Pound Sterling

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Pound Sterling
Country: United KingdomUnited Kingdom United Kingdom
Subdivision: 100 pence (since 1971)
ISO 4217 code : GBP
Abbreviation: £
Exchange rate :
(February 12, 2021)

EUR  = 0.878 GBP
1 GBP = 1.14 EUR

CHF  = 0.812 GBP
1 GBP = 1.231 CHF

Issuer : Bank of England

The pound ( English Pound ) Sterling (also known as pound sterling referred to) is the currency of the United Kingdom and the Channel Islands and the Isle of Man .

The currency symbol £ is derived from the Latin word librapound ” and, like all currency symbols, can optionally be placed after or in front of the amount of money in German. The standard ISO 4217 currency code is GBP (Great Britain Pound).

historical development

Origin of the name

Adam Smith after an enamel medallion by James Tassie from 1787

There are different opinions about the origin of the name pound sterling :

  • Etymologically , the pound sterling is derived directly from sterling as the name of the English silver penny . One view sees the origin of the Greek - Latin stater , the biblical name of a large coin. The designation, Sterling 'appears then conveyed through various forms such as medieval Latin sterlingus , Middle High German stœrlinc , west Frankish esterling , Old French Esterlin as a designation of a foreign coin.
  • The name Sterling first appears in a French document in the 11th century. It describes a certain quality of silver . From the point of view of the time, this was necessary so that people would have confidence in the coinage and its uniformity or, to put it in Adam Smith's words: “The first public stamps of this kind, which were pressed on the circulating metals, should apparently in many Cases guarantee what is most difficult and at the same time most important to guarantee, namely the quality or fineness of the metal; they may have been similar to the sterling mark that is now [note: end of the 18th century] stamped on silver dishes and silver bars, [...] "

The creation of the currency

The pound is around 1200 years old, making it the oldest currency in the world that is still in use.

Introduction of the silver pen

Carolingian Denarius (Denier)

In the Kingdom of Kent, the light sceattas (designation of an early medieval type of coin) were replaced by heavier pieces of silver from around 765 AD. Around 775 AD, the Anglo-Saxon kings first issued silver coins based on the model of the Carolingian denarius (see Carolingian coinage system ). The silver penny was introduced by King Offa of Mercia (757–796), the first Anglo-Saxon king.

The weight and fine silver content of the silver penny were based on the Carolingian denarii on the mainland, as they were struck in the Franconian Empire from around 755 AD. Exactly 240 silver pennies were minted from a Carolingian pound of silver (approx. 406.5 g). This number also goes back to the Carolingian coin reform, which divided the Karlspund into 20 solidi ( shillings ) of 12 denarii (pfennigs) each (the abbreviations “s” and “d” for the shilling and penny, which were used until 1971, were derived from these Latin Designations back). This results in nominally about 1.7 g fine silver / denarius. The weight and silver content of the individual penny vary depending on the manufacturing process; By selecting the heavier pieces and deliberately deteriorating the coins, the average silver content fell over time.

The “pound sterling” was therefore neither a minted coin nor a unit of weight, but a unit for counting 240 small silver coins.

Coin reform

Under Heinrich II. (1133–1189) there was a coin reform, so that despite a change of ruler the weight (1.3–1.45 g) and fineness (925/1000) of the silver coin survived. This introduced the short cross penny; it showed the ruler carrying a scepter in his bust and a short twin crosshair on the back and was minted from 1180 to 1247. The short cross penny was replaced by the long cross penny; This had a long cross on the reverse that reached to the edge of the coin and was minted from 1247 to 1279 by three clerical and one secular mint.

The persistence of the penny made it one of the most important trading coins. It was also widespread in Scotland, the Netherlands , Scandinavia and the Rhineland . Through the Champagne fairs he was even able to penetrate as far as Italy and the eastern Mediterranean. The name sterling silver began to establish itself in the course of the 13th century as the standard indication of the fine silver content (925/1000). Starting from Italy, the name spread throughout Western Europe over the years. Under Edward I (1239-1307), the pound sterling was measured according to the tower weight, which was slightly less than that of the Troyes pound (French variant of the Karl pound).

Introduction of the Troyes pound

Henry VIII (1491–1547) introduced the Troyes pound. From then on, a pound sterling was measured by this weight.

The Bank of England and the introduction of paper money

When King William and Queen Mary came to the throne in 1688, England's financial position was in a deplorable state. Britain was at war with France and needed new sources of money to pay for its troops and the navy. A national bank was needed to rebuild the broken money and credit system. This should mobilize national reserves. William Paterson , a Scottish merchant, offered the government a loan of £ 1.2 million in 1694 at an interest rate of eight percent. He proposed the formation of a community of creditors and, in return, demanded that the donors be appointed as directors of the new Bank of England company . Paterson also demanded the right to issue banknotes equal to the loan and to do banking. In 1694, the Bank of England began to issue handwritten notes for the first time. Only later were they replaced by printed notes. They were numbered and marked with the name of the bank and the inscription I promise to pay the bearer on demand the sum of ... pounds (" I promise to pay the holder an amount of ... pounds on demand"). Counterfeiters caused great problems for the Bank of England; Since the handwritten notes were easy to forge, a watermark was introduced in 1697 that shimmered through the paper. These watermarks showed a scroll and a plaque that read Bank of England . Until 1928, the Bank of England notes were printed exclusively in black on white paper. The back of the notes remained unprinted. In 1928, in addition to the existing Black & White series (£ 5 to £ 1,000), new, colored, double-sided 10-shilling and 1-pound notes were issued. The last notes of the Black & White series were made in 1956. Since 1957, all banknotes of the Bank of England have been multicolored and printed on both sides. During its first 150 years, the Bank of England also had to assert itself against other private competitors in lending to the English state, which it succeeded in doing. It was the first central bank with strict rules for the gold backing of the banknotes in circulation.

