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1971: Memories of a lost currency

The first decimal coins in Britain dropped into purses and wallets across the nation on 15 February 1971.

It was the beginning of the end for the faithful tanners, bobs and half-crowns of the old system, which was phased out over the next 18 months.

The massive change had taken the Decimal Currency Board five years to plan.

Your accounts

Is it that many years ago that we changed the money? I remember it well.

I was a newly qualified teacher starting my first job in Hucknall, Notts. One day I was buying 20 Players Medium for 4/3, the next day for 21.5p.

Even now ten bob still sounds more than 50p. I've still got a large collection of the old "proper" money and I think that at today's prices I'd need especially reinforced pockets etc to carry all the loose change to buy a pint.

Just think, crisps now cost about 27p a packet - about 5/6! Ridiculous.

I can remember the first Golden Wonder coming out at 1.5d - that's 8 packets for a shilling - 8 for 5p. Gone are the days of buying a gallon of petrol for 6/4, before it went up to 6/8. Three gallons for a 1, and a pint of keg bitter for 11d.

All these changes. No, I'm not 105, I'm only 56. It's at times like this though I feel ancient. Sod it, let's all change to the Euro - it can't get any worse. Can it?
B Davies, Wales

I was a young lad (5) when the 50p coin was first introduced.

All I can remember thinking was how they didn't easily stand on their edges like the old Thr'penny bit did. Ah, the innocence of childhood!
Les Read, Scotland

I carry around in my wallet, the last ever 10/- note I was given - I still think in pounds, shillings, pence. Am I the only one?
Nick Jardine, UK

My memory is of going to play the fruit machines as a child on summer holiday in Cromer.

I had a two-bob bit.

One year I got 24 goes and the next year the same coin only got me 10 goes.

It was preparation for adult life.
D Thompson

I was nine when we left the good old lsd currency on the 15th February 1971.

My memory of the event is weekly radio school programmes teaching us the new currency, then returning home to teach my parents and grandparents.

Now we have a euro posed to replace our sovereign currency! As Ken Dood would say "By Jove missus!"
Derek Ashworth, UK

As a 25-year-old engineer I went to Saudi Arabia in 1971.

After three months I had to return to UK to renew my visa.

On my way back I went to the souk [market] in Jeddah to change Saudi riyahls into pounds, and refused to accept the "counterfeit" English money that the moneychangers with their safes in holes in the wall were offering me.

I needed a bootshine and confirmation from some of my more expereinced colleagues before I would accept the funny money.
Neil Woodcock, UK

I was 12 when we went decimal.

For some reason, D Day was a public holiday in Dundee, so my parents took my brother and me on a day trip to Edinburgh.

I recall buying a pack of paper tissues in Boots on Princes Street and getting my first decimal change in bright, shiny copper.

The coins that had a direct equivalence with old coinage or notes (5p, 10p, 50p) had been in circulation for some time, but the coins that equated to fractions of old pennies (1/2p, 1p, 2p) didn't appear until D Day itself.

Later in the day, we went to the Museum of Childhood and used up our old pennies in the "What the butler saw" machines there.

Four or five years ago, a street fruit seller in Harrow quoted "seven shillings" for some apples I was buying and I immediately replied, "35 pence". I hadn't realised I was still bilingual!
EA Richards, UK

I was in the Merchant Navy, and had been away for six months or so. First stop on arriving back in Avonmouth was a pub for a decent pint.

The barman tried to give me a 50-pence piece (A "Harold" - two faced and many sided) in change.

I told him it was a general cargo boat I was off, not a banana boat - he gave me a ten-bob note.

It was only later I discovered that a 50p was in fact British currency!
Paul Rutherford, UK

As a four-year old I just about remember having to hand all my pocket money over to my father to get it changed.

My mother was otherwise occupied given that this was also the day my sister arrived - Decimal Dooley, the maternity staff called her. Happy birthday, Sarah!
Mike Dooley, Sweden

In Feb 1971, I was six years old.

Because there had been advance notice of decimalisation, my parents had decided not to teach me "old money", although I think I still picked up the basics, mainly because the only things I bought were sweets, which cost less than one shilling.

I do remember seeing green and yellow price labels with both systems for some time at our village shop.
Jean Sinclair, UK

In the popular imagination decimalisation of the currency was seen as inflationary and a confidence trick on the public by government.

At the time the new currency was adequately explained right down to the new half penny worth 1.2d, and prices were printed on books for example in both sd and p as exact equivalents.

