Decimalisation facts: The Royal Mint's secret competition


11 February 2021
Tom Hockenhull, Curator: Medals and Modern Money, British Museum, provides an insight into 'D Day' and the UK's decimalisation project, revealing the secret competition to produce initial coin designs.

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 Royal Mint held a secret competition to produce initial designs 


Image: Plaster models for the decimal coinage by Geoffrey Clarke, 1962–63

Following the appointment of the Halsbury Committee the Royal Mint secretly invited various arts bodies to form teams that would compete against one another to produce new decimal designs.

The Royal Designers for Industry and Royal College of Art formed a joint RCA/RDI team, whose members included the modernist sculptor Geoffrey Clarke (1924–2014) and Christopher Ironside (1913–92).

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They took to the task with enthusiasm.

Geoffrey Clarke’s ideas were particularly experimental. He proposed dish-shaped coins and designs where all the textual information is restricted to one side. They were considered too adventurous, and taken no further.

From this competition Arnold Machin (from the Royal Academy team) was selected to sculpt a new portrait of the Queen, while Christopher Ironside took on the decimal reverses. 

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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