Gold standard

Two guineas from the time of King George II.

From 1663 the guinea , a valuable gold coin, came into general use in England . The value ratio between the guineas and the officially still valid silver coins fluctuated depending on the market prices for gold and silver. The path to the gold standard began in 1717 . Isaac Newton , still known today for his natural research , was an English mint master at the time . At that time he stipulated that a guinea should have a value of 21 silver shillings. Newton had thus introduced an official bimetalism .

Gold was now overvalued in England compared to world market prices. It was therefore worthwhile to bring gold to Great Britain, exchange it there for silver and then export it again. The consequence of this was that silver coins in full in England gradually disappeared from payment transactions. A shortage of change followed, which promoted the issue of private copper penny and farthing tokens. As a result, gold coins became the dominant means of payment, with the further consequence that not silver, but gold rose to the standard. Many countries, first in Europe and then worldwide, adopted the gold standard that was officially introduced in England in 1816. The adjustment was made in particular due to the increasing dominance of England in international financial, economic and trade relations.

Origin of the exchange rate

The paper money, i.e. the banknotes, were securitized gold claims. This means that they could be exchanged for the corresponding amount of gold at the central bank at a fixed exchange ratio at any time . At the end of the 19th century, with the spread of the gold standard, an international system of fixed exchange rates came into being . However, this system was not based on official international regulations and agreements.

Bank of England crisis

The wars against Napoleon (1793–1815) put a great strain on the British financial economy. This and a wave of bankruptcies forced the Bank of England to issue the first £ 5 note in 1793. On February 22, 1797, the landing of French troops in Wales caused a wave of panic among the population.

The public demanded gold coins instead of paper money, which was considered worthless. In a very short time, the bank's gold reserves dwindled . It stopped all payments of gold coins for banknotes and issued 1 and 2 pound notes.

The sovereign

Sovereign, 1558

The successor to the guinea was the modern sovereign worth 20 shillings, i.e. H. one pound sterling. It became the main gold coin in Great Britain in the 19th century. The coin weighed around 7.98 g and had a fineness of 916/1000. The sovereign was adjusted to the gold value a short time later and corresponded to the following coin denominations until the introduction of the decimal pence:

1 Sovereign = 4  Crown = 8  Half Crown = 10  Florin = 20  Shillings = 60  Groat = 240  Penny = 960  Farthing = 1  Pound Sterling .

The sovereign was minted in Australia from 1855, and from 1908 also in Canada (Ottawa), South Africa and India.

The "Guinea"

Many prices (especially for clothing) were very often given in " Guineas " until the currency changeover in 1971 , and it still plays a role in auction trade to this day. 1 guinea corresponded to 1 pound and 1 shilling ( i.e. 21 shillings) or in the old spelling £ 1 1 s 0 d or 1.05 pounds today. A price quotation of 58 guineas was equivalent to £ 60 18 s 0 d, which also had the advantage that the price appeared so lower. However, the guinea did not exist as a separate banknote.

The end of the gold standard

During the First World War , many countries, including Great Britain, suspended the gold standard. In 1925 the then Chancellor of the Exchequer Winston Churchill decided to return to the gold standard. The exchange rate as it was before the war (4.86 US dollars to one pound) was adopted. The introduction of the gold standard at pre-war parity amounted to a strong appreciation of the pound. Economic historians have calculated that the pound had entered the gold standard 10% overvalued, leading to a 721,000 increase in the unemployment rate. In retrospect, Churchill described the decision as the biggest mistake of his life. The overvaluation of the pound sterling had caused high current account deficits for years , which resulted in a decline in the UK central bank's gold holdings. It was becoming increasingly difficult for the Bank of England to maintain the defined gold parity. The gold convertibility of the British pound was lifted in September 1931. This date thus marks the end of the attempt to reintroduce the gold standard.

The sterling bloc (1930–1950)

The sterling bloc (sterling area) was an association of states that aligned their currency to the pound sterling. It was founded in 1931 when the pound countries separated their currency from gold and is one of the first currency unions after the start of the global economic crisis .

Part of the union were the British colonies, the politically dependent states of Great Britain ( Egypt , Iraq , Transjordan ) and two economically dependent states, the dominions of Australia , New Zealand , Irish Free State and Newfoundland . Only the Dominions Canada and the South African Union did not join the sterling bloc in 1931. As early as the first half of the 19th century, the empire began to grow together into a currency union. With the introduction of the silver shilling in 1825, a kind of "Empire coin" was created. It was to become the leading coin in all parts of the Empire. This was also supported by the payment of the soldiers stationed in the colonies in silver shillings. The link to the pound sterling also came about through the obligation of the banks in the colonies, which wished to exercise the right to mint coins and to issue notes, to maintain certain minimum reserves and public debt in sterling.

