But Britain was late to adopt the change (the new currency, pictured), with the decimal system already in place in several other countries

But Britain was late to adopt the change (the new currency, pictured), with the decimal system already in place in several other countries

But Britain was late to adopt the change (the new currency, pictured), with the decimal system already in place in several other countries

But Britain was late to adopt the change, with the decimal system already in place in several other countries.

France and the United States underwent decimalisation in 1790s and Australia, New Zealand and South Africa – all commonwealth nations – made the switch in the 1960s.

The introduction of the florin – a coin worth two shillings or one tenth of a pound – under Queen Victoria was the closest Britain ever came to the switch prior to 1971.

Curator of modern money at the British Museum Catherine Eagleton told BBC News the old money system dated back to ancient history. 

She said: ‘So it’s the pound of silver divided into 240 pence. 

‘It was the historic way the Romans used their money and divided up the [librum, solidus and] denarius which was where the d in L.s.d. (or £sd) for pounds, shillings and pence comes from’

Head of historical services at the Royal Mint Dr Kevin Clancy said: ‘It would have been a huge disruption, which was one of the reasons Governments shied away from it.’

One florin, equivalent to two shillings

One florin, equivalent to two shillings

One florin was replaced with a 10p coin

One florin was replaced with a 10p coin

On February 14, 1971 there were 12 pennies to the shilling and 20 shillings to the pound. But when Britons woke up the next morning on D-Day – or decimal day – £1 was worth 100 pence and shillings were replaced with 5p coins. Florins (left) were replaced with 10p coins (right)

Queen Elizabeth II watched coin banks being fed into the machine which embossed the new decimal coinage value in 1968

Queen Elizabeth II watched coin banks being fed into the machine which embossed the new decimal coinage value in 1968

Queen Elizabeth II watched coin banks being fed into the machine which embossed the new decimal coinage value in 1968

Lorna Harwood (pictured in 1971) was one of the first bank cashiers who dealt with the changeover to a decimal currency

Lorna Harwood (pictured in 1971) was one of the first bank cashiers who dealt with the changeover to a decimal currency

Lorna Harwood (pictured in 1971) was one of the first bank cashiers who dealt with the changeover to a decimal currency

The banking section of Lewis's Department Store in Manchester City Centre in 1971. The new coinage involved a huge information campaign to help households and businesses adapt

The banking section of Lewis's Department Store in Manchester City Centre in 1971. The new coinage involved a huge information campaign to help households and businesses adapt

The banking section of Lewis’s Department Store in Manchester City Centre in 1971. The new coinage involved a huge information campaign to help households and businesses adapt

Lindsay Rushton, of Pangbourne, Berkshire, helped a customer to sort out his decimal money in the Oxford Street store where she worked in 1971

Lindsay Rushton, of Pangbourne, Berkshire, helped a customer to sort out his decimal money in the Oxford Street store where she worked in 1971

Lindsay Rushton, of Pangbourne, Berkshire, helped a customer to sort out his decimal money in the Oxford Street store where she worked in 1971

Children in Trafalgar Square, London, looked at the new decimal 50p coin, the world's first seven-sided coin

Children in Trafalgar Square, London, looked at the new decimal 50p coin, the world's first seven-sided coin

Children in Trafalgar Square, London, looked at the new decimal 50p coin, the world’s first seven-sided coin

London's Harrods department store even had 'Decimal Penny' assistants helping customers with the new coins (pictured with Lord Friske, Decimal Currency Board Chairman, in 1971)

London's Harrods department store even had 'Decimal Penny' assistants helping customers with the new coins (pictured with Lord Friske, Decimal Currency Board Chairman, in 1971)

London’s Harrods department store even had ‘Decimal Penny’ assistants helping customers with the new coins (pictured with Lord Friske, Decimal Currency Board Chairman, in 1971)

WHAT WAS EACH OLD COIN WORTH POST-DECIMALISATION
Pre-decimalisation Amount in shillings (s) and pennies (d) Decimal (p
Farthing 0.25d  0.104p 
Halfpenny  0.5d  0.208p 
Penny  1d  0.417p 
Threepence  3d  1.25p 
Sixpence  6d  2.5p 
Shilling  1s 5p 
Florin  2s  10p 
Half crown  2s6d  12.5p 
Crown  5s  25p 
Pound  20s  £1 = 100p 
Guinea  21s  £1.05 

But even so, it took then-Prime Minister Harold Wilson seconds to decide to make the change in the 1960s. 

