Ten things you need to know about Bank of England banknotes

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Have you ever been given a duff banknote or found one after it’s been through the washing cycle? Can you name the people whose faces are on banknotes (apart from the Queen)? Do you know when the first banknote was issued? Probably not, why would you! Here ten things you didn’t realise you needed to know about banknotes.

1. The first banknote in the UK was issued by the Bank of England soon after 1694.
That’s when the bank was set up to raise money for a war against France. The notes were initially written by hand on Bank of England paper. From 1725 the Bank started issuing notes for fixed amounts of money (but the smallest denomination was £20 — the average worker’s annual salary!).

2. Freddie Mercury and Agatha Christie are among the names who have been suggested by the public to feature on banknotes.

Other names include Lady Godiva, Catherine of Aragon and Lord Nelson.

Elizabeth Fry is the only woman currently featuring on banknotes (she’s on £5 notes). She is due to be replaced by Sir Winston Churchill in 2015, and Jane Austen will feature on £10 banknotes during 2016.

3. Plastic banknotes are due to be printed from 2016
The Jane Austen and Sir Winston Churchill banknotes will be printed on flexible polymer rather than on cotton paper that’s currently used. They will still be foldable (the plastic won’t be thick like a credit card, but thin and flexible). The notes will last longer and be cleaner, but they’ll also be smaller than existing £5 and £10 notes.

4. You can change a damaged or mutilated banknote for a new one at the Bank of England.
The Bank of England has a ‘Mutilated Notes’ service, which will reimburse members of the public for the value of any damaged or mutilated bank notes, as long as ‘there are sufficient fragments’. If you have a damaged banknote, you should fill in a claim form and send it, with the note/fragments, to: The Manager, Dept MN, Bank of England, King Street, Leeds LS1 1HT. You can download a mutilated banknotes form from the Bank of England website.

SAVVY TIP: If you have damaged Scottish banknotes, they should be sent to Clydesdale bank or Bank of Scotland, depending on which bank issued them. You can find out more about Scottish banknotes on the Committee of Scottish bankers website.

4. In the 1800s wealthy individuals were able to issue their own banknotes.

The law prevented companies or partnerships with more than six people from issuing their own banknotes, but ‘country bankers’ (either individuals or small firms) were able to issue banknotes in England until 1826.

6. Bank of England banknotes became legal tender in 1833.
In 1833 a new law meant that Bank of England banknotes were legal tender for all amounts above £5.

7. Once banknotes have been withdrawn, you can still change them at the Bank of England.
All Bank of England notes are payable forever at face value at the Bank of England after they’ve been withdrawn. You can either go to the Bank of England in person or send them by post (do it registered post!). You can download a form for banknotes withdrawn from circulation on the Bank of England’s website and you can find more information about how to exchange old banknotes on the site.

SAVVY TIP: The Bank of England doesn’t exchange any coins withdrawn from circulation.

8. It is a criminal offence to forge banknotes — and to reproduce any part of them without permission.
If you want to reproduce a banknote — to publicise a charity fundraising event or something similar — you must apply to the Bank of England for permission. You should do this — and get the permission – in writing. You can read some guidelines on reproducing banknotes and download a banknotes reproduction form if it’s something you’re interested in doing.

9. Counterfeit notes are worthless and you bear the loss if you’re given one.
If you accept a counterfeit note in change, you’re the one who bears the loss. You can’t swap it for a genuine one or take it back to the person/shop that gave it to you. It’s your responsibility to check that a note is genuine. The Bank of England has some information on the security measures built into each note. There’s also a detailed downloadable guide to all the security measures of each banknote.

10. It’s a criminal offence to hang onto or pass on a counterfeit note.
The Bank of England says you should take them to the police who will send them to the Bank for analysis. You’ll get your money back if it turns out to be genuine.

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