Tomorrow on 28th October a Victorian £5 Banknote is set to sell at auction catalogued at up to £12,000! Now you might be wondering how an old piece of paper could be worth such an extortionate price. Well, even though it is over 150 years old, the banknote is in pristine condition – almost as if it has come straight from the Victorian Cashier who issued it himself!

The £5 Banknote, dated for the 28th December 1863 is a representation of the height of the industrial period and the advances made in Victorian Britain. In fact the design and printing technology was so advanced that the exact design was used up until 1956! You see, British Banknotes have an incredible history that is often overlooked in the collecting world…

The First UK Banknote

In 1694 King William III was at war with France, and as is often the case with warfare, the financial state of the nation was put under pressure. And so the Bank of England was established. One of its main jobs was to issue banknotes in return for deposits of gold or silver. It’s thought that the first banknote ever issued was one for £1000! But seeing as most people’s wages were less than £20 a year in those days, most people never saw a banknote.

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Each banknote was handwritten on bank paper addressed to the payee, and signed by a cashier to authenticate it –sort of like a modern day cheque. This is a tradition that continues today as each banknote is issued with the Chief Cashier’s signature.

“I promise to pay the barer on demand the sum of five pounds”

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Before 1853 banknotes were completely handwritten, but the innovation of the Victorian period meant that templates for banknotes could be printed. Therefore cashiers no longer had to sign each note individually. The words “I promise to pay the bearer on demand the sum of Five pounds” were introduced to link the notes to a physical gold value. In theory, anyone could go to the bank and ask them to give them £5 worth of gold in exchange for a £5 banknote, although the meaning has changed today, the tradition remains on the banknotes.

Emergency Wartime issues

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During the First World War, gold was preserved by the government and gold coins in circulation had to be withdrawn. To replace these coins, the Bank of England needed to make a large supply of £1 and 10/- notes available, but the haste at which these were produced meant that there were huge security problems. The notes were too small for cashiers to handle and they had very few anti-counterfeiting measures, but the notes themselves played a vital role in keeping the economy going.

The Second World War Nazi threat

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During World War Two, the British government found out about a Nazi plot to introduced thousands of fake banknotes to destabilise British currency. However the Bank of England took emergency action and changed the colour of some of the notes for the duration of the war. The Nazi’s could not match the high levels of security features on the British banknotes and their plans failed.

Polymer banknotes

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Today historic banknotes are harder and harder to get hold of, especially the ones in good condition, and those that are will often sell for thousands of pounds. Few have seen the earlier banknotes, and a small number of us remember using pre-decimal or war time banknotes in our childhoods. This is largely because the paper design which made them more susceptible to damage, so many have been lost over time. The new polymer banknotes first issued in 2016 marked a monumental change in numismatic history, bringing new technology and innovation to our pockets.


If you’re interested

Today you have the chance to own a limited edition pair of Emergency Wartime Banknote reproductions, each struck from 5g of FINE SILVER.

The Emergency Banknotes each carry a fascinating story, and your Silver versions come complete in a presentation folder telling the full story of how these banknotes helped Britain win the war.

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JUST 100 of these special FINE SILVER banknotes pairs are available, so click here to order yours now, before it’s too late >>

Whether you love them or hate them, it’s fair to say that when the Bank of England issued the very first polymer banknotes, UK currency was revolutionised. As well as refreshing the designs of the notes, these polymer versions were considered a cleaner, safer and stronger alternative.

In 2016 it was the £5 that received the first makeover, and Winston Churchill was selected to feature on the note. Jane Austen soon followed on the £10 note and now, as chosen by the British public, renowned artist JMW Turner graces the new £20 polymer note.

But it’s not only the design that makes this note special. You see, the Bank of England have described this note as the most secure banknote yet. So, I’m of course curious to see what special security features have been worked into the design of our newest banknote…

Britain’s most secure banknote

Before the revolutionary polymer £20 came along, there were over 2 billion £20 paper notes in circulation. The sheer volume of them made the £20 note Britain’s most used, and consequently most forged, banknote.

So it’s understandable that the need to make it difficult to counterfeit was at the forefront of the designer’s mind! The result? A whole host of special features that make it harder to forge and stand out from other notes in circulation.

Let’s take a closer look at some of the security features incorporated into the design:

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Front of 2020 polymer £20 note. Credit: Bank of England
  • Transparent windows – the foil in the large see-through window is blue and gold on the front, and silver on the back. Plus, there’s a second, smaller window in the bottom corner.
  • Changing holograms – the hologram beneath the large clear pane will alternate between reading ‘Twenty’ and ‘Pounds’ depending on what way you tilt the note.
  • The Queen’s portrait in the transparent window – the Queen’s portrait is printed on the window with ‘£20 Bank of England’ printed twice around the edge.
  • Foil patches – a silver foil patch contains a 3D image of the coronation crown. There is a second purple foil patch which contains the letter ‘T’.
  • Ultra-violet technology – under UV light, the number ’20’ appears in bright red and green on the front of the note, against a duller background.
  • Raised dots – you’ll find three clusters of raised dots in the top left hand corner. This tactile feature helps blind and partially sighted people identify the value of the note.

JMW Turner design

When choosing the design for the £20 note, the Bank of England were spoilt for choice. They received over 29,000 nominations submitted by the general public. And the choice to select JMW Turner makes him the first British artist to ever feature on a UK banknote.

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Back of 2020 polymer £20 note. Credit: Bank of England

The note itself features Turner’s 1799 self-portrait, which is currently housed in the Tate Modern in London. And behind this you’ll notice one of his most recognisable works – The Fighting Temeraire. This famous painting is a tribute to the ship that played a pivotal role in in Nelson’s victory at the Battle of Trafalgar in 1805.

The final nod to Turner in the design comes from the quote “light is therefore colour”, alongside the signature taken from his will. The quote is taken from a lecture Turner gave in 1818 and is a reference to his innovative use of light, shade, colour and tone.

What do you think about the new £20 Polymer note? Let us know in the comments!


If you’re interested…

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If you’re looking for a way to own this significant, revolutionary piece of British currency, then look no further than the UK 2020 £20 Polymer Banknote DateStamp™ issue. Each DateStamp™ issue has been postmarked by Royal Mail with the note’s first day of release – 20th February 2020 – forever ensuring its provenance.

First issues are always valued by collectors and by owning the DateStamp™ issue you will be one of just 2,500 collectors able to forever mark the date the new £20 polymer banknote entered circulation. We have a limited number available, so click here to find out more >>

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.

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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.

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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.

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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!


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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 >>