The bloc was joined by Thailand in 1932 , Sweden , Norway , Finland , Denmark and Estonia in 1933 , and Latvia , Iran and the Union of South Africa in 1936 . Until 1939 there were no contractually established rules for the sterling bloc. Except for the British colonies and politically dependent areas, states could or may not join the monetary union at their own discretion. It was not until the beginning of World War II that the Sterling Area was established with fixed rules and ties. Great Britain obtained a large part of its war supplies from this sterling area. Great Britain's debt of 2.7 billion pounds to the supplier countries arose from the fact that Great Britain only paid the other countries in the Sterling Area with sterling credits. In the post-war years, many members gradually left the Sterling Area for political reasons, such as B. Egypt (1947), Israel (1948) and Iraq (1959).

By March 1950 a British delegation tried in vain to bind West Germany more closely to the sterling bloc. Great Britain wanted to offset its trade deficits in sterling in order to protect its US dollar reserves.

Bretton Woods (1944-1967)

Harry Dexter White (left) with John Maynard Keynes

After the end of the Second World War, the US dollar replaced the pound as the lead currency . The US dollar was already recognized as the new key currency in the Bretton Woods system of 1944. Forty-four states participated in the Bretton Woods Conference. Two proposals in particular were discussed: that of John M. Keynes , who advocated the British variant, and that of Harry Dexter White (USA). Great Britain had built up an enormous foreign trade deficit through the destruction of the war and the high war debts , which weakened its negotiating position at the conference with the USA. With the implementation of White's plan, the US dollar was pegged to gold as an anchor currency (US $ 35 / ounce). He also set fixed exchange rates for other currencies.

In September 1949 and early 1950, the Attlee government devalued the pound.

In April 1956, then Chancellor of the Exchequer (and future Prime Minister ) Harold Macmillan conjured up the dangers of inflation.

In the UK, production grew more slowly than in other European countries. On November 18, 1967, the pound sterling was devalued by one seventh (about 14.3%). In mid-1968, the Bank for International Settlements decided to no longer treat the pound as a reserve currency.

Various factors caused US President Richard Nixon to announce the end of the peg of the US dollar to the gold price on August 15, 1971 (more in the article Nixon shock ). The 'London Gold Pool' collapsed in March 1968.

Great Britain joined the European Exchange Rate Union in April 1972 (the pound was probably overvalued at the time). In June 1972, high foreign exchange outflows from Great Britain began - market participants bought the foreign exchange and paid in British pounds. On June 23, 1972, Great Britain broke out of the currency snake and went over to free floating (it has remained so until today, as of June 2015); some European currency exchanges were closed for a few days because of these outflows.

Changeover to the decimal system (1971)

On February 15, 1971 (" Decimal Day "), the English coin system , which had existed since the 9th century and was based on the Carolingian coin system, was replaced by the internationally common decimal system. Since then, one pound sterling has been divided into 100 pence (abbreviation p ). Previously, a pound sterling was divided into 20 shillings (abbreviation: s ) and each shilling into 12 pence (abbreviation: d ), so that one pound was equal to 240 pence. In a transition phase of 18 months, the old penny coins were replaced by the so-called “New Penny” or “Decimal Penny”. Bronze coins (later copper-clad steel coins) worth ½ penny, 1 penny and 2 pence were issued. The 5, 10 and 50 pence coins were made of cupronickel. Initially, the old coins were left in circulation and initially equated with the new coins. Accordingly, 1 shilling now corresponds to 5 new pence and 1 florin to 10 new pence. In later years the denomination was renewed, with the ½ penny coin abolished, but new coins of 20 pence and one and two pound coins introduced. Another external change was made in the 1990s by replacing the 5, 10 and 50 pence coins with smaller specimens.

Breakdown of the Bretton Woods system

The Bretton Woods system collapsed in March 1973 . The first oil crisis began in autumn 1973 . In 1974 there were two general elections (one in February, one in October): the hung parliament after the British general election on February 28, 1974 ended with new elections on October 10, 1974 . In 1974 the rate of inflation was 17% and unemployment about 700,000; the balance of payments deficit around 13 billion euros (the purchasing power of this sum was several times higher than it is today).

The Sterling Crisis (1976)

The pound sterling remained relatively stable after the collapse of the Bretton Woods system in 1973. Initially, the government did not take deflationary measures and did not raise interest rates to secure its reserves. However, under Prime Minister James Callaghan (March 1976 - May 1979) it became clear how fragile British economic policy was. In the currency crisis from March to November 1976, the pound fell from over 2 US dollars to 1.56 US dollars despite high standby loans from the other central banks to the Bank of England . Despite the prime minister's best efforts , Britain had to seek IMF help and fulfillment.

Black Wednesday (1992)

In October 1990 Great Britain joined the European Monetary System (EMS). Many investors, particularly George Soros , felt the pound sterling was overvalued. Soros put hedge funds against the British pound, which sparked a wave of speculation. The Bank of England came under enormous downward pressure. Initially, the bank tried to stabilize its currency through support purchases , but ultimately had no choice but to remove the pound from the EMS on September 16, 1992. Since then, this day has been referred to as Black Wednesday . The pound was hugely weakened, falling nearly 15% against the Deutsche Mark and 25% against the US dollar in the weeks that followed . However, the following year it became apparent that the devaluation had done the British economy rather well. Within two years, the pound gained more than 25% against the German mark.

The United Kingdom as a member of the European Union

As a member of the European Union, the United Kingdom was able to introduce the euro as its currency, but was not obliged to do so. When the Maastricht Treaty was signed in 1992, which included the introduction of the euro, Great Britain and Denmark negotiated a derogation. With this so-called opting-out clause, these two countries were the only countries in the European Union not legally obliged to introduce the euro. With the withdrawal of the United Kingdom from the EU in 2020, this clause has become obsolete.

