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The E-Sylum: Volume 24, Number 7, February 14, 2021, Article 27

FIFTIETH ANNIVERSARY OF DECIMAL DAY IN BRITAIN

David Pickup submitted this piece on tomorrow's anniversary of decimalisation. Thanks! -Editor

Booklet with the new decimal coins issued by the Royal Mint
Booklet with the new decimal coins issued by the Royal Mint.

All change- Decimalisation Anniversary

15 February 2021 is the fiftieth anniversary of Decimal Day in Britain when the new currency system was formally introduced. It was not universally popular as the great British public preferred counting from one to twelve rather stopping at ten. It is arguably simpler to do maths in multiples of twelve rather than ten.

The process of introducing the new coins had started some years before with the introduction of the 5 and 10 pence coins in 1968. Decimalisation led to nostalgia about the loss of well-loved coins such as the penny, florin and halfcrown, which had nicknames and years of history. There was always a feeling amongst a certain generation that pre decimal coins had a value that modern coins do not. Getting sixpence or threepence pocket money, handling bright shiny pennies or been given a halfcrown by a well off uncle all meant something. If you had a florin or halfcrown in your pocket you had a lot of money or at least you thought that.

Decimalisation brought inflation and this led to the reduction in size of coins and further withdrawal of favourite denominations. The phrase "new pee" did not sound right and many people thought the designs were bland.

Pre decimal halfcrown Image: Pre-decimal halfcrown

In the 1960s and 1970s it was possible to find coins from the reigns of George V and Edward VII and even from the reign of Victoria. In the run up to decimalisation the Royal Mint issued older coins into circulation. Many coin collectors bewailed the loss of history and there was a short lived "check your change" enthusiasm for rare dates on pre decimal coins. Some of those people went on to become collectors.

Shops had posters with conversion charts and "ready reckoner" booklets were available to buy. These were sometimes ignored. I remember being short changed. I was due three old pence change and given a new penny. Fortunately I got over it… eventually, although if I ever go near that shop again...

A publicity campaign took place in the weeks before Decimal Day, including a song by the singer and entertainer, Max Bygraves called "Decimalisation". Here is part of a verse,

"Gone are the days when twelve old pence added up to make a shilling, not much sense. The half crown too has gone for good - a coin that foreigners never understood,"

Here is a link to the song on YouTube  https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=jCiEzQ4EGk4

There was also a record brought out by the actor Wilfred Brambell  https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=oCLVtuvZ71k

The BBC broadcast a series of five minute programmes, titled "Decimal Five", to which a pop group called The Scaffold contributed some songs. Things did improve in following years with introduction of innovative designs such as the twenty pence, the twelve sided pound coin, the shield design of Matthew Dent in 2008 and the wide range of commemorative 50p and two pound coins.

Mary Gillick's predecimal portrait of the Queen Mary Gillick's marvellous pre decimal portrait of the Queen is still used on Maundy coins.

For more information, see:
File:1953 half crown reverse.jpg (https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=3211696)
File:Maundy obverse.jpeg (https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=12256736)




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Wayne Homren, Editor

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