11 February 2021
Tom Hockenhull, Curator: Medals and Modern Money, British Museum, provides another insight into 'D Day' and the UK's decimalisation project, focussing on the influence of Commonwealth countries.
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.
The impetus for decimalisation came from the Commonwealth
Image: A well-thumbed library copy of the Halsbury Report, published 1963
In the late-1950s India decimalised its rupee and there were similar commitments from New Zealand, Australia and the Republic of Ireland.
These decisions reflected an overall disengagement from the postcolonial project.
In South Africa the 1961 introduction of the rand (a new currency) was further evidence of the hostile Afrikaner government’s deliberate distancing from the Commonwealth, which it left in the same year.
The only non-decimal currencies left would soon be those of the UK, Nigeria, Malta and the Gambia.
Within just a few years Britain’s idiosyncratic £.s.d. system had become exposed and isolated among world currencies. The government responded by, in 1961, appointing a Committee of Inquiry chaired by Tony Giffard, 3rd Lord Halsbury (1908–2000).
The Halsbury Committee was tasked with advising on the most practical form the currency could take, the timing of its introduction and an estimate of the costs. Its report was published in 1963, though a public announcement on decimalisation would not be made until 1966.
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
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