Bank of England Unveils Polymer Notes

September 14th, 2016 by

There has been a great deal of experimentation with physical money over the last decade, with government mints around the world attempting to stay a step ahead of would-be counterfeiters. The Bureau of Printing and Engraving in the U.S. updated its $100 note design a few years back, for instance, and more changes appear to be in the works for the $20 and $10 bills. For several decades, the metallic composition of coins has been a similar area of study and some trial and error.

As part of this ongoing effort, the Bank of England (BOE) has introduced new banknotes made of a resilient plastic polymer.

© Bank of England [2015]
Used in Accordance with Section 18 of the Forgery and Counterfeiting Act 1981

Plastic Is the New Paper

There was a time when most of the attention paid to the evolution of money focused on plastic bank cards. (That conversation dovetails with the notion of electronic or digital money.) Ironically, this transition toward a more modern system of cash has actually revealed that consumers around the world continue to demand hard currency.

After years of development, the Bank of England’s new plastic £5 pound note—commonly called a “fiver”—was unveiled this week. The advantages of the new polymer-based banknotes are twofold. The country’s treasury will save money thanks to the enhanced durability of these notes, which are more flexible than their paper predecessors: the added durability means that, in the BOE’s estimation, this form of currency will expand the lifespan of the average legal tender note by 150% and cut down on the rate of mutilated currency that must be replaced. They are also smaller than the paper banknotes, which will now be phased out of existence.

BOE Governor Mark Carney publicly demonstrated the resilience of the new notes on Tuesday:

tweet-carneyCarney said that the polymer banknotes can even withstand a trip into the washing machine—a claim substantiated by rigorous testing of this very scenario.

Security Concerns

Aside from the practical advantages of a longer circulation life, the new pound notes also boast new security features to combat counterfeiting efforts. The front side of the note features gold foil while the reverse uses a silver foil accent. Transparent devices and holograms also make the new notes more difficult to fake.

The famed British statesman Winston Churchill appears on the back of the design for the new 5-pound note along with the iconic clock tower known as Big Ben. A portrait of Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II still appears on the front. According to the BBC, polymer versions of a new £10 note depicting author Jane Austen and a new £20 note featuring artist J.M.W. Turner will make their debut in 2017 and 2020, respectively.


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