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The fascinating history of the ‘Ten Bob’ banknote…

The 10 Shilling Note, or ‘ten bob’, was a goodly sum in the old days – in the 1960’s it could buy 6 pints of beer, 10 loaves of bread, or 17 pints of milk.

It’s hard to imagine its decimal equivalent, the 50p, buying so much these days!

This old banknote has a fascinating history, from being issued by the Government in a wartime emergency, changing colour to avoid forgery from the Nazis and eventually being replaced by the world’s most popular coin.

The Emergency Banknote

In August 1914, the British economy was in turmoil because of the instability brought on by the oncoming war on the continent. Bankers and politicians were desperately looking for ways to secure Britain’s finances and prevent the banks from collapsing.

10 shillings 1st Series 1914 2006046a 3 - The fascinating history of the ‘Ten Bob’ banknote…
1914 10 Shilling Banknote

The Government decided that a large supply of banknotes had to be made available for the value of 10 shillings, making it easy for the public to make small transactions. However, The Bank of England was not able to prepare and print the required number of notes quickly enough, so the Government took the unprecedented step of deciding to issue the notes itself.

These banknotes became known as the Treasury banknotes and were unlike anything the British public had ever seen. Until this point the lowest denomination banknote was £5, and in those days this was such a large sum that many people would never have seen or used a banknote before.

That means that these Treasury notes now stand out as the first widely circulated banknotes in England.

The Wartime colour change

In 1928, the responsibility for printing Ten Shilling Notes was transferred to the Bank of England.

However, not long afterwards Britain once again found itself at war, and again found its currency under threat.

During World War II, Nazi Germany hatched a plan to undermine British currency. Through Operation Bernhard they believed that they had discovered a method to manufacture counterfeit ‘White Fivers’ and planned to distribute these in huge numbers to destabilise the British currency.

10 shillings emergency wartime issue 19790321 1 - The fascinating history of the ‘Ten Bob’ banknote…
Second World War 10 Shilling Banknote

The Bank of England decided to take preventative action and, as a result, the 10 Shilling note was changed for duration of the war to a distinctive pink and blue in an attempt to prevent counterfeiting. It was also revolutionary in the progression of banknote technology by incorporating a metal security thread.

The Nazis could not compete with this high level anti-forgery technology and hence the British 10 Shilling Note stayed strong and supported the British wartime economy as it had done since its conception.

The 50p revolution

After undergoing a colour change during the Second World War, the ‘ten bob’ note reverted to the familiar red-brown until 1961, when a new design featuring a portrait of Queen Elizabeth II was introduced.

Despite a new design for the 10 Shilling Note featuring Sir Walter Raleigh on the reverse being approved in 1964, as part of the process of decimalisation it was dropped in favour of the new fifty pence coin introduced in 1969.

50th Anniversary of the 50p Coin Pair 1969 - The fascinating history of the ‘Ten Bob’ banknote…
1969 ‘New Pence’ 50p coin

The principle reason for the change was to save the treasury money, the notes had an average lifetime of around five months, whereas a coin could last for fifty years. The 50p has since gone on to become the world’s most popular and collected coin, but nowadays few realise the fascinating history of its predecessor, the 10 Shilling Banknote!


AT DateStamp 10 Shilling Pack Front 002 300x208 - The fascinating history of the ‘Ten Bob’ banknote…

If you’re interested…

It’s now been 50 years since the last 10 Shilling Banknote was issued – which is why you now have the chance to pay tribute to this famous old note with a LIMITED EDITION DateStamp™. But only a very limited number of 10 Shilling Notes will be released in this way, so you’ll need to be quick if you want to secure one for your collection! Click here to order one today >>