Opinions in the UK political landscape diverged on this issue. The Labor Party , which provided the head of government from 1997 to 2010, assumed various positions. Tony Blair , Prime Minister from 1997 to 2007, promised the introduction of the euro if five economic criteria were met and the population would vote in favor of the introduction in a referendum. His fellow party member and successor Gordon Brown , Prime Minister from 2007 to 2010, did not speak out in favor of such an introduction. The conservative Tories that have ruled since then also rejected the introduction. The Liberal Democrats , who were part of the government from 2010 to 2015, are generally more EU-friendly, but have not pushed the question. The Cameron administration agreed that no steps would be taken to introduce the euro during this term. The topic will no longer be applicable when the United Kingdom leaves the European Union on January 31, 2020 at the latest .

Surveys among the population consistently showed a strong rejection of the introduction of the euro. The level of rejection fluctuated, but at no time was there a majority in favor of introducing the euro, as the following table shows:

date Yes No unsure Number of participants Carried out by source
November 2000 18% 71% unknown unknown BBC
January 2002 31% 56% unknown unknown BBC
9-10 June 2003 33% 61% 07% 1852 YouGov
10-15 February 2005 26% 57% 16% 2103 Ipsos MORI
11-12 December 2008 24% 59% 17% 2098 YouGov
19. – 21. December 2008 23% 71% 06% 1000 ICM
6-9 January 2009 24% 64% 12% 2157 YouGov
1st - 4th May 2009 23% 75% 02% 1002 ICM
17.-18. April 2010 21% 65% 14% 1433 YouGov
2-4 July 2011 08th % 81% 11% 2002 Angus Reid
9-12 August 2011 09% 85% 06% 2700 YouGov

New coins were introduced in 2008. They show excerpts from the royal shield of arms, with the 1 pound coin being the only one showing the complete shield.

In the autumn of 2008 a crisis began in the financial sector , which hit the London-based financial sector hard, among other things. The rate of the pound against the euro fell significantly within a few weeks (see chart here ). Many Britons see this - it makes imports more expensive, makes exports easier and, among other things, makes foreign vacations more expensive - overall positive, because it can help to reduce their high foreign trade deficits and because it strengthens their competitiveness abroad.

After the referendum on leaving the EU in June 2016, the value of the pound against the US dollar fell to its lowest level since 1985. It also lost significant value against the euro.

Economic development of Great Britain

Today (2011) the British pound is largely insignificant as a reserve currency in international industrial business and trade in goods. The currency is only significant in speculative financial transactions .

In 2011, the inflation rate in the UK rose to 5.0% (per year, October 2011, peak of 5.2% in September 2011). The largest strikes in more than 30 years, on November 30, 2011, demonstrated the expectations of British workers about government policies aimed at stabilizing the purchasing power of pensions. In 2010 the UK's trade deficit was around $ 154.4 billion.

Pound sterling currency area

In addition to Great Britain and Northern Ireland, the sterling currency area also includes various overseas territories and crown possessions that are directly dependent on the currency. Sometimes only a local series of banknotes and coins is issued. Other areas nominally have their own currencies, but these are pegged 1: 1 to the pound sterling. Other areas have their own currencies that are not linked to the pound or have adopted another currency.

Crown possessions

The crown holdings use local variants of the pound sterling. These are not independent currencies and do not have their own ISO 4217 code. Only their own coins and banknotes are issued.

As with the banknotes from Northern Ireland and Scotland , the currency of the crown possessions is not a generally accepted means of payment in the rest of the pound currency area. Only in Guernsey and Jersey is money from the other area accepted.

Overseas territories with pounds sterling

Officially, the pound sterling is used in some overseas territories in the UK. Most of them do not have a permanent population.

  • On Tristan da Cunha , will be paid for with sterling although part of the territory of St. Helena, Ascension and Tristan da Cunha there is, which has its own currency. This has the background that until the eruption of the volcano on Tristan da Cunha in 1961, money did not play a major role in the island's subsistence economy . After the islanders evacuated to Great Britain, they began to use sterling, which they continued to use when they returned to the island.St. Helena, Ascension and Tristan da CunhaSt. Helena, Ascension and Tristan da Cunha 
  • The British Indian Ocean Territory officially uses the pound sterling, but since it is used purely for military purposes with the United States , the US dollar is in fact used.British Indian Ocean TerritoryBritish Indian Ocean Territory 
  • The overseas territory of South Georgia and the South Sandwich Islands officially use the pound sterling, but this affects only a few people in practice, as the territory is not inhabited all year round except for research stations and official residences.South Georgia Sandwich IslandsSouth Georgia and the South Sandwich Islands 
  • The British Antarctic Territory also uses the pound sterling but has no permanent population. In addition, claims to the area under the Antarctic Treaty are not internationally recognized, and other nations have set up stations there.Flag of the British Antarctic Territory.svg 

Overseas territories with exchange rate parity

The following overseas territories formally use their own currencies (accordingly, these areas also issue their own coins and banknotes), but these are at exchange rate parity with the British pound:

