The Decimal Debate:

Decimalisation was by far the most fundamental and far-reaching revision of our monetary system for more than a thousand years; there had, of course, been many changes in the past but this was particularly extensive in that shapes, designs and denominations of all coins were to alter more or less simultaneously.

Decimalisation had been the subject of passionate debate for centuries since 'every man who looked at his ten fingers, saw an argument of its use, and an evidence of its practicability'.

The first decimal coin in Britain came in 1849 and, indicating the reason for its appearance, the words 'one tenth of a pound' were incorporated into the reverse design; it was a beautiful coin, but it was christened the 'Godless Florin' because the Latin words for 'by the Grace of God' and 'Defender of the Faith' had been omitted.

By 1960, the majority of the Commonwealth countries had already switched, or were in the process of switching, to the more convenient decimal system and as a 'practical business decision' the need for coinage reform in Britain became increasingly urgent; consequently, the Committee of Inquiry, appointed in 1961 and chaired by the Earl of Halsbury, was asked to consider not just whether, or not, Britain was to decimalise but also how the changeover was to be effected; a majority of the committee opted in favour of a pound based on 100 decimal pence, the Government announced its decision to embrace the Committee's recommendations in 1966, and D-Day was set for the 15th February 1971.

Numismatic Ancestry:

It was agreed that the new coins should bear the Queen's portrait by Arnold Machin approved in 1964 and already in use on coins of Australia, New Zealand and Canada but the reverses of all the decimal coins were to be quite new; eventually chosen was a series submitted by Christopher Ironside and, in the words of the then Deputy Master, Sir Jack James 'although new in style have for the most part a long Numismatic Numismatic ancestry'.

The 50p coin joined the first five coins later; its unusual shape, an equilateral curve heptagon, made it the world's first seven sided coin; originally Christopher Ironside, suggested an intricate arrangement of the Royal Arms, but eventually chosen was his elegant portrait of Britannia.

D-Day and Beyond:

The first of the new coins, the 5p and 10p, entered circulation in April 1968; although bearing new heraldic designs, they corresponded exactly in size and value to the shillings and florins and were able to run easily alongside them as their 'decimal twins'; the following year the new 50p coin replaced the 10 shilling note and in the following months, the public received constant reminders of the looming changeover.

Thus, on D-Day itself the country was well prepared, if perhaps braced for a certain amount of chaos; but D-Day came and went, negotiated far more smoothly than anyone had ever dared to hope and the new coins took their place in numismatic history.

Since decimalisation the coinage has been reviewed several times and has continued to evolve in step with the times; the 6d was finally de-monetised in 1980 and the 1/2p disappeared in 1984; the 20p was introduced in 1982, the 1 coin made its debut in 1983; the 5p and 10p were re-sized in 1990 and 1992, which meant the demise of the shilling and florins, whilst the smaller 50p coin entered circulation in 1997; this means that, from 1992, every coin in circulation has carried the head of the reigning monarch, something that has not happened since medieval times.

UK Coinage (Pre-Decimalisation)

Farthing: Half Penny: Penny: Threepence: Sixpence:

Shilling: Florin: Half Crown: Crown: Sovereign:


UK Decimal Coinage

UK Decimal Coinage (2012)


One Pence Coin

Two Pence Coin

Five Pence Coin


Ten Pence Coin

Twenty Pence Coin

Fifty Pence Coin



One Pound Coin

Two Pound Coin

Five Pound Coin

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