Chancellor of the Exchequer Jim Callaghan spoke to Mr Heath for ‘about 20 seconds’, during which the PM said ‘well why not’ to the proposed change, reports claim.

Parliament then heard the decision in 1966.  

The new coinage involved a huge information campaign to help households and businesses adapt. 

The first of the new 5p and 10p coins made their way on to high streets in 1968, giving people time to familiarise themselves with them before the full switch.

A 50p coin was then introduced in 1969 to replace the 10-shilling note.

Initially, the new coins were marked with NEW PENNY for one pence or NEW PENCE for 5p, 10p and 50p.

The ‘new was dropped in 1982 – and p was then taken on to distinguish the new pennies from the old ones.

Old pennies used ‘d’ as a symbol from the latin denarius for a Roman empire coin.

The 20p coin wasn’t introduced until 1982 and the £1 coin came out in 1983 to replace the note. 

The £1 coin regularly changed shape through the years – until the 12-sided pound coin came out in 2017.

The sizes of the 5p, 10p, and 50p coins changed in the 1990s. The oldest 5p coins in circulation are from 1990, the oldest 10p coins from 1992 and 50p coins from 1997. 

The £2 coin was introduced in 1998. 

A bank within an Oxford Street store in 1971 helps customers change money into decimal currency

A bank within an Oxford Street store in 1971 helps customers change money into decimal currency

A bank within an Oxford Street store in 1971 helps customers change money into decimal currency

It took then-Prime Minister Harold Wilson (pictured) seconds to decide to make the change in the 1960s

It took then-Prime Minister Harold Wilson (pictured) seconds to decide to make the change in the 1960s

It took then-Prime Minister Harold Wilson (pictured) seconds to decide to make the change in the 1960s

Curator of modern money at the British Museum Catherine Eagleton told BBC News the old money system dated back to ancient history. Pictured: A crown

Curator of modern money at the British Museum Catherine Eagleton told BBC News the old money system dated back to ancient history. Pictured: A crown

Curator of modern money at the British Museum Catherine Eagleton told BBC News the old money system dated back to ancient history. Pictured: A crown

The decimal system - having a currency based on simple multiples of 10 and 100 - was formally adopted on February 15 1971 and involved around five years of planning once the switch was decided in 1966. Pictured: A crown was worth 25p (pictured) after the 1971 switch

The decimal system - having a currency based on simple multiples of 10 and 100 - was formally adopted on February 15 1971 and involved around five years of planning once the switch was decided in 1966. Pictured: A crown was worth 25p (pictured) after the 1971 switch

The decimal system – having a currency based on simple multiples of 10 and 100 – was formally adopted on February 15 1971 and involved around five years of planning once the switch was decided in 1966. Pictured: A crown was worth 25p (pictured) after the 1971 switch 

Lord Fiske, Chairman of the Decimal Currency Board, is pictured one of three posters which were displayed as part of an intensive campaign of official information and explanation of decimal currency ahead of D Day in 1971

Lord Fiske, Chairman of the Decimal Currency Board, is pictured one of three posters which were displayed as part of an intensive campaign of official information and explanation of decimal currency ahead of D Day in 1971

Lord Fiske, Chairman of the Decimal Currency Board, is pictured one of three posters which were displayed as part of an intensive campaign of official information and explanation of decimal currency ahead of D Day in 1971

Lord Fiske is pictured in 1971 inserting a 5p coin into a parking meter at the Central Office of Information in London

Lord Fiske is pictured in 1971 inserting a 5p coin into a parking meter at the Central Office of Information in London

Lord Fiske is pictured in 1971 inserting a 5p coin into a parking meter at the Central Office of Information in London

Lord Fiske, Chairman of the Decimal Currency Board. Banks were shut for four days to prepare for the switch in 1971 and retail staff were given special training to help customers understand the new money - but countless shoppers resistant to change refused to take them

Lord Fiske, Chairman of the Decimal Currency Board. Banks were shut for four days to prepare for the switch in 1971 and retail staff were given special training to help customers understand the new money - but countless shoppers resistant to change refused to take them

Lord Fiske, Chairman of the Decimal Currency Board. Banks were shut for four days to prepare for the switch in 1971 and retail staff were given special training to help customers understand the new money – but countless shoppers resistant to change refused to take them

Sarah Coles (pictured), personal finance analyst, Hargreaves Lansdown, said: 'Life has changed dramatically since February 15 1971. The way we live, work and spend have altered beyond recognition'

Sarah Coles (pictured), personal finance analyst, Hargreaves Lansdown, said: 'Life has changed dramatically since February 15 1971. The way we live, work and spend have altered beyond recognition'

Sarah Coles (pictured), personal finance analyst, Hargreaves Lansdown, said: ‘Life has changed dramatically since February 15 1971. The way we live, work and spend have altered beyond recognition’

Banks were shut for four days to prepare for the switch and retail staff were given special training to help customers understand the new money – but countless shoppers resistant to change refused to take them. 

