On the occasion of the Bank of England’s launch of the new £50 banknote in November 2011, Michael Alexander of the London Banknote and Monetary Research Centre speaks to Chris Salmon, Chief Cashier, about the process of adding a second note to the “F” series.
“I Promise to pay the Bearer on demand the Sum of …” those iconic words have been printed on British promissory notes and banknotes issued by the Bank of England since 1695. Established in 1694 by Royal Charter of King William III and Queen Mary II, these words are still taken seriously and the signature of the Chief Cashier which appears on every Bank of England banknote backs up this promise. That signature along with the text “For the Governor and Company of the Bank of England” also guarantees the validity and worth of these notes. To this day, all Bank of England banknotes issued by their authority are redeemable at their offices on Threadneedle Street.
On the 2nd November 2011, the latest of those notes, the £50 denomination in the “F” series was placed into circulation with much media attention. It was the first time that two prominent persons would appear on the reverse as part of the overall design and only the third modern issue of this value since its withdrawal after the Second World War. On the occasion of the official release, I had the opportunity to discuss the new note with the Bank of England’s Chief Cashier, Chris Salmon who was appointed as Chief Cashier in April 2011 (actual title since 2004, Executive Director of Banking & Chief Cashier). He is the 31st person to hold this position in the Bank’s 318 year history. The new £50 is the first to carry his signature (the other denominations will eventually follow) and since the introduction of the £20 denomination in the “F” series in 2007, the £50 note is the second note in what will eventually become a four note set.
I also had the chance during our conversation to touch on polymer notes and the option of a £100 note. It’s not likely that you will encounter one of these colorful notes in your daily lives outside of the UK, but if you do plan a visit it would be to your benefit to familiarize yourself with the new look and state of the art security features of the £50 note including the clever motion thread application. The Bank’s latest issue continues to reassure the British public that their currency continues to be some of the safest banknotes in circulation world-wide.
Some collectors of British banknotes will be wondering about one specific question so I’ll ask it on their behalf. What took so long for this latest note to be issued when it only took four years to issue all four denominations of the last series?
I think it’s important to remember our objective, which is to maintain the physical integrity of the currency and we do that by making sure that our note designs remain up to date. In that respect, I’m very comfortable with the time frame between the launch of the £20 note in 2007 and with that of the £50 on November 2nd (2011) and I think it fulfills that objective. The Bank of England just doesn’t have the objective to launch a particular set of notes over a specific time frame—that isn’t what we’re seeking to do. If you think about the time when we launched the previous (E) series (issued from 1990 to 1994) and now, a number of things have changed since then. To begin with, it was easier then to launch a set of four notes closer together as the amount of notes in circulation was much smaller than it is today and the reach of cash-accepting technology was much less than it is now. We have to make sure that this technology can recognize the new designs, which adds further time to this process. If you go back further to the “D” series (issued from 1970 to 1981), which was in hindsight left in circulation a bit too long, the Bank needed to bring out a new set more quickly, which was also why the “E” series was completed as soon as it was.
Can you give a more concise time frame of when we can expect to see the next two denominations to complete the new “F” series?
Unfortunately, no. As I mentioned it’s really not the Bank’s overall objective to simply issue a series or set, it is to make sure we always have a set of notes in circulation which best supports our aims. We are actively thinking about the next note that we will issue and what security features it will include. We will reach that determination over a suitable time frame and when we reach it we will then make an announcement but I can’t prejudge that yet.
As Chief Cashier, did you have any input in the design of the new Boulton/Watt note and if so, can you describe to our readers what it was?
The Chief Cashier does have an input on the design of a new banknote along with other stakeholders of the Bank, including the Governor, and the design team. I took up my post nine months ago when production had already started which meant that the final design had already been set, so I personally didn’t have an input over the choice of design. But my predecessor, Andrew Bailey did have.
Are there any elements about the note which you particularly like? In a recent speech you mentioned the inclusion of the “motion thread” security feature, which is quite “state-of-the-art” as far as an added measure against counterfeiting is concerned.
I’ll answer that question in two ways. First, I think the overall design which the new £50 note shares with the Adam Smith £20 designs, they “work well” as an overall banknote design. Specifically with the £50, I like the way the two personalities on the note come together. We are celebrating the collaboration between two people and how their work enhanced the value of each other—that’s a novel feature of the note. In terms of the new security features and the motion thread you mentioned, that’s a really important part of the note. It’s a first for the Bank of England and although there is a “motion thread” on other notes around the world, ours is the first which has a switching motion that includes the pound sign and the numeral 50. As you can see when the note is moved from side to side it switches between these two images within the thread. This feature will enhance the security of the note and I hope the public will appreciate that in their currency.
Taking into consideration the current economic situation that the UK and many economies are facing at the moment, was there any thought of delaying the issue of this new note until the economic climate improved? Was it wise to issue the Bank of England’s largest note value under these present circumstances?
No, we didn’t consider delaying the issue of this note, I think that would have been quite wrong. Our job is to make sure that we have up-to-date notes in circulation and begin the process of introducing a new-style note and removing the existing style £50 note when we have developed the capability to do so.
There is a constant annual increase on the actual number of banknotes in circulation, but with the popularity of credit and debit cards, is this surprising to the Bank’s note supply section or is it due to specific conditions the public may not be aware of?
