15 February 1971

The decimalisation of British coinage is completed on Decimal Day.

On 15 February 1971, known as Decimal Day, the United Kingdom and Ireland decimalised their currencies.
Under the old currency of pounds, shillings and pence, the pound was made up of 240 pence denoted by the letter d for Latin denarius and now referred to as “old pence”, with 12 pence in a shilling and 20 shillings in a pound.

The loss of value of the currency meant that the “old” penny, with the same diameter as the US half-dollar, had become of relatively low value.

The Coinage Act of 1792 had officially authorized the United States as the first English-speaking nation to have decimalised currency, although Tsar Peter the Great used the concept for the Russian ruble close to a century earlier, in 1704, while China has used such a decimal system for at least 2000 years. The United Kingdom’s Parliament rejected Sir John Wrottesley’s proposals to decimalise sterling in 1824, which was prompted by the introduction in 1795 of the decimal French franc. After this defeat, little practical progress towards decimalisation was made for over a century, with the exception of the two-shilling silver florin worth 1/10 of a pound first issued in 1849. A double florin or four-shilling piece was a further step in that direction but failed to gain acceptance and was struck only from 1887 to 1890.

The Decimal Association was founded in 1841 to promote decimalisation and metrication, both causes that were boosted by a realisation of the importance of international trade following the 1851 Great Exhibition. It was as a result of the growing interest in decimalisation that the florin was issued.

In their preliminary report, the Royal Commission on Decimal Coinage considered the benefits and problems of decimalisation but did not draw any conclusion about the adoption of any such scheme. A final report in 1859 from the two remaining commissioners, Lord Overstone and Governor of the Bank of England John Hubbard came out against the idea, claiming it had “few merits”.

In 1862, the Select Committee on Weights and Measures favoured the introduction of decimalisation to accompany the introduction of metric weights and measures.

The decimalisation movement even entered fiction. In Anthony Trollope’s Palliser novels, Plantagenet Palliser is a passionate advocate of decimalisation, a cause the other characters seem to find intensely boring. Palliser’s scheme would have divided the shilling into ten presumably revalued pennies. This would have changed the threepence into 2 1/2

new pence, the sixpence into fivepence and the half crown into a two shilling, five pence piece. It would also have required the withdrawal and reissuance of the existing copper coinage. At the end of the fifth book in the series, The Prime Minister, Palliser muses that the reform will not be accomplished, since it can only be done by a Chancellor of the Exchequer sitting in the House of Commons, and the Duke now sits in the House of Lords.

The Royal Commission on Decimal Coinage, chaired by Lord Emmott, reported in 1920 that the only feasible scheme was to divide the pound into 1,000 mills but that this would be too inconvenient. A minority of four members disagreed, saying that the disruption would be worthwhile. A further three members recommended that the pound should be replaced by the Royal, consisting of 100 halfpennies.

In 1960, a report prepared jointly by the British Association for the Advancement of Science and the Association of British Chambers of Commerce, followed by the success of decimalisation in South Africa, prompted the Government to set up the Committee of the Inquiry on Decimal Currency in 1961, which reported in 1963. The adoption of the changes suggested in the report was announced on 1 March 1966. The Decimal Currency Board was created to manage the transition, although the plans were not approved by Parliament until the Decimal Currency Act in May 1969. Former Greater London Council leader Bill Fiske was named as the Chairman of the Decimal Currency Board.

Consideration was given to introducing a new major unit of currency worth ten shillings in the old currency: suggested names included the new pound, the royal and the noble. This would have resulted in the “decimal penny” being worth only slightly more than the old penny this approach was adopted, for example, when South Africa, Australia and New Zealand decimalised in the 1960s, adopting respectively the South African rand, Australian dollar and New Zealand dollar equal in value to 10 shillings. But Halsbury decided, in view of the pound sterling’s importance as a reserve currency, that the pound should remain unchanged.

Under the new system, the pound was retained but was divided into 100 new pence, denoted by the symbol p. New coinage was issued alongside the old coins. The 5p and 10p coins were introduced in April 1968 and were the same size, composition, and value as the shilling and two shillings coins in circulation with them. In October 1969 the 50p coin was introduced, with the 10s note withdrawn on 20 November 1970. This reduced the number of new coins that had to be introduced on Decimal Day and meant that the public was already familiar with three of the six new coins. Small booklets were made available containing some or all of the new denominations.

The old halfpenny was withdrawn from circulation on 31 July 1969, and the half-crown followed on 31 December to ease the transition.

There was a substantial publicity campaign in the weeks before Decimalisation Day, including a song by Max Bygraves called “Decimalisation”. The BBC broadcast a series of five-minute programmes, “Decimal Five”, to which The Scaffold contributed some specially written tunes. ITV repeatedly broadcast a short drama called Granny Gets The Point, starring Doris Hare, the actress in On The Buses, where an elderly woman who does not understand the new system is taught to use it by her grandson. At 10 am on 15 February itself BBC1 broadcast ‘New Money Day’, a ‘Merry-go-Round’ schools’ programme in which puppet maker Peter Firmin and his small friend Muskit encountered different prices and new coins when they went to the shops.