London’s Harrods department store even had ‘Decimal Penny’ assistants helping customers with the new coins.

A Decimal Currency Board was also set up to oversee the switchover.

HOW HAS THE VALUE OF EVERYDAY GOODS CHANGED SINCE DECIMAL DAY IN 1971? 

Monday marks 50 years since the new decimal currency system was formally adopted on February 15 1971 – known as Decimal Day.

Here are some facts and figures from Sarah Coles, a personal finance analyst at financial services provider Hargreaves Lansdown, showing how life has changed since:

1. Price rises have averaged 5.6% a year since 1971.

2. A pound in 1971 had the buying power of £14.24 today.

3. Back then, a pint of milk typically cost 5p (it is 43p now), a loaf of bread was 9p (it is £1.16 now). This may look like a massive price hike but, accounting for inflation, in real terms the price of both has fallen.

4. In 1971 a pint of beer cost 15p, which is the equivalent of £2.21 today. Now, the average price is £3.80.

5. If someone had saved £1,000 in the average savings account between then and now, they would have £12,198 – which, after the eroding impact of inflation is taken into account, would be worth just £781.

6. If someone had invested £1,000 in a UK tracker fund in 1971, it would be worth £252,204 typically now. After inflation that is £16,156 – so in real terms someone’s money would be worth 16 times more than they had originally invested.

7. If someone had invested their money in Unilever instead, their £1,000 would be worth around £920,302, which, after inflation, is an increase of £58,953. So in real terms this would be worth nearly 60 times as much as was originally invested.

8. In 1971, the average house cost £5,632. If prices had increased in line with inflation, the average house would cost £82,920 today – rather than the actual cost of around £250,000.

9. In 1971, the mortgage rate recommended by the Building Societies Association was 8.5%. Bank of England figures recently put the average at 1.9%. The highest the recommended rate has reached in the past 50 years was 17% in 1979.

10. The 5p and 10p had already entered circulation in 1968. They were the same size and value as shillings and florins, so ran alongside them as ‘decimal twins’.

11. The 50p piece was introduced in 1969.

12. 1p, 2p and half-penny coins were introduced in 1971. 

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The decimal system was so culturally significant it even seeped into pop culture – with singer Max Bygraves recording a song called Decimalisation.

TV shows, films and posters helped people to understand the new coinage. 

To meet the challenge of striking the new coins, a new factory was also needed, along with new machinery, production techniques and processes.

In 1971, Sir Edward Heath was prime minister, the country was going through a period of industrial upheaval.

The Equal Pay Act had been introduced the year before, and the Sex Discrimination Act and the Race Relations Act came into being later on in the decade.

Sarah Coles, personal finance analyst, Hargreaves Lansdown, said: ‘Life has changed dramatically since February 15 1971. The way we live, work and spend have altered beyond recognition.

‘Inflation makes the past feel like another world, with a 5p pint of milk and 15p pint of beer.

‘After you take inflation into account, some things are much cheaper now than in 1971, and basic groceries have fallen in price. 

‘The cost of beer, sadly, has escalated as the taxman has grabbed a bigger share.’

To help mark 50 years since Decimal Day, the Royal Mint, based in Llantrisant, South Wales, has created 50 ‘museums in a box’, which are touring care homes to help people with dementia.

Each box contains pre-decimal coins, posters and conversion charts, which aim to evoke childhood memories.

The Royal Mint Museum is making the boxes available to care homes free of charge. Each care home will receive a box for two weeks, and they will be thoroughly cleaned and disinfected between uses. 

The Royal Mint has also has a 50p commemorative coin for sale on its website, featuring ‘old money’ in the design.

Clare Maclennan, divisional director for commemorative coin at the Royal Mint, said: ‘The Royal Mint made decimalisation happen 50 years ago, introducing the coins we use and collect today.

‘We’re celebrating with a special Decimal Day 50p featuring ‘old money’ as well as launching memory boxes for care homes – helping people with dementia recall their memories of ‘the changeover’.

‘Although we are famous for making coins, we make so much more and have changed a lot over 50 years.