  • GibraltarGibraltar Gibraltar uses the Gibraltar pound ( ISO 4217 code GIP). The area has had the right to print its own money since 1934, but must cover this with an equivalent amount of sterling money. Its own banknotes were issued as early as 1927, but it was not until 1988 that its own coins were issued. The pound sterling has been Gibraltar's currency since 1898 and is still accepted in Gibraltar today.
  • In the St. Helena, Ascension and Tristan da Cunha area , the islands of Ascension and St. Helena use the St. Helena pound ( ISO 4217 code SHP). On Tristan da Cunha , which also belongs to the overseas territory, the pound sterling is used. The islanders there originally operated mainly bartering. After the entire population had to be evacuated to Great Britain from 1961 to 1963 due to a volcanic eruption, the local currency became common when they returned.St. Helena, Ascension and Tristan da CunhaSt. Helena, Ascension and Tristan da Cunha 
  • The Falkland Islands use the Falkland pound ( ISO 4217 code FKP). The islands have had their own banknotes since 1899 and their own coins since 1974.Falkland IslandsFalkland Islands 

Overseas territories previously linked to the pound

Many areas of the former British Empire used sterling-pegged currency. The areas in the Caribbean and North Atlantic that have decided against independence now all use currencies pegged to the US dollar .

  • AnguillaAnguilla Anguilla uses the East Caribbean dollar , which has been pegged to the US dollar with a fixed exchange rate since 1976 . The currency has been pegged to the pound since its forerunner British West Indies dollar was introduced in 1949.
  • BermudaBermuda Bermuda uses the Bermuda dollar , which is pegged 1: 1 to the US dollar . Until 1972 he was pegged to the pound.
  • The British Virgin Islands have been using the US dollar since 1961 . From 1951 on, the islands were members of the currency union of the British West Indies dollar , the forerunner of the East Caribbean dollar. This was inter alia. abandoned because of its proximity to the US Virgin Islands .British Virgin IslandsBritish Virgin Islands 
  • The Cayman Islands have been using the Cayman Dollar since 1972 , which has been pegged to the US dollar since 1974 . Previously, the islands used the respective currency of Jamaica , which was pegged to the pound (until 1969 Jamaican pound , then Jamaican dollar ).Cayman IslandsCayman Islands 
  • MontserratMontserrat Like Anguilla, Montserrat uses the East Caribbean dollar , which is why the pound was pegged there from 1949 to 1976 and has been pegged to the US dollar ever since.
  • The Pitcairn Islands use the New Zealand dollar , which was pegged to the pound sterling until decimalization in 1967 and then had a fixed exchange rate to the pound until 1971 through the peg to the Australian dollar .Pitcairn IslandsPitcairn Islands 
  • The autonomous military bases Akrotiri and Dekelia have always used the currency of the Republic of Cyprus and thus the euro since 2008 . Before that, the Cyprus pound was the currency there, which was closely related to the pound sterling until 1971.

Regional differences in sterling

Differences in coins

In the British Empire there were numerous country-specific or colonial coinage before decimalization. There were major differences between the four parts of Scotland, Northern Ireland, Wales and England alone:

  • Scotland minted its own coins up to 1603. In 1709, the last real Scottish coins were minted in Edinburgh .
  • Since then, England has minted its own coins for the region of Scotland, with both Scottish and English coins being officially valid throughout Great Britain.

Until the introduction of the decimal currency, this procedure was carried out with the separate minting of the 1 shilling coins. However, the Scots often proudly refused to accept the English coins. With the introduction of the decimal currency, country-specific coinage was abolished, all coins are valid throughout the United Kingdom and look the same, there are no longer any regional differences.

Differences in banknotes

However, there are still regional differences in banknotes today. The reason for this is that some private banks are allowed to issue their own banknotes. Often, however, because of their appearance, these are not widely accepted even though they are valid across the UK. Usually the banknotes are only accepted in the part of the country in which the issuing bank is based. An exchange abroad is practically impossible as most banks only accept notes from the Bank of England .

English banknotes

The Bank of England, as the central bank of the United Kingdom, issues banknotes that have legal tender status in England and Wales. In practice, however, they are accepted throughout the kingdom. The Bank of England issues 5, 10, 20 and 50 pound notes.

Scottish banknotes

Scottish banknotes are issued by the Bank of Scotland , Royal Bank of Scotland and Clydesdale Bank . They are not legal tender. The three banks issue notes with a value of 5, 10, 20, 50 and 100 pounds. The Royal Bank of Scotland also issues banknotes worth 1 pound.

The Scottish banks have signed an agreement to design the banknotes of the same denomination in the same colors. An agreement was reached for the 5-pound notes on blue, for the 10-pound notes on brown, for the 20-pound notes on purple, for the 50-pound notes on green and for the 100-pound notes. Notes on red.

Northern Irish banknotes

Bank notes from Northern Ireland

In Northern Ireland, banknotes are issued by the following banks: Bank of Ireland , First Trust Bank, Danske Bank (formerly: Northern Bank), Ulster Bank. These banknotes are also not legal tender. It often happens that Northern Ireland banknotes are not accepted in Wales and England. However, they can also be exchanged for banknotes from the “Bank of England” there.

United Kingdom related territories banknotes

Isle of Man Penny from 1839
  • The Isle of Man uses the pound sterling but issues its own banknotes. However, the Isle of Man pound (also: Manx pound ) is not an official means of payment in the United Kingdom and is usually not accepted in Great Britain.
  • The Channel Islands also issue their own banknotes. The currency of the Channel Island of Guernsey is the Guernsey pound and that of Jersey is the Jersey pound . Both currencies are valid means of payment in the Channel Islands and are pegged 1: 1 to the British pound.

