The first bank notes featuring the new King will go on display next month in an exhibition that will also look at the future of money in general. The exhibition at the Bank of England Museum will give people a first chance to see the King Charles III banknotes, which will start appearing in wallets later this year.
The exhibition will also ask whether cash will last much longer. In 2011, over half of payments were made using cash, but now just 15% are, and that’s predicted to fall to just 6% by 2031.
Swapping the monarch’s head on coins is an ancient tradition, but on banknotes, it’s a surprisingly recent idea.
Putting the monarch’s head on a banknote did exist as an early form of protection against counterfeiting, with the first appearing in 1727, but as it was very expensive to print the illustrated banknote, it was limited to the most expensive banknotes, such as an issue of £20 notes by the Royal Bank of Scotland in 1727 (equivalent to a £3,300 banknote today).
The first monarch to appear on English bank notes was King George V in 1917, and only on £1 and 10 shilling notes, and they were issued by HM Treasury, not the Bank of England. So, it may seem surprising, but Queen Elizabeth II was the first monarch to appear on all general denominations of Bank of England banknotes, and only from the 1960s onwards. Hence, it’s a relatively recent tradition.
However, depending on how long both king and cash last, it’s theoretically possible that King Charles III could be the first male monarch to appear on all denominations of English banknotes in general circulation — and the last.
The exhibition at the Bank of England Museum, will also look at the future of a post-cash society, including digital currencies, the lifespan of cash and the impact of banking on the environment. It will also feature the latest developments, including the digital pound, a digital currency issued by the Bank of England, just like banknotes.
The exhibition, The Future of Money opens on 28th February 2024 and runs until September 2025.
The exhibition is free to visit at the Bank of England Museum, which is open Mon to Fri from 10am to 5pm, plus late until 8pm (last entry 7.30pm) every third Thursday of the month.