The Bank of England Prepares for the Release of the New Plastic Pound Notes

Image: The Bank of England

Starting Monday at midnight, cash machines will be loaded and cash registers filled with the new polymer plastic £5 bank note. The British public will be able to get their hands on them in the high street banks and shops Tuesday morning.

440m of the new polymer note have been printed and readied to courier from The Bank of England’s cash centres in Debden, Essex and Leeds. The biggest change to the current paper note is the material. Polymer is a thin, flexible plastic that is supposed to be cleaner, more resistant to dirt, more secure and stronger. Also according to the official Bank of England ‘newfiver’ site, “Polymer notes are also better for the environment. This is because they last longer and so we have to print fewer notes, which means less energy is used in manufacturing and cash transportation. When a polymer note has reached the end of its life it will be recycled.” The new notes will also be 15% smaller than their predecessors and feature a see-through window.

The new bank note will feature Sir Winston Churchill replacing the prison reformer Elizabeth Fry meaning the Queen will be the only female to feature on the British money line-up. Churchill joins Charles Darwin (£10), Adam Smith (£20) and Mathew Boulton and James Watt (£50) to be featured on the current notes. When it was announced in 2013 that the former Prime Minister would replace Fry, there was an outcry due to the lack of female faces on the notes, a petition in protest was signed and therefore, it was agreed novelist Jane Austin would later feature on the new £10 note.


Mark Carney, Governor of The Bank of England commented that Churchill, “was one of the greatest statesmen of all time and is the only Prime Minister to win the Nobel Prize for literature.” He added, “Our banknotes are repositories of the United Kingdom’s collective memory and are testaments to the outstanding achievements of the nation’s greatest individuals.”

This isn’t the first time Churchill will feature on British money. In 1965 Churchill was portrayed on the five shilling piece and became the first ‘commoner’ to be seen on British money.

Image: Royal Mint Museum

Whilst the new bank notes will be officially available from Tuesday 13th September, it will of course take a considerable amount of time for them to spread across the country to shops, banks and businesses. Therefore, don’t be surprised or disappointed to still be handed one of the old, tattered paper ones in your local newsagents for a while. May 2017 is the official date whereby the old notes will cease to be legal tender.

So although you’ve got until May to keep spending your paper £5 notes, should you keep a pristine one as a future investment? The simple answer to that: no. The brown 10 shilling note was replaced by a 50p coin in 1970. Today you can buy these 10 shilling notes for around £2 on eBay. Considering in 1970 10 shillings could have got you 2 pints in a pub, the fact they’re now worth £2 suggests there really isn’t any investment opportunity here – £2 would hardly buy you an orange juice in a pub today. There are currently over 329m paper £5 notes in circulation, so holding onto one or two may be best just for memento reasons rather than to hope to rake in the big bucks in 50 years time.

Not to be outdone by the inferior £5 note, the £10 and £20 notes are also being revamped in polymer. The new £10 featuring Jane Austin will enter circulation in summer 2017 and polymer £20 note featuring JWM Turner will be in circulation by 2020. There are currently no official plans to replace the paper £50, but The Bank of the England say they, “will announce the material for future £50 notes in due course.” The reason for staggering the releases apparently is due to the change in sizes of the notes. The new £10 note is expected to be roughly the size of the existing paper £5 note. Therefore, releasing all together may become confusing for people such as the blind or partially sighted. Therefore, each note is needed to be released and then the paper equivalent given time to be fazed out.


The Bank of England has also provided some interesting stats to support the decision to go all plastic. “21,835 notes were replaced in 2015 due to damage. The new polymer notes last up to 2.5 times longer than paper.” Of these 21,835 notes apparently 10,761 were due to tares. 5,364 were due to being chewed or eaten (not specified whether this is by people or animals). 1,801 were washed. 2,912 were contaminated. 997 were fire damaged.

As well as the new polymer notes, a new £1 coin has been announced. No, The Bank England won’t be ditching the accustomed metal for a plastic equivalent, turning the coin into something resembling more like a tiddlywink. The new coin will enter circulation in March 2017 and is 12-sided rather than round like the current £1 – reminiscent of the old threepenny bit. The Royal Mint say the reason for changing the shape of the currently “wonderfully robust” coins is that many from the 1980s are still in circulation, and therefore, there are considered to be millions of fakes out there.

Image: Royal Mint

The replacement coins are based on a design by the then 15-year-old schoolboy, David Pearce, who won a competition. They incorporate emblems from the four UK home nations, and apparently will be more difficult to fake. Of course, following the results of the EU Referendum, the future of the ‘home-nations’ is unsure. Therefore, we could see several new designs be released shortly after the first release of this one, just as we currently have.

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