‘Today the Royal Mint has grown to become the home of gold investment in the UK, we make collectable coins for all interests, and even have a tourist attraction.

‘Our historic coin business is also booming, as we use our unique expertise to source rare coins for collectors.

‘Decimalisation offers a great opportunity to celebrate our past, and look to our future and the exciting changes we’ve making.’

The Mint is also asking coin collectors to share images of their pre-decimal coins for its online gallery. 

Those who remember the monumental change are urged to share their memories and inspire younger generations.

People can also view other coin collections on the website.

Banks were shut for four days to prepare for decimalisation and retail staff were given special training to help customers understand the new money - but countless shoppers resistant to change refused to take them. Pictured: The pound note became a coin in 1981

Banks were shut for four days to prepare for decimalisation and retail staff were given special training to help customers understand the new money - but countless shoppers resistant to change refused to take them. Pictured: The pound note became a coin in 1981

Banks were shut for four days to prepare for decimalisation and retail staff were given special training to help customers understand the new money – but countless shoppers resistant to change refused to take them. Pictured: The pound note became a coin in 1981

British politician Lord Fiske is seen in Harrods with Sally Annandale and Viviane Dench in 1971, as part of his campaign to prepare people for Decimal Day

British politician Lord Fiske is seen in Harrods with Sally Annandale and Viviane Dench in 1971, as part of his campaign to prepare people for Decimal Day

British politician Lord Fiske is seen in Harrods with Sally Annandale and Viviane Dench in 1971, as part of his campaign to prepare people for Decimal Day

50 ways Britain’s changed since D-Day: Not 1944, but Decimalisation Day which launched an age of social and economic change 

By Fiona Parker For The Daily Mail 

Fifty years ago, Britain’s currency changed overnight. On February 14, 1971 there were 12 pennies to the shilling and 20 shillings to the pound.

And by the next morning, there were 100 pennies to the pound.

More than 3.4 billion new coins had to be minted for ‘Decimal Day’, with approximately 30 billion of them now in circulation. 

All change:  On February 14, 1971 there were 12 pennies to the shilling and 20 shillings to the pound. And by the next morning, there were 100 pennies to the pound

All change:  On February 14, 1971 there were 12 pennies to the shilling and 20 shillings to the pound. And by the next morning, there were 100 pennies to the pound

All change:  On February 14, 1971 there were 12 pennies to the shilling and 20 shillings to the pound. And by the next morning, there were 100 pennies to the pound

Yet some experts fear we could be living in a cashless society in less than two years – let alone another 50.

Sarah Coles, personal finance analyst at Hargreaves Lansdown, says: ‘Decimalisation still has its fierce opponents, even 50 years later.

‘Some people look back on the era of shillings and sixpences with enormous affection, and hold tight to the belief that life was never the same again.’

Here, Money Mail shares 50 facts about Decimal Day and how our lives and finances have changed since…

The day itself

1. February was chosen as it was a quiet time for banks and businesses.

2. Around 340,000 cash registers were converted to calculate purchases made in ‘new money’.

3. The 5p and 10p entered circulation in 1968. They were the same size and value as shillings and florins, so ran alongside them as ‘decimal twins’.

4. The 50p was introduced in 1969, while 1p, 2p, and 1/2p coins came into circulation in 1971.

5. The 1/2p was nicknamed the ‘tiddler’, but was discontinued in 1984.

6. The sixpence wasn’t withdrawn from circulation until 1980.

Adds up: Schoolchildren are taught about the new decimal currency in February 1971

Adds up: Schoolchildren are taught about the new decimal currency in February 1971

Adds up: Schoolchildren are taught about the new decimal currency in February 1971 

7. The last pre-decimal coin to be pulled from circulation was the florin, which was used alongside the 10p until 1993.

8. Banks closed for four days before the change, so they could prepare and cheques in ‘old money’ could clear.

9. Shops ran dual prices for a while to help customers adjust.

10. After decimalisation, one in ten people felt prices had been converted to make things more expensive.

11. The Government commissioned Max Bygraves to record a song for the occasion: Decimalisation. Its lyrics included: ‘They’ve made it easy for every citizen, cos all we have to do is count from one to ten.’

12. Decimalisation cost industry £128 million and the Government £23.5 million.

Inflation

A pint of milk cost 5p in 1971 and is 43p now

A pint of milk cost 5p in 1971 and is 43p now

A pint of milk cost 5p in 1971 and is 43p now

13. Price rises have averaged 5.6 per cent a year since 1971.

14. A pound then had the buying power of £14.46 today.

15. The highest year-on-year inflation rise in the past 50 years was 24 per cent in 1975 and the lowest was -0.53 per cent in 2009.

