It was Tuesday 14th October 1969 and a new 50-pence coin sparked confusion among the British population. The seven-sided 50p coin had come into circulation to replace the 10-shilling note but had received a mixed reception. It was the third decimal coin to be introduced into the British currency – a currency that was scheduled to go totally decimal on Monday 15th February, 1971 – day to be known as D-Day!
The British public had already got accustomed to the new 5p and 10p coins that had been introduced in 1968. Today’s new arrival was made of cupro-nickel and was, according to Lord Fiske, the chairman of the Decimal Currency Board, the only heptagonal coin in circulation in the world.
However some shopkeepers, bus conductors and members of the public were complaining that, in spite of its distinctive shape, it is too easily confused with the 10-pence coin or half crown. One Londoner told the Evening News that he had accidentally left a 50p coin in a saucer full of 10ps as a tip for a waiter. “Fortunately the waiter was dead honest and told me. But I suspect there’ll be a lot of cases where that doesn’t happen,” he said.
The Decimal Currency Board had stockpiled some 120 million 50-pence coins at banks around the country ready for this day’s introduction of the coin, making it the largest ever issue of a new coin. Lord Fiske said the reason for this was to replace the 200 million ‘ten-bob notes’ as soon as possible and added that the issue would eventually save the Treasury money.
He said that “the note is being replaced primarily on economic grounds. A 10s note has a life of some five months and the costs of distribution and withdrawal are comparatively high. Although a 50p coin will cost more to produce initially, it should have a life of at least 50 years and the metal will subsequently be recoverable.”
None the less, many people were unhappy with the new addition to their purses and pockets. There was also still three coins left to come – the 2p worth 4.8d, 1p (2.4d) and half pence (1.2d). No doubt we’ll come to these in due time.