Tuesday, January 22, 2008


I've been planning to write about the money over here for quite some time now, as it's different in more ways than you'd think. So let's get cracking.

The basics, you probably already know. The currency in all of the UK is the pound sterling (£). It's divided into 100 pence (p). For coinage, there's 1p, 2p, 5p, 10p, 20p, 50p, 1£, and 2£ coins. See picture here. Just like in Canada, you get different pictures on the coins on occasion, although this doesn't occur with the frequency that quarters get done over back home (i.e. every year). Mostly, I see different versions of the pound coin - ones with a coat of arms, with 3 lions, with a thistle, with a dragon, with a rose and cross.

The 1p coin is called a penny, and collectively with the 2p coins they're referred to as "coppers". All the other coins are called by their value: i.e. "a 20p". I know some people that refer to the silver coins - 5p, 10p, 20p, and 50p - as shrapnel, but I would not say that's universal.

It's not the coinage that's quite different over here, but the banknotes, or what we would call "bills" in Canada. Firstly: they're different sizes. The £10 note is about the size of a Canadian bill of any denomination; I compared when I was home and found the £10 is a bit shorter and a touch wider. However, the £5 note is smaller than the £10, and the £20 note is bigger than both, so that the edges of it always stuck out of my old, Canadian wallet and got bent. I've only seen £50 notes on occasion, but they're bigger still. So I figure if I ever get my hands on a £100 note, I'll have to fold it two times just to get it into my wallet.

If you just went to England, you probably wouldn't find anything other than the sizes out of the ordinary - you'd have the coins, and then notes issued by the Bank of England for £5, £10, and £20, etc. If you went to Wales, it'd just be the same. However, it's a different ball game when you go to Scotland or Northern Ireland.

In Scotland, there are three banks that issue banknotes, so for every denomination, there are three different notes. Now, these banks aren't like the Bank of England (or the Bank of Canada) - the Scottish banks are actual banks, as in you could go to a branch and open up an account with them. For example, my bank over here is the Royal Bank of Scotland, and it's one of the banks that prints notes. The other banks are Bank of Scotland and Clydesdale Bank.

So in day-to-day life in Scotland, it's common to come across 4 different versions of banknotes. Here's some pictures I took of my own money (you can find pictures of all the UK possibilities on this site, where they want to sell you signed notes):

£20 notes: Clydesdale on top left (Robert the Bruce pictured), Bank of Scotland on top right (Walter Scott pictured on all their notes), Royal Bank of Scotland on bottom left (Lord Lay, First Governor on all their notes), Bank of England on bottom right (with the ol' Queen).Reverse side of the notes above.
£10 pound notes ("tenners"): same bank order as above. That's Mary Slessor on the Clydesdale note; I'm guessing she has something to do with the African missionary work shown on the reverse.
Reverse side of the above notes - that's Charles Darwin on the back of the English note.

£5 notes ("fivers"): I commonly only see these two versions, and when I took these pictures ages ago I actually thought that they were the only two. But there are fivers made by Bank of Scotland - I've only seen the "new" ones (more about that in a minute). Robert Burns is on the Clydesdale note. Reverse of the fivers. That mouse is in reference to Burns' poem to a mouse.
There's also one pound notes in Scotland, but I haven't seen any of them since I worked at the Coylet Inn, where customers would have them and I'd get them in my change when shopping once in a while.
Also, there's now new Bank of Scotland notes that are much more colourful then before (looking more like the new Canadian notes, so I assume the added colour is for security reasons).
As I mentioned, Northern Ireland has different notes as well - I've occasionally seen banknotes from Ulster Bank and Northern Bank when I get customers who've been there recently. Wales doesn't have its own notes any more since the last bank that issued them there folded. And English provincial banks used to issue their own notes up until the 1800's, I've gathered.
It gets more complicated. I hear frequently of how businesses in England won't accept Scottish banknotes, either because they don't think it's legal tender in England or because they're not confident they can spot counterfeit since they don't see the money often (then there's the theory that they do it as just another way to oppress the Scots).
The Wikipedia article on banknotes states that Scottish notes aren't legal tender even in Scotland, because they are promissory notes (this is based on a very strict economic/accounting definition of legal tender that I won't pretend to entirely understand, not the common usage definition of legal tender). Indeed, all the Scottish notes bear some statement that the bank "promises to pay the bearer on demand X pounds sterling". However, the banknotes are as good in England as they are in Scotland in terms of legality; the Scottish banks have to back up their banknotes with that actual amount of currency to the Bank of England.
Anyway, there's a lot of information out there on it and I'm not going to regurgitate it all, so I'll leave it as an exercise to the reader to research more if desired.

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