Yet to this day people still insist they were "conned" in some way by the authorities.
Benson Downey, UK

To help cement the new coinage, my brother and I were given a card game - New Money Snap!

This game was played like snap although you could shout SNAP when the previous card was a shilling and the following card was 5p and so on.

I to noticed that four fruit salads or Black Jacks used to cost 1d. It wasn't long before they became 1/2p each!
Mel Patten, UK

D Day, Feb 15 1971 was a sombre day for me - although only nine years old I was already a serious numismatist (coin collector) and the lady in the local sweetshop had been diligently putting aside any Victorian 'bun head' pennies she found each week.

Those days were soon over.

To this day the romance, history and beauty of these large, dark brown, bronze pennies - some dating back to 1860 - remains with me.


" It was the end of an era "

Nick, Russia ex-UK

D Day for me was thus the beginning of the end of collecting coins from my change.

No more "milk monitor" Monday mornings at primary school to look forward to, when I would take a modern cupro-nickel half crown in and fish through the bowl of coins I would take up to the school bursar and exchange it for half a crown's worth of real old silver coins.

It was the end of an era and one that even then I realised heralded greater standardisation and less variation in our "modern" lives.

Sure, learning long division in pounds, shilling and pence was a pain and decimal sums so much easier, but can you divide a decimal pound between three children in a way that avoids any unfairness? No.

You could with the old pound! (6/8 each, ie six shillings and eight pence).

Living overseas now I still enjoy baffling friends here with the arcane arts of counting money in a pound worth 20 shillings, with 12 pennies to the shilling etc.

Mostly they just think we British were mad.
Nick, Russia ex-UK

My parents ran a small business in 1971 selling and repairing cash registers which were mainly sold to small corner shops and the like in the North Midlands.

For us D Day was a great money spinner converting or selling new or dual machines.

I was 15 and remember the heartache and problems that D Day caused however.

Not only did prices rise and the general public had problems with the change-over, but the level of effort involved for small businesses to cope and manage was tremendous.

There was little help provided and a number of small corner shops went out of business simply because of this change.

I no longer reside in the UK but guess that a change to the Euro is the next major event on the horizon for the UK.
Clive, Australia, ex-UK

I was on an exercise in Kent in the army at the time of the change over.

When we returned after about two weeks none of us could get any goodies from the NAAFI because we still had the old money.

I wish we had converted everything to the metric system at that time and not wasted millions of tax payers' money over the next 30-odd years trying to make conversions piecemeal.
Phil Newman, UK

I was 14 in 1971 when we switched away from pounds, shillings and pence and my main memory is of the TV advertising campaign that tried to convince us that the switch would be so easy.

I have never seen anything since that has made such a dog's breakfast of a really simple concept - no wonder most folk wandered round in a state of total confusion. If you recall most people couldn't get a grip on the fact that both 4d and 5d were worth 2p in the new cash - significant when a Kit Kat was 4d and a Mars Bar 5d.

One of the reasons I'm anti-Euro is that I'm convinced that the Government would rehash those old ads...
Guy, UK

With the pending change-over of currency in February my wife had bought our four-year-old son a bag of plastic replicas of the new pence pieces.

They were identical in size and detail, and were a good learning tool for a youngster.

Our house was serviced by natural gas that we obtained through a pre-paid meter that took two-shilling pieces (which of course became ten new pence).

The system took both coins. It worked out that when the "Meter Man" called to empty one's meter you usually had over-paid and were entitled to a refund.

After 'D' day, however, our 1.80 refund was paid to us with 18 plastic ten-pence pieces - we had wondered where they were going.
Brian Fisher, Canada

I remember my latter years at Primary School (late sixties, beginning of Seventies)having lessons in the "new" money.

We all thought the same: "How on earth will we ever be able to calculate prices of anything?" At the time the thought of trying to convert Shillings into "New Pennies" was horrifying.

Looking back I can't believe we put up with the old currency for as long as we did. The other thing I distinctly remember was how everything became more expensive under the new system!
Richard Knight, UK

At the time of D Day I was working as a trainee cashier for Nat West Bank.

What was most striking was that the old coinage disappeared overnight, almost completely. Within 48 hours we never saw any of the pre-decimal coins which were not the same size and weight as their decimal counterparts.

The one- and two-shilling coins were initially the same size and weight as their 5p and 10p counterparts. But the big copper pennies, the three penny bits and "tanners" just vanished.

