On the 15th February 1971, the United Kingdom and Ireland abandoned their old currency of pounds, shillings and pence and introduced a decimalised system. Thanks to a long transitional period that had been established prior to decimalisation, Decimal Day itself went relatively smoothly while shops continued to accept ‘old money’ for a few weeks afterwards in order to remove old coins from circulation.
Decimalisation wasn’t seriously considered by the British Parliament until the Halsbury Committee presented its report on decimal currency in 1963. The majority of the Commonwealth had either already adopted, or were in the process of adopting, decimal currency and so the time seemed right to reconsider Britain’s own stance. On the 1st March 1966 the Chancellor of the Exchequer, James Callaghan, announced the government’s acceptance of the report’s recommendations and established the Decimal Currency Board.
Although the government didn’t pass the Decimal Currency Act until May 1969, production of the new coins had already begun at the new Royal Mint site in South Wales, which had opened the previous year. The gradual introduction of the new coins began in 1968, with 5p and 10p coins the first to enter circulation. They were exactly the same size and value as the existing one- and two-shilling coins, so ran alongside the old currency as their ‘decimal twins’. The following year the world’s first seven-sided coin was introduced, when the 50p piece replaced the 10-shilling note.
This prior introduction of three of the six new coins, together with an extensive publicity campaign, contributed greatly to the smoothness of Decimal Day when it finally came about in 1971.