Banks received stocks of the new coins in advance and these were issued to retailers shortly before Decimalisation Day to enable them to give change immediately after the changeover. Banks were closed from 3:30 pm on Wednesday 10 February 1971 to 10:00 am on Monday 15 February, to enable all outstanding cheques and credits in the clearing system to be processed and customers’ account balances to be converted from £sd to decimal. In many banks the conversion was done manually, as most bank branches were not yet computerised. February had been chosen for Decimal Day because it was the quietest time of the year for the banks, shops, and transport organisations.

Many items were priced in both currencies for some time before and after. Prior to Decimal Day the double pricing was displayed as e.g. 1s; from Decimal Day the order was switched to 5p . For example, this order was used on most football programmes during the 1970–71 season. High denomination 10p, 20p, and 50p stamps were issued on 17 June 1970. Post offices were issued with very simple training stamps in the same colours as the upcoming decimal stamps.

Exceptions to the 15 February introduction were British Rail and London Transport, which went decimal one day early, the former urging customers, if they chose to use pennies or threepenny pieces, to pay them in multiples of 6d. Bus companies at that time many state-owned by the National Bus Company were another exception, going decimal on Sunday 21 February.

14 February 1946

The Bank of England is nationalized.

The Bank of England Act 1946 c 27 is an Act of Parliament of the United Kingdom which came into force on 14 February 1946. The Act brought all of the stock of the Bank of England into public ownership on the “appointed date” 1 March 1946. This was one of a series of nationalisations by the post-war Labour government led by Clement Attlee.

Britain remained on the gold standard until 1931, when the gold and foreign exchange reserves were transferred to the Treasury; however, they continued to be managed by the Bank.

During the governorship of Montagu Norman, from 1920 to 1944, the Bank made deliberate efforts to move away from commercial banking and become a central bank. In 1946, shortly after the end of Norman’s tenure, the bank was nationalised by the Labour government.

13 February 1955

Israel obtains four of the seven Dead Sea Scrolls.

On February 13, 1955, Israel’s prime minister, Moshe Sharett, held a press conference to announce that the country had acquired four more of the fabled Dead Sea Scrolls, an acquisition of sterling importance to scholars of ancient Judaism and early Christianity and a real coup for the fledgling state’s national pride.

The initial discovery of what came to be known collectively as the Dead Sea Scrolls — referring to whole documents and fragments of some 950 parchment scrolls, dating to the period between the 3rd century B.C.E. and the 1st century C.E. — was in 1946. That’s when three Bedouin of the Ta’amra tribe happened upon the first part of a cache of seven rolled-up pieces of parchment, stored for over 2,000 years in clay jars in a cave in the hills overlooking the western shore of the Dead Sea, adjacent to the site known as Qumran, north of Ein Gedi.

12 February 1961

The USSR launches Venera 1 towards Venus.

On November 16, 1965, Soviet spacecraft Venera 3 was launched. The Venera program space probe was built and launched by the Soviet Union to explore the surface of Venus. It possibly crashed on Venus on 1 March 1966, possibly making Venera 3 the first space probe to hit the surface of another planet.

The Venera Series Space Probes
The Venera series space probes were developed by the Soviet Union between 1961 and 1984 to gather data from Venus, Venera being the Russian name for Venus. The first Soviet attempt at a flyby probe to Venus was launched on February 4, 1961, but failed to leave Earth orbit. In keeping with the Soviet policy at that time of not announcing details of failed missions, the launch was announced under the name Tyazhely Sputnik “Heavy Satellite”. It is also known as Venera 1VA. Venera 1 and Venera 2 were intended as fly-by probes to fly past Venus without entering orbit. Venera 1 , also known as Venera-1VA No.2 and occasionally in the West as Sputnik 8 was launched on February 12, 1961. Telemetry on the probe failed seven days after launch. It flew past Venus on 19 May. However, since radio contact with the probe was lost before the flyby, no data could be returned. It is believed to have passed within 100,000 km of Venus and remains in heliocentric orbit. With the help of the British radio telescope at Jodrell Bank, some weak signals from Venera 1 may have been detected in June. Soviet engineers believed that Venera-1 failed due to the overheating of a solar-direction sensor.

Venera 2 also Lost
Venera 2 launched on November 12, 1965, but also suffered a telemetry failure after leaving Earth orbit. The Venera 2 spacecraft was equipped with cameras, as well as a magnetometer, solar and cosmic x-ray detectors, piezoelectric detectors, ion traps, a Geiger counter and receivers to measure cosmic radio emissions The spacecraft made its closest approach to Venus at 02:52 UTC on 27 February 1966, at a distance of 23,810 km. During the flyby, all of Venera 2’s instruments were activated, requiring that radio contact with the spacecraft be suspended. The probe was to have stored data using onboard recorders, and then transmitted it to Earth once contact was restored. Following the flyby the spacecraft failed to reestablish communications with the ground. It was declared lost on 4 March. An investigation into the failure determined that the spacecraft had overheated due to a radiator malfunction. Several other failed attempts at Venus flyby probes were launched by the Soviet Union in the early 1960s, but were not announced as planetary missions at the time, and hence did not officially receive the “Venera” designation.