D-Day: 15 February 1971

Issue 98 | 17 February 2021

Welcome to issue 98 of Payments:Unpacked, this edition takes a trip down memory lane - all the way back to D-Day on the 15 February 1971.

D-Day: 15 February 1971

It may have taken 300 years after the first campaign for the decimalisation of our currency but 50 years ago this week (15 February 1971) it happened – the UK celebrated a currency change called D-Day (or Decimalisation Day).

Decimalisation Day occurred in the middle of a seven week postal strike, when the average house cost £4,265 and a pint of bitter would set you back 14p (new pence) – a lot has changed since Decimalisation Day.

Oh, and the banks shut for three days to prepare for D-Day.

In a stroke, the importance of the 12 times table reduced, the ease of adding up sums of money vastly improved overnight, the use of coins from Victorian times finally ceased and, together with the ‘threepenny bit’, the ‘half crown’, ‘florin, ‘shilling’ and ‘tanner’ all fell victim of decimalisation.

Some coins survived for a little while – the shilling and two shilling, albeit with a value of their decimal equivalents, could be used until 1980 and for a number of years you could spend an (old) six pence for a (decimal equivalent) of 2 1/2p.

In 1971 our language, songs and rhymes also changed – for example it no longer made sense to sing:

You owe me five farthings, said the bells of St Martins

Sing a song of six pence

The UK wasn’t at the forefront of this change Russia went decimal on 1704, the USA and France at the end of the 18 Century and by the 1960’s Australia, South Africa and New Zealand all joined suit.

On the 15 February 1968 the Labour chancellor announced that the UK would adopt a decimal currency – in exactly three years both the shape and value of the UK’s coins would change (overnight)!

15 February 1972: D-Day – Decimalisation Day

Until decimalisation in 1971, a pound was made up of 20 shillings – with each shilling worth 12 pence.

On the 15 February 1971 referred to as “D-Day” or “Decimalisation Day” the system was simplified, so that 100 “new pence” made up one pound.

Six coins were introduced to reflect the “new pence”.

Two silver coins were in circulation prior to the 15 February 1971:

  • 10 (new) pence – equal to 2 Shillings.

  • 5 (new) pence – equals to 1 Shilling.

A 50 (new) pence – equal to 10 Shillings – would be introduced a year later would be the world’s first seven sided coin.

Three bronze coins entered into circulation on the 15 February 1971:

  • 2 (new) pence.

  • 1 (new) pence.

  • 1/2 (new) pence.

The (old) penny and the threepence bit ceased to be legal tender on Valentines Day (the day before D-Day).

The pound note was unaffected by this change and was retained.

Getting Ready

Even Max Bygraves got in on the act of helping us understand the change in the make up of a pound:

British Pathe produced this fantastic insight into getting ready for D-Day:

It seems that there were plenty of “public information” films produced to support adoption and helping deal with the challenges – in this one Granny gets the point:

How did the first day of the UK’s decimalisation go?

It is widely reported that D-Day was a success however there was a cry that shops had used the changeover to increase prices.

A perspective of the first day of decimalisation (and life in the UK at the start of the 1970’s) is provided with this video:

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The Payments:Unpacked newsletter from Mike Chambers at Northey Point explores a wide range of the UK’s payment news including: Open Banking, Request to Pay, Direct Debit, Confirmation of Payee, Bacs, CHAPS, Faster Payments, LINK, cash, cards, cheques and Central Bank Digital Currencies (CBDCs) and unpacks the eco-system that supports the operation of these systemically important payment systems.

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