Ten Facts About...

Ten Facts About the Pound Sterling

Find out about the Great British Pound, the currency used in the United Kingdom and various other places around the world. Here are ten facts about the Pound.

Fact One

The Pound isn't only used in the United Kingdom. As well as being used in the independent islands of Jersey, Guernsey and the Isle of Man surrounding the British Isles, the currency is used as far away as the Antarctic (at least in the part Britain claims anyway - not sure how many shops there are there though!), the Falkland Islands, and a few islands in the mid and South Atlantic. In most of these places, a local version of the currency is used, and cannot be used in other Pound-using territories.

Fact Two

Various banks in the United Kingdom are permitted to issue banknotes. The Bank of England issues notes for use in England and Wales. The Bank of Scotland, Royal Bank of Scotland and Clydesdale Bank issue notes for Scotland. Notes in Northern Ireland are issued by Bank of Ireland, First Trust Bank, Danske Bank and Ulster Bank. However, notes issued by the Scottish and Northern Irish are not actually legal tender! What this means is that they don't have to be accepted as payment for an item but exist as a kind of promise to pay, a bit like a cheque. Even so, they will be accepted everywhere in their own countries and will usually get accepted in most places in England and Wales, perhaps with a bit of hesistance! Notes issued by the Bank of England are legal tender in England and Wales and have to be accepted everywhere as payment for goods in those countries.

Fact Three

The Pound Sterling currency is made up of several coins and notes. In common everyday use in the UK are 1p, 2p, 5p, 10p, 20p, 50p, £1 and £2 coins and £5, £10, £20 and £50 notes. £1 notes are also issued in Guernsey, Jersey, the Isle of Man, and in Scotland by the Royal Bank of Scotland. £100 notes are also issued in these areas, in addition to Northern Ireland. £1 notes were taken out of circulation by the Bank of England in 1988. Commemorative 25p an £5 coins have been produced, and can be accepted as payment for goods. No 25p coin has been produced since 1981, the last being to commemorate the wedding of Prince Charles and Lady Diana.

Fact Four

Decimalisation came into effect in 1971. It was basically a replacement of the old style money which included such weird and wonderful coins and notes like farthings, florins, threepenny pieces, crowns, half crowns and guineas. 5p and 10p coins were introduced in 1968, being the same shape and size and of equal value to 1 shilling and 2 shillings. 50p coins were introduced in 1969 (replacing 10 shilling notes), and the ½ penny, 1p and 2p coins were introduced in 1971. Certain old coins continued to be legally accepted for a while after the introduction of decimalisation. The old sixpence coin could be used as 2½p until 1980. 1 shilling coins could be used until 1990 and 2 shilling coins until 1993. They were taken out of circulation only because the sizes of the 5p and 10p coins were reduced. 20p coins were introduced in 1982, £1 coins in 1983 and £2 coins in 1998. ½p coins were taken out of circulation in 1984.

Fact Five

Also in existence are £1 million notes and £100 million notes. These are known as Giants and Titans respectively. These are held by Scottish and Northern Irish banks. This is because they have to hold the equal amount in pound sterling as the notes that they issue in their own currency. 

Fact Six

During the Second World War, Nazi Germany produced large quantities of counterfeit British sterling notes to devalue the currency and destabilise the British economy. By the end of the war in 1945, 12% of the value of the notes in existence were forgeries. Britain responded by taking notes of higher denominations out of use and putting metal threads through the notes that they produced. These metal threads are still found in currency today.

Fact Seven

Although an image of the reigning monarch of the United Kingdom has appeared on coins for at least 1000 years (and was quite often the only way a person living in the country would know what their monarch looked liked), the first monarch to appear on Bank of England banknotes was King George V who made a brief appearance on £1 and 10 shilling notes issued during the First World War. A portrait of Queen Elizabeth II has appeared on all Bank of England banknotes since 1960.

Fact Eight

On the opposite side of Bank of England notes are images of famous British people. Currently, Elizabeth Fry is on the back of £5 notes, Charles Darwin is on the back of £10 notes, Adam Smith is on the back of £20 notes and James Watt and his business partner Matthew Boulton appear on £50 notes. Sir John Houblon is on £50 notes but is due to be replaced by James Watt and his business partner Matthew Boulton. Previous famous faces on the notes are Sir Isaac Newton (£1 notes from 1978), the Duke of Wellington (£5 notes from 1971 to 1990), George Stephenson (£5 notes from 1990 to 2003), Florence Nightingale (£10 notes from 1975 to 1994), Charles Dickens (£10 notes from 1992 to 2003), William Shakespeare (£20 notes from 1970 to 1993), Michael Faraday (£20 notes from 1991 to 2001), Sir Edward Elgar (£20 notes from 1999 to 2010), Sir Christopher Wren (£50 notes from 1981 to 1996) and Sir John Houblon (£50 notes from 1994 to 2014). Sir Winston Churchill will be the face of £5 notes from 2016, when polymer notes are introduced, followed by Jane Austen in 2017 on £10 notes.

Fact Nine

Whenever the Royal Mint produces coins, it marks them with the date of production. However, in 2009 it mistakenly allowed some 20p coins into circulation without dates. About 200,000 went into circulation. Several turned up on online auction sites for sale at many times their actual monetary value.

Fact Ten

Got a pocketful of change? Shopkeepers are legally allowed to refuse to accept payment for items if you try to give them too much small change. If they want to, they can refuse to accept more than 20p in 1p and 2p coins, more than £5 in 5p and 10p coins and more than £10 in 20p and £50p coins.

Facts added 16th September 2011, updated 20th October 2015