|The Bank of England’s Head of Notes Division, Victoria Cleland, shows off the concept design of the new polymer 5-pound banknote after a news conference at the Bank of England in London on Wednesday. (AFP-Yonhap News)|
LONDON (AFP) ― The Bank of England is to issue plastic banknotes for the first time in its history, it announced Wednesday, with Winston Churchill gracing the first run.
The polymer note, carrying a value of 5 pounds ($8.2), is to be released in 2016, Britain’s central bank said in a statement, and will feature World War II prime minister Churchill.
A new 10 pound note featuring novelist Jane Austen to be issued a year later will also be made of polymer.
More than 25 other countries have flexible polymer banknotes, with at least seven using only plastic notes.
Sterling is the first of the world’s major currencies ― ahead of the U.S. dollar, euro, yen and the Swiss franc ― to switch to polymer.
Bank of England notes are currently made from cotton paper but a three-year study found that polymer notes stayed cleaner for longer, were more difficult to counterfeit and lasted at least 2.5 times longer.
“Ensuring trust and confidence in money is at the heart of what central banks do. Polymer notes are the next step in the evolution of banknote design to meet that objective,” BOE governor Mark Carney said in the statement.
“Our banknotes will remain both a national symbol and a source of national pride.”
Though slightly smaller, the new notes will retain a similar layout, featuring a 1990 portrait of Queen Elizabeth II, and a historical figure on the reverse.
Future notes will “celebrate individuals that have shaped British thought, innovation, leadership, values and society” and avoid those who would be “unduly divisive,” the bank said.
The BOE first began issuing handwritten notes shortly after it was established in 1694. The first fully-printed notes appeared in 1853.
Last year, the central bank had 2.9 billion notes in circulation, with a face value exceeding 52 billion pounds.
The United Kingdom’s first polymer banknote was a commemorative 5 pound note to mark the year 2000, issued by Northern Ireland’s Northern Bank.