The banknotes worth more than face value: As the Bank of England prints the first plastic Churchill fivers, interest in early five-pound notes is set to rise
The old paper £5 is being replaced with a plastic note from next month – a move that should renew collector interest in rare early fivers.
The new note is made of a polymer, not paper, and should be harder to forge or accidentally destroy.
This latest fiver will feature a picture of wartime leader Winston Churchill – who replaces prison reformer Elizabeth Fry.
Paper chase: Andrew Pattison with a 'White Fiver' from 1944
It will be issued on September 13 as the latest makeover of a note first issued in 1793. The new note will be phased in so that by May 2017 it will have replaced the old fiver altogether – shops will then stop accepting paper £5 notes as legal tender.
The Royal Mint is replacing the £1 coin from next March in a bid to beat fraudsters – as one in 30 £1 coins is believed to be a counterfeit.
The main difference with the new coin is it will have a 12-sided design and resemble the old three-penny bit rather than be rounded.
The new £1 will also be two-tone – a nickel-brass shading around the outside and silvery nickel-plated alloy in the middle.
The money is to be phased in over six months with 1.4 billion coins produced to replace the old ones being withdrawn.
High five: The new plastic fiver, which will first be given to the Queen, features Winston Churchill
After September 2017 shops will stop accepting old £1 coins but banks will still happily swap them for the shiny new pieces. Your bank and building society is still also likely to accept your old £5 notes while the Bank of England has promised to swap them for new money.
Late 18th and early 19th Century fivers are rare – most people of this time never saw paper money in an era when average earnings were less than £20 a year.
Today, if you stumble across one of these early so-called ‘White Fiver’ notes it may be worth £10,000 or more.
They were printed on white paper and individually signed. The notes were about twice the size of the new plastic one that will be just five inches wide – 15 per cent smaller than the current fiver.
Andrew Pattison, banknote specialist for international auction house Spink, says: ‘There has been a real surge of interest in collecting old banknotes in the past few years. This new £5 may help to boost their appeal.’
He points out that the British fiver was produced in black ink on white paper until 1956. A year later, the first blue note was released along with pictures – Britannia on one side and a lion on the back.
These notes are known as the ‘Lion & Key’ or ‘Helmeted Britannia’ and were legal tender until 1967.
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A portrait of the Queen was not included until 1963 when her arrival relegated Britannia to the back of the note, holding an olive branch.
Pattison says: ‘Although the early notes may not always be interesting to look at, this does not affect their price – it is the history behind them that creates the value.’
Among his favourites is a 1914 fiver that belonged to Lord Montagu of Beaulieu who was a passenger on the SS Persia that was torpedoed by a German submarine in December 1915 during the First World War.
Fortunately, the owner survived – though sadly his mistress Eleanor Thornton did not. Thornton’s figure is immortalised as the model behind the ‘Spirit of Ecstasy’ that adorns all Rolls-Royce car bonnets.
Pattison says: ‘Lord Montagu was in the water for 32 hours before being rescued. He later wrote a letter to the banknote manufacturer Portals congratulating it on the quality of its paper.
‘Unlike other papers he had been carrying at the time, the banknote survived. We sold it two years ago for £800.’
Pattison points out that the first couple of new notes issued are historically given to the Queen – so she will be the first to have plastic fivers in her purse.
But low serial numbers can still be found – and are highly collectable – if a new set is issued due to a change in the chief cashier.
Changes: The Royal Mint is also replacing the £1 coin from next March in a bid to beat fraudsters – as one in 30 £1 coins is believed to be a counterfeit
Under such circumstances, the first notes do not go to Royalty. Last year Spink sold a fiver with a serial number one from 1955 for £30,000. At the same sale, 1955 serial number one notes for both ten shillings and £1 sold for £9,000 each.
Denominations above a fiver can do even better in sales. A rare 1925 note for £500 sold for £26,000 last year. If a £1,000 note of the same period were discovered it might sell for even more.
Five years ago, one of nine one million pound notes issued in 1948 when the British economy was struggling to foot the bill for the Second World War sold for £69,000.
These one million pound notes were receipts rather than legal tender but if you own a British banknote from any time – no matter how out of date – the Bank of England should pay you the value that is printed on the paper.
Pam West, dealer at Pam West British Notes in Sutton, Surrey, believes collectors should invest in the best quality notes that they can afford.
She says: ‘The last white fiver was issued in December 1956 and remained legal tender until 1961. Top quality examples from the 1950s can sell for £300 but if well used they will fetch less than £100.
‘In the mid-1800s, the five pound note was rare as most people never earned that kind of money and any cash they did manage to get their hands on was immediately spent. For this reason a £5 note from this era can sell for £10,000. Yet a £5 note from even earlier – 1800 or before – could sell for as much as £15,000 in top condition.’
A good place for note collectors to start is to dig out a copy of English Paper Money by Vincent Duggleby, edited by Pam West. The book is currently out of print but a new edition is due out early next year.