This year marks the 50th anniversary of the Decimalisation of our currency. On 15th February 1971, known as Decimal Day (or D-Day), the country switched to the decimal currency (based on multiples of 10 and 100) that we are familiar with today. But what happened on that day, and why is it important to collectors?

Before then, Britain used a monetary system that dated thousands of years back to the Roman Empire! The problem with the old Pounds, Shillings, and Pence system (sometimes called ‘old money’) is that it was based on multiples of 12 and 240. This made it quite confusing – there were 12 pennies in a shilling and 240 pennies in a pound, and 20 shillings made a pound – certainly not easy to add up in your head!

We get a lot of questions about Decimalisation, so before we celebrate the anniversary next month, we’ve answered some of your top questions about the biggest change to UK currency ever!

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A collection of pre-decimal British coins.

What were the coins called before Decimalisation?

The Pounds (£), Shillings (/-) and Pence (d) system included lots of coins with very different names to today’s coinage. A lot of these coins were given slang nicknames, such as ‘thrupence’ or ‘thrupny bit’ for a threepence, or a tanner for a sixpence. A Shilling was sometimes called a ‘bob’, and a ten shilling note would often be referred to as a ‘ten-bob‘ note.

Pre-decimal CoinAmountDecimal Equivalent
Halfpenny½d.5⁄24p ≈ 0.208p
Penny1d.5⁄12p ≈ 0.417p
Threepence3d.1¼p
Sixpence6d.2½p
Shilling1/-5p
Florin2/-10p
Half Crown2/612½p
Crown5/-25p

Who was the first country to go decimal?

Did you know the UK wasn’t the first country to go decimal? In fact, as early as 1704 Russia introduced the Ruble which was equal to 100 Kopecks, making it the first country to have a decimal coin. It was followed by France which introduced the Franc in 1795. Although the UK was one of the last to turn decimal, discussions first started in Britain as early as the 1820s, but the idea didn’t take off well with the public so it wasn’t until 150 years later that it actually happened.

When were the first decimal coins issued?

The first new decimal coins were actually issued before decimal day in 1971 – three years earlier in fact! In 1968 the plans for decimalisation were set in motion. To try and help the public acclimatise to the new decimal coins, the 5p and 10p, were issued, followed by the 50p a year later in 1969. This meant that the coins circulated alongside their pre-decimal siblings (Shilling, Florin, and 10 bob note) and were used interchangeably. By 1971 when the pre-decimal coinage ceased to be legal tender, only 3 new coins would be introduced (Half pence, one pence, two pence), making the jump to decimal currency a little easier for the public.

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Britain’s first decimal coins, including the halfpenny.

Why did the banks close for four whole days?

In 1971, very few banks used digital systems so on 10th February the banks closed for four days until Decimal Day. This allowed all outstanding cheques to be cleared in old money and all customers accounts to be converted into decimal coinage – and because most banks weren’t computerised, this had to be done manually! February was actually chosen as it was the quietest time of year for banks, shops, and public transport. It’s hard to imagine the banks closing for four days in a row now!

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A pre-decimal 10 Shilling note, often referred to as a ‘ten bob’ note.

How did people compare between the two currencies?

Many people worried about shopkeepers inflating the prices of products during the changeover, but with a public information campaign that ran for almost 2 years prior, many people already had some idea of the conversions. And to help, currency convertors were made available to people, and shops displayed the prices in both currencies before and after Decimal Day. People could also continue to pay in old money, but they would receive their change in new money.

It took some time, but soon the decimal currency became familiar to everyone and continues to be the biggest change to UK coinage in thousands of years. In the lead up to the 50th anniversary, we’ll be issuing a series of blogs telling you all you need to know about this iconic moment in numismatic history, so make sure to stay tuned!

If you’re interested:

You can commemorate the 50th anniversary of Decimalisation now with the Historic Decimal Coins Collection! Including an ORIGINAL Decimal Coin Wallet, BRAND NEW BU 50p, and a FREE replica booklet. Click here to secure your Historic Decimal Coins Collection for JUST £29.99!

