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1968: Decimal coins reach the high street

VIDEO : Shoppers get first taste of decimal coins

The first decimal coins are making their way into purses throughout Britain, in preparation for replacing the current system of pounds, shillings and pence by 1971.

The five new pence and ten new pence coins operate alongside the shilling and the florin, and will have the same value. They are also the same size and weight.

They caused initial confusion to shoppers, many of whom refused to take them.

There was further misunderstanding over the value of a penny. Many thought the five new penny coin was worth five old pence - when it is in fact worth a shilling, or 12 old pence.


"It looks pretty simple to me"

London newspaper seller

Others, though, took the new money in their stride.

"I suppose it will take a bit of getting used to," said one newspaper seller in the City of London, "but I don't think it will bother me at all. I've seen the pictures in the papers and it looks pretty simple to me."

But a fruit-seller was concerned that the two new coins were being brought in ahead of the full range of decimal currency.

"People will get used to a tenpenny piece being worth 24 pence, and then they will have to change their ideas," he said.

Special training

Two of London's biggest stores have given special training to staff in the use of the new coins.

One supermarket manager was optimistic about his customers' attitudes to the changeover.

"I think they've more or less adjusted right away," he said. "I think, though, they tend to regard them as shilling and two-shilling pieces rather than five and ten pence at this time - I think this will take longer."

He added that it would be another six months before price tags changed to reflect the new currency, warning of "absolute chaos" if the change happened overnight.

About 15m 10p coins and 20m 5p coins will be issued to begin with - a small fraction of the number of shillings and florins in circulation.

Lord Fiske, chairman of the Decimal Currency Board, said the coins would be in the minority in tills and in change for a long time.

In Context
The conversion to decimal currency continued gradually over the next three years. The 50p coin was next to be released, replacing the 10 shilling note in 1969.

"Decimal Day" was 15 February 1971. The centuries-old tradition of using 12 pence to the shilling, and 20 shillings to the pound, was replaced by the new system of 100 new pence to the pound.

The term "new penny" was dropped in 1982, on the grounds that the decimal pennies were not new any more.

Britain is now facing another difficult decision over a wholesale change in currency: the transfer to the euro in place of pounds and pence. So far the government has held back, although 12 other European countries adopted the currency on 1 January 2002.


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