For those of us under the age of 50, it is hard to imagine accounting in pounds, shillings and pence, a system whereby 12 pennies made a shilling and 20 shillings a pound. But that was the complex arithmetic our grandparents wrestled with and, moreover, was a system which they were reluctant to see disappear.
Decimalisation of currency was not a new concept and had been the subject of passionate debate for centuries.
Sir John Bowring was a prominent figure in the decimal debate.
'every man who looks at his ten fingers, saw an argument of its use, and an evidence of its practicability’
Sir John Bowring
1847 Speech in House of Commons
In fact, the first decimal coin appeared in 1849 when the florin, as one tenth of a pound, was introduced as a tentative step towards a complete decimal currency.
The florin survived but the Government of the day was cautious and hopes of decimalisation were dashed at that time.
It wasn’t until the majority of Commonwealth countries had already switched that a special Committee was put in place in 1961 to consider how and when Britain should change to a decimal currency.
On 1 March 1966 the Chancellor of the Exchequer, James Callaghan, announced that the centuries-old £sd system would be replaced by a decimal currency in which the pound would be divided into one hundred units. Pennies and pounds were favoured above foreign-sounding dollars and cents, and five new coins were decided upon. The shapes, designs and sizes of each were intended to make them readily distinguishable from each other and from what had gone before, yet enable them to run easily alongside £sd coinage for a short time.
The following decade was to be one of careful planning and Decimal Day was set for 15 February 1971.