Whilst we’re fast moving towards a cashless society, the change in bank notes, both in look and feel, can’t go unnoticed. One of the most notable differences is the change in material. The new notes are printed on polymer – a thin and flexible plastic material whilst the old were printed on a special paper. And the reason? Apart from the obvious durability aspect, they’re cleaner and more secure, limiting your chances of being stuck with a counterfeit note.
So just how much do you know about the notes in your pocket?
Starting with the £5 note.
There have been five different portraits of the queen on our banknotes since 1960, and the 1990 version is present on all of our notes today. With the queen on the front, Sir Winston Churchill features on the back of the new £5. UK Prime Minister from 1940-1945, and from 1951-1955, Churchill was also an artist and writer, winning the Nobel Prize for literature in 1953. His presence on the note takes over from Elizabeth Fry, born in 1780 and remembered for her extensive work in prison reform, improving the care of prisoners.
About your £5 notes:
- The clear window has ‘£5 Bank of England’ printed twice around the edge.
- It’s around 15% smaller than the old paper £5.
- It’s the only new polymer note not to have a cluster of raised dots in the top left corner. This in itself is used to identify the value of the note for blind or partially sighted people.
- Under a quality ultra violet light, the number 5 appears in bright green and red, whilst the background stays dull.
- As of February 2017, £1,2bn worth of £5 notes were in circulation.
The old paper note was withdrawn from circulation on the 5th of May 2017.
Next, the £10.
Issued on the 14th September 2017, the new note is fronted by The Queen, and on the reverse, replacing Charles Darwin, is a portrait of Jane Austen. Austen was an English Novelist who died in 1817, at the age of 41, and buried at Winchester Cathedral, which you’ll see as the foil image over the note window. The launch of the new £10 note in 2017 marks the 200th anniversary of her death.
Some features of the new note:
- Like the £5 note, it’s around 15% smaller than the old paper £10.
- There are clusters of raised dots in the top left hand corner, helping blind or partially sighted people identify the value.
- The £ symbol in the window is silver on the front, and copper on the back.
- The number 10, and the words ‘Bank of England’ are raised in print.
- As of February 2017, 801 million £10 notes were in circulation.
The old £10 note ceased to be a legal tender on 1st March 2018.
The most popular, £20.
At the time of publishing, the new Polymer £20 hasn’t yet gone into circulation, but the featured character has been decided. Despite David Attenborough being named as the favourite to appear, it has in fact gone to J.M.W. Turner, and will be issued in 2020. As of February 2017, the £20 note is the most popular, with over 2 billion in circulation, and the reverse is occupied by Adam Smith, a Scottish philosopher and political economist.
At risk of revealing some spoilers, Your new £20 note will:
- Feature Turners 1799 self-painted portrait on the reverse, currently on display in the Tate Britain.
- Also include one of Turners paintings, ‘The Fighting Temeraire’ a tribute to the ship HMS Temeraire.
- Display the quote ‘Light is therefore colour’ from one of his lectures in 1818.
- Show Turner’s signature from his Will.
Our largest denomination, the £50 note:
The £50 note is also still in special paper form at the time of publishing, and there are currently no proposals to introduce a polymer version, sparking speculation that they could be scrapped altogether.
Currently, along with The Queen on the front, Matthew Boulton and James Watt feature on the reverse, the only current note to feature 2 characters. Boulton was a leading entrepreneur of the Industrial Revolution. Watt, an engineer and scientist, was the great improver of the steam engine. He introduced the term ‘horsepower’, and perhaps the most notable fact about James Watt, is the metric unit of power is named after him.
In 1775 Boulton and Watt entered a partnership to develop and market steam engines.
Current security features of the £50 note include;
- A metallic thread, embedded in every bank note and appears as a dark continuous line when held up to the light.
- A watermark, an image of The Queens portrait and a bright £50 again, when held up to the light.
- Microlettering, able to be seen under a microscope, is lettering beneath The Queens portrait.
Facts of Note
- Genuine Bank of England banknotes that have been withdrawn from circulation retain their face value for all time and can be exchanged at the Bank of England.
- After the character field is decided upon by the bank, Members of the public have two months to nominate candidates relevant to the Bank's field.
- There used to be a £1 note, issued on 17th March 1960
- Characters to have a presence on past bank notes include the following: Charles Dickens (writer), Sir Edward Elgar (composer), Michael Faraday (scientist), Sir John Houblon (first Governor of the Bank of England), Sir Isaac Newton (scientist), Florence Nightingale (nursing), William Shakespeare (poet/playwright), George Stephenson (engineer), 1st Duke of Wellington (general/statesman), Sir Christopher Wren (architect), Elizabeth Fry (Philanthropist)