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
The florin first appeared in 1849 with a value of 1/10th of a pound, or 10 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The Godless Florin was quickly withdrawn from circulation in 1851 and was replaced by a Gothic florin, which had the same design, but included the “D.G” inscription in an attempt to appease the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.
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 It was introduced in 1887 and featured the new Jubilee Head portrait of Queen Victoria, but it was withdrawn by the end of 1890 making it one of the shortest circulating denominations in British history.
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.
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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.
So to buy time to look for a solution, the government extended the national bank holiday on 3rd August to include Tuesday 4th, Wednesday 5th and Thursday 6th August – making this the longest bank holiday in British history!
The government decided that a large supply of banknotes had to be made available for the values of £1 and 10 shillings, making it easy for the public to make small transactions and to dissuade the hoarding of precious metal coins. 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.
And what’s more, the Treasury notes featured a portrait of King George V. Nowadays we’re used to seeing Her Majesty on our banknotes, but the Treasury notes were the first British notes to feature a portrait of the monarch. In fact, Bank of England notes would not display an image of the monarch until 1960.
Treasury notes played a vital role in keeping the economy moving during the First World War and for the first time in England and Wales, paper money became normal currency used by ordinary people.
These notes were born out of Britain’s longest bank holiday and now stand as some of the most interesting banknotes in notaphily history!
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Today you have the opportunity to own a FINE SILVER reproduction of the 3rd issue Treasury Note. Act now to secure this perfect banknote commemorative.
I am sure we have all dreamt of stumbling across a dusty old stamp collection or long forgotten silver coin secretly worth a small fortune hiding somewhere in the house.
Unfortunately I am yet to stumble across my fortune in the attic, but this dream recently came true for a grandmother from Hull when she found a 1644 Oxford Crown in her late grandfather’s coin collection.
While clearing out her attic she found a shoebox of coins she had inherited from her grandfather decades ago. She initially offered the collection to her children, who rejected what they saw as ‘worthless junk’.
She then considered binning her collection of relics, before making the decision to have the coins valued along with a number of other family heirlooms.
That’s when she discovered that amongst her collection was the incredibly rare 1644 Charles I Oxford Silver Crown. This coin was struck for just one year and is considered by many numismatic experts to be one of the most beautiful British coins ever produced.
Struck in 1644, this crown was minted while the country was in the midst of a Civil War. The coin features a portrait of King Charles I on horseback placed against a fantastic rendition of the City of Oxford which was his headquarters during the English Civil War.
It is no wonder that this coin is so highly valued. It is incredibly rare, the design is one of the most intricate ever struck on a British coin and it marks one of the most significant moments in our nation’s history – the English Civil War.
The historic coin is expected to reach in excess of £100,000 at auction and the owner plans to use the money to help her granddaughter, currently expecting her first child, to fund a house deposit.
I think it’s time for me to have another dig around in the attic!
If you’re interested…
For those not planning on bidding in the auction for this exceptionally rare coin, we have a limited stock of just 36 Silver-plated replicas available of the beautiful 1644 Oxford Crown. Click here to find out more >>>