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All Change: Decimalisation









money snap

Set fair for D Day

Decimal Currency Board Newsletter, August 1970


By August 1970, with the future of the sixpence at least temporarily resolved, the Decimal Currency Board could claim that preparations for D Day were well on course.

Conversion of business machines and computers was largely complete or the subject of firm planning, while surveys of retailers showed that the vast majority had taken some steps to prepare for D Day. Similar surveys were revealing that even among the general public there was a healthy and increasing awareness of the change and, what was to be a vital factor in the success of the whole operation, no real hostility to the notion of decimalisation.

With a few months still to go, the Royal Mint had produced hundreds of millions of the new coins. The stockpile of decimal bronze coins was virtually finished, having been struck not at the existing Royal Mint in London but at a new Royal Mint at Llantrisant in South Wales opened by the Queen in December 1968.

The problem had now become one of ensuring that these coins were in the right places at the right times and in the right numbers: that there might be local shortages of new coins on D Day was a disaster too awful to contemplate.

As well as this logistical headache, the Decimal Currency Board was just as concerned in the final weeks in winning over the hearts and minds of the British public by means of a short, concentrated campaign of basic information and practical advice. Advertisements in the press and on television were accompanied by simple and direct posters, and the Board attempted to deliver a booklet to every household in the country. Though its arrangements were somewhat hampered by the inconvenience of a postal strike, no fewer than twenty million booklets were eventually distributed.

The booklet intended for every household in the country



...quietly comes and goes

The Scotsman, 16 February 1971


D Day had long been set for Monday 15 February 1971. On the preceding Wednesday afternoon banks closed their doors to enable them to clear cheques and to balance and convert accounts; the Stock Exchange also closed; and on Friday it was the turn of Post Offices to cease business. On Sunday D Day was anticipated by British Railways and London Transport, and there was little doubt that the public could expect to wake up to a decimal Britain on Monday morning.

And so it proved, with an immediate and massive switch to decimal trading. The public was assisted by the prominent display of old and new prices and the larger department stores had specially trained members of staff available to offer assistance to anyone confused by the change. But D Day went so well that the next day it was not even the main story in many of the national newspapers. The only discordant note was struck by criticism of the small size of the ½p and the fear that traders had taken the opportunity to increase prices.

Little more than a week after D Day the United Kingdom was for practical purposes a decimal country. For the moment old pennies and threepenny bits could still be used but so successful was the change that within a couple of weeks they had all but disappeared. Indeed, the transitional period was brought to an end on 31 August 1971, months ahead of schedule, and it was possible to enquire, as many did, what all the fuss had been about.

That such a question could be asked was an unspoken, but deserved, acknowledgement of a quiet revolution brilliantly accomplished.