In very general terms, in recent years the value of all notes in circulation has increased in line with the increase in the economy. There has been a degree of boost to that growth rate in the past decade especially with the expansion of ATMs. Cash remains tremendously important… for instance, there were around 20 billion cash transactions last year representing £260 billion. That said, without doubt credit and debit cards have impacted how our cash is used. For example last year cash accounted for 60 per cent of all transactions, but if you go back to the figures for 2000 it was around 75 per cent. Nowadays, the majority of cash transactions involve amounts of £10 or less.
If I can focus attention on the smallest note in circulation here in the UK, there is a specific issue regarding the £5 denomination (US$7.75) I remember your predecessor mentioning to me four years ago that he had a stack of letters on his desk from the public commenting on the condition and quantity of £5 notes in circulation. Has this improved since the issue of the Adam Smith £20 note for instance?
At the risk of provoking a stack of letters such as those, I actually haven’t received any letters regarding the condition of the £5 notes. I think that might be because the public know we are trying to address the problem by getting more £5 notes into circulation, which includes working with the major ATM networks but it’s too early to declare a success both in terms of the actual amount of £5 notes and their overall quality. We are taking the relevant steps to improve that situation which Andrew (Bailey) highlighted to you four years ago.
Staying with the £5 note, you have the chance here to clarify the Bank’s position on polymer notes. There seems to be a world-wide trend to plastic banknotes certainly over the last ten years and there have been strong rumors about a £5 plastic Bank of England note. Is there a polymer note in the future for the British public?
Let me start by addressing the rumors and try to squash them. There are no plans to introduce a £5 polymer note contrary to previous stories in the media. At the same time, it’s not something I would completely rule out forever and it would be wrong to do so. You’re right, several countries have chosen to print polymer notes and I think it’s incumbent on us within our general research and development program to look at both the merits and downsides which is something we’re doing. We do this with a lot of banknote features and only a small number of features we look at in the research and development stage end up on our banknotes but as of today, there is no plan.
There are some who are for and against the introduction of a £100 denomination in England but the comparison is often made with Scotland and their £100 notes, which raises the question of why there isn’t the same note value south of the Scottish border. Has the Bank of England arrived at a definite position for the issue of a £100 note specifically pertaining to the “F” series?
Again, it’s important to recognize that I cannot rule this out indefinitely. But I am confident that the four denominations we already have in circulation are fit for purpose. Moreover when the majority of cash transactions as I mentioned earlier is less than £10, the case to introduce a larger denomination doesn’t seem to be there. Regarding our research and development program, contrasting your question on polymer, the development of a larger note is not something we’re looking at.
Lastly, aside from our interview, can you describe what else the Bank of England is doing to publicize the new £50 note to the public?
As you know, we’re been trying to promote the note with a lot of interviews, TV, radio and a lot of printed information, not to mention all of the information available on our website. Between myself and Victoria Cleland (Head of the Note Security department) we’ve conducted over 20 interviews in the last two days of the launch of the note both national and regional. Publications such as CoinUpdate.com also raise awareness internationally. We also have a dedicated education team who distribute information to around 70 trade associations and about 30 larger retailers & financial institutions around the country to raise awareness amongst their companies.
I hope ours was one of the more enjoyable interviews for you! As a dedicated banknote collector myself, I look forward to the next note in the latest series. Chris Salmon, Chief Cashier of the Bank of England, thank you very much for your time today on the occasion of the introduction of the new series “F” £50 note…
Thank you, it’s been a pleasure talking to you.
I would like to thank Ms. Rosey Jeffery and Ms. Sarah Morgan in the Bank of England Press office for their kind assistance and arranging my interview, it is greatly appreciated. In conjunction with the issue of the new note, the Bank of England Museum is hosting an exposition of the history of the £50 note which will include the very first series (Black & White notes) displayed to the most current note issued in 2011. The display will be open from the 24th November to March 2012 and admission to the Museum is always free and definitely worth stopping by if you’re visiting London.
Chronology of Bank of England Banknotes
Since 1695, Bank of England promissory notes were issued as white paper notes. From 1795 and as an answer to a shortage of gold coin, standard banknote denominations of one, five, ten, twenty and fifty pound notes for circulation with higher values printed for transactions between banking institutions. They included intricate watermarking and in later years, a metal security thread and were issued by their offices in London and branches around the United Kingdom with these cities printed on the note. Hand signed by the chief cashier himself, the first notes were for odd amounts and also included the written name of the bearer. White notes were printed on one side only and were often uniform in size, the last notes issued measuring 212 / 133 mm (or 8.3 / 5.2 inches) These notes went almost unchanged in design until the introduction in 1928 of the first color notes using an engraved & offset printing process. The ten, twenty and fifty pound denominations were withdrawn from circulation after World War II and the last of the white £5 notes were issued by the Bank of England in 1955 and were replaced by the next color issue in 1957. A total of 21 post-war banknotes have been issued by the Bank of England consisting of six denominations, two of those values have since been withdrawn from general circulation.
“A” series Britannia seal issue
10 shillings (1928)
One pound (1928)
“B” series Helmeted Britannia issue
Five pounds (1957)
“C” series Royal portrait issue
10 shillings (1961)
One pound (1961)
Five pounds (1963)
Ten pounds (1964)
“D” series Pictorial issue
One pound (1978)
Five pounds (1971)
Ten pounds (1975)
Twenty pounds (1970)
Fifty pounds (1981)
“E” series Historical issue
Five pounds (1990)
Ten pounds (1992)
Twenty pounds (1991)
Fifty pounds (1994)
“E” series (revised reverse designs) Historical issue
Five pounds (2002)
Ten pounds (2000)
Twenty Pounds (1999)
Twenty Pounds (2007)
Fifty pounds (2011)