August 15th. 2023.
Monday 4th September.
Monday 2nd October.
Meetings are held at the Abbey Baptist Church, Abbey Square, commencing at 7.00 p.m.
We began the meeting with apologies from Gavin, Tony and Zheng.
Our July meeting was on the Twentieth Century Pound by Alastair Mackay. Alastair began by reminding us of the famous quote from Harold Wilson about the ‘pound in your pocket’ and pointing out that at the start of the 20th Century there were almost five US dollars to the pound, we were the center of World finance and on the Gold standard. Since then things have got gradually worse, the Gold standard was abandoned in World War I, after the Wall Street Crash the pound floated till the start of World War II. After WWII we were into the Bretton Woods era, which related currencies to one another within a narrow band. During this time the pound was down to $2-80, Bretton Woods ended about 1971 and currencies have been pretty much floating since then.
The Wilson Government had devalued the pound by 14% to about $2-40 but after 1976 it floated between $1-2 and almost reached parity in 2016 after the Brexit vote.
So what was a pound really worth in 1900? It was worth one sovereign i.e. 8gms of gold, you could get a pint of beer for 2d (120 pints for a pound) something that went up to 3d at the start of WWI and had doubled to 6d by the end of it. The average house price for a small house was £270, though it had been much higher in earlier Victorian times. The average income was £42.7, with very large variations, such that a live in maid might be on only £6 a year.
Alastair then showed us the mintage figures for sovereigns up until the start of WWI, with mints established in Melbourne, Sydney, Perth and Ottawa. Sovereigns from Ottawa (mint mark C) are very scarce.
Once we were off the Gold standard, the Government issued Treasury notes, known as Bradburys, since they were signed by Secretary to the Treasury Thomas Bradbury. Government had authorised Banknotes back in 1833, for amounts over £5 but it wasn’t until 1914, the day after the War started that £1 and a week later 10/- Treasury notes made an appearance, being produced over an extended Bank holiday and printed on stamp paper as banknote paper was not available. There were three issues of Bradburys and Alastair had a scan of one of his third issue notes, featuring a vignette of George and the Dragon. They remained legal tender till 1933. Smaller denominations were prepared but never used and all but a few escapees were destroyed, now greatly sought after.
After Bradbury we had Warren-Fisher who oversaw a change to the notes brought about by the formation of the Irish Free State in 1928 with the wording going from Ireland to Northern Ireland. Again smaller denominations were prepared but never issued.
The first Bank of England £1 notes (referred to as Britannias) came out in 1925, signed by Mahon who was chief cashier at the Bank, 1925 till 1929. Banknotes are often referred to by the chief cashier who issued them and there were nine to choose from between 1928 and 1983 when the last note was printed, all men. The first female to hold the post was in 2014.
After Mahon, came Catterns, 1929 till 1934, who had served in WWI and eventually rose to deputy governor in 1936 to be followed by Peppiatt, 1934 -1949, who had also served in WWI, with honours (MC and bar). He was knighted in 1941. There are four different issues of Peppiatt £1 notes and they cover the period of WWII during which time Germany attempted to destabilise currencies by flooding them with fake notes. The operation was called Operation Bernard after the German Commander in charge. In the event it was unsuccessful, though it did cause a change in the note designs, with different colours and a metal security strip being introduced. A recent film has been made about the operation and the notes are now quite collectable, despite initially the Bank of England disallowing the ownership of such items. In 1948, the colours reverted to normal but the security thread was maintained.
The next chief cashier was Percival Beale, 1949-1955, followed by Lesley Kenneth O’Brien 1955-1962. He oversaw the change from the Britannia note to a new design, featuring a portrait of Elizabeth II. He eventually became governor of the BOE in 1966, the first member of the Bank’s ordinary staff to do so. He was knighted in 1967, perhaps for services to the economy, as he was Governor during Harold Wilson’s devaluation. Moving on, we come to Jasper Hollom, 1962-1966. He went on to be Deputy Governor 1970 to 1980 and was also knighted in 1975. He had fought in WWII and was held as a POW in Italy. There were several varieties of banknote issued during his tenure. John Fforde followed, 1966-1970. He had been a pilot in WWII. Again there were several varieties issued in Series C.
These were followed by John Page, 1970 - 1980. He had also been a pilot in WWII. Banknotes shrunk in his tenure, going from Series C to Series D, with varieties in both sets (note the interesting serial number on this Series D note). Finally, for £1 notes we come to David Somerset, 1980-1988, who oversaw the change from notes to coins. The last banknote produced (DY21 999997) is in the Bank’s museum.
Before leaving notes altogether, Alastair told us about the ‘replacement notes’ that were used in the place of notes that were damaged in production. These are identifiable by having a different prefix, for example Peppiatt had S or T.
Banknotes had become too expensive to produce and did not last long enough in circulation and were replaced by coins on 21st April 1983. One pound notes ceased to be legal tender in 1988, though they can always be redeemed at the Bank of England. Over the years since then there have been a plethora of designs used for the reverses of the one pound coin and four different obverses. A lot of the designs were devices representing the constituent countries of the United Kingdom. Coins have been produced in Gold Proof, Silver Proof, Silver Piedfort, Base Metal Proof and ‘uncirculated’ variations. There have also been some patterns which were not intended for circulation. Over time the coins became easier to counterfeit and it was estimated that about 3% of all circulating one pound coins in 2016 were counterfeits. The response to that was the production of a bimetallic one pound coin, with several anti-forgery devices, which replaced the so called ‘round pound’ in 2017.
Alistair completed the talk by reminding us what a pound was worth at the end of the twentieth Century. The average wage had risen to £15,500, (363 times greater than at the start of the Century), the average house price was £89,597 (332 times greater), a pint of beer cost £2 (240 times greater) and a sovereign was £50 (50 times greater).
In questions Alastair revealed that forgery of £1 coins continues, though not on the same scale. He also explained that the chief cashier’s main role was to ensure that there were enough notes in the country to satisfy demand. Alastair had bought a note from Jamaica, dated 1960, which still had George VI’s portrait on, showing that they had kept a large stock on hand. Graham said that as a Bank manager, though he had never issued any banknotes, he had destroyed a very large number of them. In general, he believed that only a small fraction of the notes that were issued survived as worn notes were replaced. All collecting goes in cycles and the general view from the audience was that banknotes became popular most recently in about 1970.
Many thanks to Alastair for another enthralling talk.
Be reminded that subscriptions are now due. It would be most appreciated if members yet to renew their subscription would please do so at the next meeting. Please see our treasurer Peter. Membership cards are now available for paid-up members.
· London Coin Fair – Holiday Inn, Bloomsbury – 2nd September
· Midland Coin Fair – National Motorcycle Museum – 10th September
· Noonans Auction – Mayfair, London - 19-20th September