Bank of England banknotes

The regular banknotes

The pound notes are subject to constant change. Since the first banknotes were issued in 1694, the texture and design of the notes have changed regularly.

With the introduction of Series C in 1960, all banknotes have shown Queen Elizabeth II on the obverse since then . The depiction of historical personalities on the reverse of the banknotes began with William Shakespeare in 1970 when Series D was introduced. Since then, different personalities have been depicted on the back of the banknotes again and again.

Today (as of 2009) banknotes of the F and G series are in circulation.

The first G series banknote was launched on September 13, 2016. For the first time, the 5 pound note is made of a polymer to increase the durability of the banknote. In addition, the quality of the security features has been increased, for example through a transparent window in the banknote. The previous £ 5 note remained valid until May 2017 and was withdrawn from payment transactions by the Bank of England . In November 2016, people who wanted to give up animal products protested against the use of the new British five-pound banknotes because of their sebum content. The Bank of England confirms traces of animal fat in the polymer notes. Innovia, the plastic supplier for the notes, told the dpa that they knowingly do not use any animal products. An investigation is to show whether purchased raw materials actually contain a small amount of sebum.

In July 2013, the President of the Bank of England , Mark Carney , announced that from 2017 a portrait of Jane Austen would be on the ten-pound note.

Current bank notes from the Bank of England
Value of the banknote series Issued (Invalid from) Illustrations on the back
5 pound note G 13th September 2016
10 pound note G September 14, 2017
20 pound note G February 20, 2020
50 pound note F. November 2, 2011
Bank notes from the Bank of England, Series D to Series G
value Portrait on back Introduction date Invalid since / (from)
Series D
£ 1 Sir Isaac Newton February 9, 1978 March 11, 1988
£ 5 Duke of Wellington November 11, 1971 November 29, 1991
£ 10 Florence Nightingale 20th February 1975 May 20, 1994
£ 20 William Shakespeare July 9, 1970 May 19, 1993
£ 50 Sir Christopher Wren March 20, 1981 September 20, 1996
Series E
£ 5 George Stephenson June 7, 1990 November 21, 2003
£ 10 Charles Dickens April 29, 1992 July 31, 2003
£ 20 Michael Faraday June 5, 1991 February 28, 2001
£ 50 Sir John Houblon April 20, 1991 April 30, 2014
Series E (new edition)
£ 5 Elizabeth Fry May 21, 2002 May 31, 2017
£ 10 Charles Darwin November 7, 2000 1st March 2018
£ 20 Sir Edward Elgar June 22, 1999 June 30, 2010
Series F
£ 20 Adam Smith March 13, 2007 in use
£ 50 James Watt and Matthew Boulton November 2, 2011 in use
Series G
£ 5 Winston Churchill 13th September 2016 in use
£ 10 Jane Austen September 14, 2017 in use
£ 20 JMW Turner February 20, 2020 in use
£ 50 Alan Turing 2021 not issued yet

Giants and Titans

There are also £ 1,000,000 (Giant) and £ 100,000,000 (Titan) banknotes. However, these are only used for internal bank purposes to cover the private banknotes in circulation in Scotland and Northern Ireland.

Security features

The Queen as a watermark on a £ 5 note

To protect against counterfeiting, the Bank of England banknotes have the following security features :

  • Watermark with the portrait of the queen
  • Security thread
  • fluorescent numerals
  • Hologram; Depending on the viewing angle, a colored picture of the Britannia or the respective value number can be seen; a rose and a medallion can be seen on the £ 50 note


Counterfeiting began early in the history of money, often on behalf of the state. Already in the years 1790 to 1796 Great Britain smuggled large amounts of counterfeit money (“ assignats ”) into France in order to weaken the French Revolution .

Probably the largest counterfeiting campaign, however, is that of the National Socialists in World War II. They wanted to defeat Britain with millions of counterfeit British pounds by plunging the UK into enormous inflation . The Nazis invested a lot of time in analyzing the exact nature of British money and its security features. The first false pound notes produced by the security service did not appear until about two years after the start of the so-called Operation Bernhard. After testing the counterfeit banknotes in a Swiss bank, mass production could begin. The company was named after the person responsible for the forger campaign, SS-Sturmbannführer Bernhard Krüger: The company Bernhard . Prisoners with specialist knowledge in the field of graphics were brought from the Buchenwald , Ravensbrück, Mauthausen, Theresienstadt and Auschwitz concentration camps to the Sachsenhausen concentration camp to be used as counterfeiters. As of early 1943, just under nine million counterfeit banknotes worth over £ 134 million were printed.


Until 1971

In addition to the sovereign (1 pound), the following coins existed until 1971 :

