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EDITIONS
Wednesday, 14 February, 2001, 16:26 GMT
Decimal currency fears
Lord Fiske, Chairman of the Decimal Board, pictured in 1971 in The Strand in London in a Woolworth's store
Decimalisation was introduced amid fears of protest
Fears of galloping inflation and public rejection preceded decimalisation, according to government papers released on the eve of the 30th anniversary.

One of the worst case scenarios considered by the authorities was the possibility of the Queen dying before coins bearing her likeness were issued.

A range of pitfalls were planned for in the days before the new decimal coins were introduced on 15 February 1971.

Lord Fiske, Chairman of the Decimal Board, inserting the new five penny coin into a parking meter
The transition to decimal currency was pain-free

The new coins - p, 1p, 2p, 5p, 10p, 50p - replaced the old pounds, shillings and pence.

There were fears, for example, that Ford car workers might strike over changes to drinks vending machines prices.

The head of the Decimal Currency Board, A R Butler, wrote to its secretary Noel Moore in September 1969 saying it would be a good idea "to consider some of the more obvious hazards".

Metal shortages

Risks ranging from bus crews refusing to handle the new coinage to the scarcity of metal to fulfill the demand for coins were assessed.

But the transition went through more smoothly than anticipated.

Mr Moore, in a restricted note on 13 February 1970, said there had been few hitches, apart from a controversy over the 50p coin's introduction.

He warned against "flights of fancy" in imagining galloping inflation, or the public rejection of the new system.

"Only slightly less far-fetched would be such unhappy occurences a the death of the Queen before 4,140million decimal coins bearing her effigy have been issued, or the destruction of the Llantrisant Mint by Welsh nationalists."

Action taken

But he said a more likely issue would be last minute changes by Parliament to the rounding up of low-priced items.

He said there was no need to be alarmist.

"In those areas of risk where the Board can be expected to take action we have done so," he said.

The half-penny is a most miserable coin. We really do not want to be handling it

David Walker, The Financial Times, Feb 1971
On 10 February, 1971, five days before "D Day", he was able to tell the Board chairman Lord Fiske that little had gone wrong, apart from a postal strike.

It was the new half penny that engendered most oppostion.

'Miserable' half penny

Lord Fiske brought in the coin, nicknamed the "tiddler" to ease the transition from shillings and old pounds and pennies.

David Walker, of the Financial Times said: "The half penny is a most miserable coin. We really do not want to be handling it."

Publically the DCB said people needed time to get used to it but there was a suggestion that it had deliberately been made an unpopular size.

But the confectionery industry welcomed the coin, which was not withdrawn from circulation until 1984, as its half penny sweets proved popular.

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