Decimalisation facts: public reaction to the new 50p


11 February 2021
Tom Hockenhull, Curator: Medals and Modern Money, British Museum, provides an insight into 'D Day' and the UK's decimalisation project, describing the initially fierce public reaction to the new 50p.

On a grey, drizzly Monday, 15 February 1971, Britain went decimal. Ten years in the planning, 'D-Day' upended a currency system that had been unchanged for more than a millennium.

Celebrating the publication of a new book, Making Change: the decimalisation of Britain’s currency, here are a selection of little-known facts about how it happened.

Public reaction to the new 50p was fierce

Image: Decimal Currency Board poster advertising the new 50p coin, 1969.

The new seven-sided 50p coin was extensively marketed. Posters were printed and the Decimal Currency Board arranged for a sample to be used in the coin toss at the 1969 FA Cup Final.

Released into circulation on 14 October 1969 to relatively positive reviews, coverage quickly turned hostile with The Times declaring the coin a ‘monstrosity’.

There were concerns that it might be confused with the similarly sized 10p piece. The Mint received almost 600 letters of complaint, although only twenty-eight claimed to have lost money as a result of the confusion, and in November it became the subject of a heated debate in the House of Commons.

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The storm gradually died down and acceptance of the coin gradually grew, from a mere 28 per cent approval rating in November 1969 to 56 per cent by March 1970.

Making Change: the decimalisation of Britain’s currency by Tom Hockenhull is available from Spink Books

Published by Spink Books, in association with the British Museum
Hardback, with illustrations throughout, 198 x 129mm, 64 pages
RRP: £15, ISBN: 978-1-912667-57-4

Decimal Week is brought to you in association with NGC UK, the leading third-party grading service for coins, tokens and medals.

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