When Britain Went Decimal: The Coinage of 1971
Fifty years have now passed since D Day – the bloodless decimalisation of British currency in 1971. Pounds, shillings and pence, operative for over a millennium, finally yielded to a far simpler system.
The UK was the last major nation-state in the world to adopt decimal currency, but why was it so slow to do so? What changed politicians’ and peoples’ minds about it in the 1960s? Were Britain’s plans to join the EEC influential? What was the impact of India, South Africa and Australasia going decimal several years earlier? Or did it simply happen because of common sense, with a decimal system so much easier to learn? The route to find the right designs proved complex, with interfering politicians, struggling artists, and at one stage an angry Duke of Edinburgh! It took over five years to come about, and then there was the seven-sided 50 pence: a design classic we would say today, but what did the media and public think of it on its launch in 1969?
When Britain Went Decimal takes readers through the changeover leading to D Day and beyond. How smooth and successful was the process? Did newspapers secretly hope it would fail? While decimalisation might have seemed right at the time, did it lead to inflation, as many people believe today?
Entertainingly written and beautifully illustrated, this first book on decimalisation since 1973 attempts to answer all these questions and more, looking as much at the design – indeed the ‘art’ behind the new coinage – as at social, economic and political history.
Mark Stocker, When Britain Went Decimal: The Coinage of 1971
(Spink/Royal Mint Publications, 2021). ISBN 81912667567. 240 pp., £30.
With a foreword by Edmund de Waal.