image designation other
Shorthand Worth back then Value today in pence
(1/100 pound)
FARTHING 1885 Victoria.jpgFARTHING Victoria 1885.jpg Farthing "Four-thing" 1/4 d 4 farthings = 1 penny / 48 farthings = 1 shilling / 960 farthings = 1 pound 0.10 p abolished January 1961
England half penny 1936 (B) .jpgEngland half penny 1936 (A) .jpg Half penny "Ha'penny" 1/2 d 1 half penny = 2 farthings / 2 half pennies = 1 penny 0.21 p
GREAT BRITAIN, VICTORIA 1866 -ONE PENNY a - Flickr - woody1778a.jpgGREAT BRITAIN, VICTORIA 1866 -ONE PENNY b - Flickr - woody1778a.jpg penny 1 d 12 pennies = 1 shilling / 240 pennies = 1 pound 0.42 p
Threepence 1943.jpg GREAT BRITAIN, VICTORIA 1885 - THREEPENCE a - Flickr - woody1778a.jpgGREAT BRITAIN, VICTORIA 1885 - THREEPENCE b - Flickr - woody1778a.jpg Three pence "Thruppenny" 3 d 4 three pence = 1 shilling 1.25 p only non-round coin: 12 corners / several variants
English Sixpence 1958.jpg Sixpence "Tanner" 6 d 2 sixpences = 1 shilling 2.5 p
1933 Scottish Shilling.jpg shilling "bob" 1/- 12 pence = 1 shilling / 20 shillings = 1 pound 5 p
2 shillings 1949-2.JPG2 shillings 1949.JPG Florin / Two Shillings "Double-bob" 2 / - 1 florin = two shillings 10 p Introduced in 1849 as the first approach to the decimal system (10 florins = 1 pound)
1953 half crown reverse.jpg1953 half crown obverse.jpg Half crown sometimes "Half a dollar" (see exchange rate in WK 2) 2/6 30 pence = half crown / 8 half crowns = 1 pound 12.5 p
GREAT BRITAIN, VICTORIA 1889 - CROWN a - Flickr - woody1778a.jpgGREAT BRITAIN, VICTORIA 1889 - CROWN b - Flickr - woody1778a.jpg Crown 5 / - 4 crowns = 1 pound 25 p or 500 p still issued as commemorative coins , but since 1990 with a face value of 5 pounds


2 d = 2 pence = "two pence"

2 / - = 2 shillings = "Two shilling"

2/3 = 2 shillings, 3 pence = "two and three"

2 / 3d = 2 shillings, 3 pence

£ 2/7/6 = 2 pounds, 7 shillings, 6 pence = "Two pounds, seven and six"

£ 2. 7. 6 = 2 pounds, 7 shillings, 6 pence (the points are not to be understood as decimal points!)

£ 2 7s. 6d. = 2 pounds, 7 shillings, 6 pence

Units smaller than 1 penny were given as fractions (1/2 d = Ha'penny).

Current coins

The current pound coins show the portrait of the British Queen Elizabeth II on the obverse. The head images were changed in 1952, 1968, 1985, 1998 and 2015 according to their age. The full name is: ELIZABETH DG REG. F. D., whereby the abbreviations DG stand for Dei Gratia = by God's grace , REG for Regina = queen and F. D. for Fidei Defensatrix = defender of the faith (Anglican).

The coins featured the emblems of Great Britain on the reverse until 2008.

2004 penny coins from 20 pence to 1 penny in circulation. The ½ penny is suspended.

The old design shows the following images:

  • 1 penny: crowned portcullis with chains (symbol for "Houses of Parliament")
  • 2 pence: ostrich feathers on a crown (feathers of the Prince of Wales)
  • 5 pence: crowned thistle (Scottish national flower)
  • 10 pence: crowned lion (part of the coat of arms of England)
  • 20 pence: crowned Tudor rose
  • 50 pence: Britannia and lion
  • 1 pound: various images, which change annually, each representative of the United Kingdom
  • 2 pounds: Illustration of three concentric circles representing technical development

As part of a public designer competition to design the new British coins, Matthew Dent's design prevailed. The coin with its design was introduced in 2008. The 1 pound coin shows the Royal Shield of Arms completely. On the 6 smaller values, parts of the shield are depicted in such a way that these are grouped appropriately - with gaps - also complement the shield motif. The 3 largest coins form the corners of the shield, the smallest is in the middle. In 2016, the minting of a more counterfeit-proof, twelve-sided 1 pound coin was started to replace the round pound. The new pound coins have been in circulation since March 28, 2017. The round pound coins lost their validity as a means of payment on October 15, 2017.

The value, importance and use of the pound sterling

Pound sterling as reserve currency

The pound sterling is held as a reserve currency in many countries around the world. In the 18th and 19th centuries, the pound was the most important reserve currency in the world. It lost this position during the 20th century and instead the US dollar became the main reserve currency. In the 21st century, the euro became the second most important reserve currency. From 2006 to 2016, the British pound ranked third before being overtaken by the yen; it currently accounts for around 4% of the world's reserves. The currency is held as a reserve, particularly in developing countries with historical links to Great Britain and the Commonwealth of Nations.

Reserve currencies used internationally (figures in percent) (4th quarter of the year)
1970 1980 1990 2000 2001 2002 2003 2004 2005 2006 2007 2008 2009 2010 2011 2012 2013 2014 2015 2016 2017 2018 2019
USD 77.2 67.2 62.8 70.5 70.7 66.5 65.8 65.9 66.4 65.5 64.1 64.1 62.1 61.8 62.2 61.2 61.0 63.3 64.1 63.9 62.7 61.7 60.9
EUR - - - - 17.9 24.2 25.3 24.9 24.3 25.1 26.3 26.4 27.6 26.0 25.0 24.2 24.4 21.9 19.7 19.7 20.2 20.7 20.6
DEM 1.9 14.8 19.8 - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - -
JPY - 0.1 4.6 9.4 5.2 4.5 4.1 3.9 3.7 3.1 2.9 3.1 2.9 3.7 3.5 4.0 3.8 3.9 4.0 4.2 4.9 5.2 5.7
GBP 10.4 2.9 2.4 2.8 2.7 2.9 2.6 3.3 3.6 4.4 4.7 4.0 4.3 3.9 3.8 4.0 4.0 3.8 4.9 4.4 4.5 4.4 4.6
FRF 1.1 1.7 2.7 - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - -
CHF 0.7 3.2 0.8 0.3 0.3 0.4 0.2 0.2 0.1 0.2 0.2 0.1 0.1 0.1 0.1 0.3 0.3 0.3 0.3 0.2 0.2 0.2 0.2
other 8.7 5.9 4.9 1.4 1.2 1.4 1.9 1.8 1.9 1.8 1.8 2.2 3.1 4.4 5.3 5.8 6.5 6.8 6.7 7.6 7.6 7.8 8.0

