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All Change: Decimalisation

...as clear and simple as possible

Royal Mint, design brief for decimal coins, November 1966


For most people the milestones between the announcement of 1966 and D Day in 1971 were marked by changes to the coinage – by the withdrawal of certain of the old £sd coins and the phased introduction of new decimal coins. Indeed, of the tasks that fell directly on the government, physically the most important was the production of the new coins by the Royal Mint.

Even to settle the dimensions of the decimal coins was not easy. Not only did the different denominations need to be readily distinguishable by sight and touch from each other but they also needed to avoid being confused with existing £sd coins. At the same time there was a desire to take advantage of the change by reducing the size and weight of the coinage so as to make it less troublesome to transport and less demanding of pockets and purses.

Stages in the development of the Machin portrait, which the Queen approved in June 1964
Stages in the development of the Machin portrait, which the Queen approved in June 1964







The Queen examines the decimal designs with Christopher Ironside (right) and the Deputy Master of the Royal Mint, Jack James

As for their designs, these had to an extent been anticipated and a new portrait of the Queen by Arnold Machin had already been prepared and approved with decimal coinage in mind.

For the reverses similar preparatory work was set aside in favour of a public competition, announced in November 1966. More than 80 artists took part and from the 900 or so designs that were received a series by Christopher Ironside was eventually approved. These, for the ½p, 1p, 2p, 5p and 10p pieces, were unveiled in February 1968 and drew praise for the lack of clutter that the design brief had urged on the artists.

1849 florin (obv&rev)