Interest rates

16. The Bank of England rate was 7 per cent in 1971 compared with 0.1 per cent today.

17. NS&I paid 7.5 per cent on its Investment Account in 1971. It pays 0.01 per cent to savers today.

18. The bank’s Premium Bond prize rate stood at 4.63 per cent back then. It is now 1 per cent.

19. If you had saved £1,000 in the average savings account for 50 years, you would have £12,198. But after inflation this would be £781.

20. If you had invested £1,000 in a UK tracker fund 50 years ago, it would now be worth £252,204. That’s around £16,156 after inflation.

21. However, if an investor had ploughed the same cash into Unilever shares, their £1,000 would be worth £920,302.68 — £58,953 after inflation.

Shopping

22. The ONS inflation basket of goods in 1971, which reflects our shopping habits, included ox liver, kippers, dried milk and sherry.  Now it tracks the prices of chicken nuggets, gluten-free cereal and vegetable crisps.

23. A pint of milk cost 5p then and is 43p now. A loaf of bread could be bought for 10p, compared with £1.16 today. If both had risen with inflation, they would cost 78p and £1.41 respectively.

24. A pint of beer cost 15p, the equivalent of £2.21 today. The same drink in 2021 would be priced at £3.80.

25. A pack of 20 cigarettes was priced at 27p, but smokers now pay £11.45.

26. Pubs then could legally refuse to serve an unaccompanied woman.

27. Food prices were defined by government statis- ticians as ‘food prices paid by housewives’.

28. The average person spent £2.31 a week on food. This has since risen to £26.12.

Work

British politician Lord Fiske at Harrods  on February 14, 1971, as part of his campaign to prepare people for 'Decimal Day'

British politician Lord Fiske at Harrods  on February 14, 1971, as part of his campaign to prepare people for 'Decimal Day'

British politician Lord Fiske at Harrods  on February 14, 1971, as part of his campaign to prepare people for ‘Decimal Day’

29. The average weekly wage for men was £28. If men’s wages rose with inflation they would be £437 a week today.

30. A woman’s weekly median pay was £14. In 2019 it stood at £528 and £628 for men.

31. Around 53 per cent of women worked in 1971, compared with 72 per cent today.

32. A woman could be sacked for being pregnant in 1971.

33. Working days lost to strikes have fallen from 13.6 million to 273,000 in 2018.

Property

34. Around 51 per cent of households owned their own home in 1971, compared with 63 per cent now.

35. The average house price was £5,632. If prices had risen with inflation, it would stand at £82,920 today, instead of £250,000.

36. The average house price was just over four times the average annual salary. Now it’s closer to nine times that wage.

37. The mortgage rate recommended by the Building Societies Association was 8.5 per cent. It is 1.9 per cent today.

38. Car ownership has risen from 52 per cent of households to 76 per cent.

39. One in ten homes had an outside toilet and 9 per cent didn’t come with a plumbed bath.

40. Average indoor temperatures have climbed from 12 C to 17.5 C.

Family

A still from the public information film "Granny Gets The Point" released by the Central Office of Information

A still from the public information film "Granny Gets The Point" released by the Central Office of Information

A still from the public information film ‘Granny Gets The Point’ released by the Central Office of Information

41. In 1971 men married at an average of 27.8 and women at 25.2. Now men marry at 38 and women at 35.7.

42. The average age of a first-time mother has risen from 23.7 to 28.8.

43. The average household had 2.91 people compared with 2.37 in 2019.

44. In total in 1971 17 per cent of households were a single person. This rose to 30 per cent in 2019.

45. A 65-year-old man was expected to live just over 12 years more and women 16. Men are now expected to live almost 19 years more and women 21 years.

Later life

46. The basic state pension was £6 a week. It is now £134.25 a week and new pensioners receive the flat rate pension at a maximum of £175.20.

47. Only 2.9 million people were drawing workplace pensions, and most were from the public sector. Figures from 2018 show 10.2 million are today and most are from the private sector.

48. There were 11.1 million people paying into workplace pensions compared with 17.3 million today.

49. The majority of care for the elderly was funded by councils. Now local authorities help to pay for less than half of it.

50. Around 3 per cent of men and 11 per cent of women were widowed. For men this has stayed the same, but for women the figure has fallen to 8 per cent. 

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