I liked the chunkiness of the old half-crowns, as was sorry to see those go.

We need a 5 coin now. Rob Davis, UK

I remember "D" day in 1971 - when I was five! At that time, my mum gave me 1p a day as pocket money.

I was on the way to the shop at lunch time, with my big, brown penny in my hand, and met a boy coming back from the shop.

"They won't take that," he said. "It's these now." He showed me a small shiny new 1 pence.

"Rubbish," I said, and then added, "Mine's bigger than yours!" (Come on, I was only five!)

The shop did take my old one penny (there must have been a period when both currencies were accepted) but you only got two chews for a penny instead of four.
Ian, Scotland

My best memory of the switch to decimal currency, which happened whilst I was in junior school, was playing "Decimal Bingo".

From memory, it was a card with pictures of the old and new coins on it, and the aim was to cover them all up based on those called out by the teacher.

Sadly there was no cash prize - just an extra portion of triangular cartoned warm milk!
Grant, UK

I worked for a large supermarket company (who have since vanished in a takeover) in 1971 as a management trainee. One of my tasks was to go round the branches teaching staff how to use the new currency.


" Prices did certainly rise "

Rob Tims, UK

Despite all the initial, "I'll never get used to it" most people did. However, prices did certainly rise, and I will always remember having to tell one elderly lady that sprouts now were 6p a pound, and not 6d as she thought.

Even now I still talk about 10 bob or half a crown, even though they have no meaning to most people. Just goes to prove, old habits die hard. Now, we are going metric - are we?
Rob Tims, UK

As a five-year-old I can remember going to the Post Office with a large handful of pennies, the contents of my piggy bank. I was sadly disappointed with the result.

The coins were so small. I vividly remember standing at the newsagents counter annoying my mum as she was trying to pay the paper bill, as I wanted to be sure that the lady at the Post Office counter had got it right.
Julia Davies

I remember feeling cheated. Our local corner shop used to sell home made 1d ice lollies, then overnight they doubled in price to 1p. We still had to ask for a "penny lolly please"!
Anthony Rose, UK


" I think crisps went up from 5d to 3p overnight... It seemed like an incredible rip-off "

Andrew, US (ex-UK)

I may be wrong, but I think crisps went up from 5d to 3p overnight. At 11 years old, it seemed like an incredible rip-off. Looking back, it still does ;-)
Andrew, US (ex-UK)

I was nine-years-old when decimalisation occurred, so my shopping would consist of sweets and crisps - what else was important? Anyway a packet of crisps used to cost 3d, but after decimalisation this converted to 1.25 that was rounded to 1p.

However, 2 packets would be 2.5p - no rounding needed here. A strange case of "bulk" buying being more expensive?
Simon Bull, UK

I was in the sixth form at the time, studying for A-levels. I remember being very amused by the jingles put out on TV by The Scaffold: "Use your old coppers in sixpenny lots" and "Give more - get change", as a way to supposedly help older people to weather the change.

The fact that The Scaffold were hairy freaks likely to disgust older people hadn't seemed to register with the planners.

The first major thing I bought was a 7" single record - a re-release of All along the watchtower and Hey Jo' by the Jimi Hendrix Experience at 37.5 new pence. Formerly the price of a single had been 7/6d so it seemed OK.
John Dean, Japan (ex-UK)

I was born in October 1965, and my sister in December 1967, so my parents chose not to teach us "old money" at all.

They welcomed the logic of decimal money and metric measurements. I began school in Jan 1971, so learned only decimal currency there. However, I do remember seeing green & yellow price stickers at the village VGH shop, showing both prices.
Jean Sinclair, UK

At the time of D-Day I was working as a trainee cashier for Nat West Bank.

The transition from l/s/d to decimal currency was easy in terms of the actual coinage, but far more traumatic was the dozens of adding machines which needed to be converted.

We were knee deep in NCR mechanics for weeks as they gradually made the necessary changes.

What was most striking however was that the old coinage disappeared overnight, almost completely.

Within 48 hours we never saw any of the pre-decimal coins which were not the same size and weight as their decimal counterparts.

The 1 and 2 shilling coins were initially the same size and weight as their 5p and 10p counterparts. But the big copper pennies, the three penny bits and "tanners" just vanished.

I liked the chunkiness of the old half-crowns, as was sorry to see those go.
Rob Davis, UK


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