1970–1984: BIS : The evolution of reserve currency diversification, December 1986, p. 7, Tab. 1 (English)
1995–2016: IMF : Currency Composition of Official Foreign Exchange Reserves
1999–2005 (absolute figures only): ECB : The Accumulation of Foreign Reserves , Occasional Paper Series, No. 43
2017–2019: IMF: World Currency Composition of Official Foreign Exchange Reserves

External value of the pound sterling

Exchange rate to the euro since 1999 (in pounds per euro)

In particular, the British pound trades against the US dollar, the euro and the yen . Until the introduction of the euro as book money (January 1, 1999), it was also traded against other convertible currencies such as DM and French franc. A few years ago the UK key rate was 6 percent, while the Japanese rate was only around 0.5% at the same time. During the financial crisis from 2007 , the key interest rate in Great Britain was cut several times; In 2010 it was only around 0.5%. The pound sterling is the fourth most widely traded currency in the world after the US dollar, euro and yen.

The value of the pound was set at $ 4.03 in an agreement in 1940. In 1949 it had to be devalued due to the strong development of the dollar: On September 19, 1949, it was devalued in one fell swoop from 4.03 to 2.80; then the Bretton Woods system began .

In 1967 it was worth $ 2.40; in the following years it increased in value again. In spite of Bretton Woods, the dollar's exchange rate was under pressure due to the enormous deficits of the USA, especially from the Vietnam War , until in August 1971 (see Nixon shock ) the USA lifted the gold peg of the dollar.

In January 2009, the pound fell to a 23-year low. On December 29, 2008, one euro was worth 0.9801 pounds, an all-time low against the euro (shortly after the euro was introduced as book money on January 1, 1999, one euro only cost around 0.568 pounds). The low of the British pound made headlines again and again in 2009. The currency hit its lowest level against the US dollar in 40 years after a referendum in June 2016 on the United Kingdom's exit from the EU achieved a narrow majority. A further decline in the external value appears possible.

year 1 € $ 1
1998 - £ 0.6038
1999 £ 0.6587 £ 0.6181
2000 £ 0.6095 £ 0.6609
2001 £ 0.6219 £ 0.6947
2002 £ 0.6288 £ 0.6672
2003 £ 0.6920 £ 0.6125
2004 £ 0.6787 £ 0.5462
2005 £ 0.6838 £ 0.5500
2006 £ 0.6817 £ 0.5435
2007 £ 0.6843 £ 0.4998
2008 £ 0.7963 £ 0.5412
2009 £ 0.8909 £ 0.6388
2010 £ 0.8578 £ 0.6471
2011 £ 0.8679 £ 0.6235
2012 £ 0.8109 £ 0.6311
2013 £ 0.8493 £ 0.6394
2014 £ 0.8061 £ 0.6068
2015 £ 0.7263 £ 0.6541
2016 £ 0.8186 £ 0.7401
2017 £ 0.8762 £ 0.7766
2018 £ 0.8848 £ 0.7499
2019 £ 0.8773

Average historical annual exchange rates to US dollars and euros

Internal value of the pound

The internal value of the pound was subject to numerous fluctuations during its existence, but these were mainly limited by its connection to precious metal values ​​( gold standard or silver standard ). The library of the British House of Commons has published a document on this which documents these fluctuations since 1750.

country Remaining Kaufk.
vs. 1950
Great Britain 18%
Japan 19%
France 21%
Italy 22%
Sweden 23%
Netherlands 27%
Belgium 35%
USA 40%
Switzerland 42%
Federal Republic of

The document states that between 1750 and 1914, the value of the currency fluctuated significantly from year to year, mainly due to events such as war and crop yields, but remained relatively stable over the years. The index value of the pound was 5.1 in 1750 and peaked at 16.3 in 1813. The general range of fluctuation was between 8.5 and 10.0 until 1914, when the value was 9.8. In 1920 a new high was reached at 25.3, by the mid-1930s it fell again to 15.8.

In 1940 the index was 20; since then it has been increasing. The indices were, for example, 33.0 in 1950, 49.1 in 1960, 73.1 in 1970, 263.7 in 1980 (= 3.6 times the amount from 1970 ). 497.5 in 1990, 671.8 in 2000 and 757.3 in 2005.

The purchasing power of an amount fell in inverse proportion to the index: 100 pounds in 1940 still had 60.6% of their purchasing power in 1950, 40.7% in 1960, 27.4% in 1970, and 7.58% in 1980 (it had thus lost 92.4% of its value). The German mark and the Swiss franc were much more stable (see table).

GBp (pence)

The official currency code is GBP and is generally used except for share prices for the London Stock Exchange . These rates are displayed in GBp (pence), the 1/100 unit.


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Commons : Pound Sterling  - Collection of images, videos and audio files

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