Historic Decimal Collection 2021 and decimal coin wallet product page image DY - Decimalisation: Your top five questions answered

It’s not often that you see a complete set of historic stamps with such monumental importance. And it’s even rarer for those stamps to be alongside a complete set of coins of the same year, in this case 1953.

But the Queen Elizabeth II Complete Coronation Stamp and Coin Collection has both of these highly collectable items, and it has a tiny edition limit of 495!

So, join Adam as he takes a closer look at what is surely the perfect collector’s tribute to Queen Elizabeth II.


If you’re interested…

UK 1953 coronation coin and stamp set box - Unboxing a complete set of 1953 coins and stamps

Click here to be one of JUST 495 collectors to own the The Queen Elizabeth II Coronation Coin and Stamp Collection >>

In 1971 the UK switched to a decimal currency, leaving the old £sd (pounds, shillings and pence) behind and introducing the decimalised coins we know today. You might even remember decimal day yourself, or using conversion charts and rhymes to learn the new currency. And if you’re like me, then you’ll probably remember the excitement of seeing the new coins in your change. 

But decimalisation actually started under Queen Victoria, when two new decimal denominations were introduced. These were coins that were blamed for sickness, famine, and the unemployment of barmaids. In fact, they were so controversial that decimalisation had to be delayed for over a century!

The Godless Florin

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1849 Victorian Florin – nicknamed the ‘Godless Florin’

The florin first appeared in 1849 with a value of 1/10th of a pound, or 24 pence. It was rumoured to have borrowed its name from a similar shaped coin from the Netherlands and was issued as a test to help the public warm to decimalised currency. However, its introduction didn’t go as well as hoped. 

The Gothic Head portrait of Victoria was used on the first florins that were issued, and it featured the monarch wearing a crown for the first time in over 200 years. Another unusual design change was the exclusion of the abbreviation “D.G”, meaning “by the grace of God”. In a society where religion was important, the coin was thought to have angered God, so it became known as the ‘Godless Florin’ and was reportedly blamed for Cholera outbreaks and famine at the time.

The Godless Florin was quickly withdrawn from circulation in 1851 and was replaced by a Gothic florin, which had the same design, but included the “D.G” inscription in an attempt to appease the public.

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Left: 1851 Victorian Florin with ‘D.G’ inscription, Right: 1849 ‘Godless’ Florin

The Barmaid’s Ruin

Attempt number two at decimalisation came in the form of a double florin, equivalent to 1/5th of a pound. It was introduced in 1887 and featured the new Jubilee Head portrait of Queen Victoria, but it was withdrawn by the end of 1890 making it one of the shortest circulating denominations in British history.

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1887 Double Florin, nicknamed ‘The Barmaid’s Ruin’

One of the features that makes the double florin stand out in history is that it was almost indistinguishable from the crown coin. Neither carried the denomination and the only difference between the two, apart from the value, was that the double florin was 2mm smaller – not something that was easy to spot by eye.

This meant that the coins were easily confused, and the story goes that crafty patrons would trick barmaids into accepting the double florin as a crown. The double florin then became known as the ‘barmaid’s ruin’, because this act resulted in barmaids losing their jobs.

The first attempts at decimalisation happened over 170 years ago, and although the double florin was withdrawn from circulation after just four mint years , the florin was much more successful, surviving until 1993 before it was demonetised. It circulated alongside the 10p coin, which was introduced in 1968 to try and help the public warm to decimalisation – this time it was finally successful!

The Victorians experienced monumental changes in culture, industry, technology, and empire in their time, but it seems they just weren’t ready for the change of their currency.


Queen Victoria Double Florin Main 300x208 - The Victorian coins that were meant to transform our currency…but were blamed for famine instead.

If you’re interested…

Own a piece of history with the ‘Barmaid’s ruin’, the coin that caused barmaid’s to lose their jobs. Click here to order it today>>>