Little book of treasures from the British Museum, £3.00
Length: 212.000 mm
Width: 134.000 mm
Coins and Medals
£5 note, Bank of England
Great Britain, AD 1947
The black and white fiver
The first Bank of England notes to be printed in colour were the one pound and ten shilling notes issued in 1928 to replace the Treasury notes that were issued during a period of coin restriction during the First World War (1914-18). However, the higher denomination notes kept their traditional appearance.
The Bank's early notes were printed in black ink on creamy white paper. They consisted mainly of text, the only ornament being a small vignette of a seated Britannia, based on the Bank's official seal. Until the middle of the nineteenth century there were many different engravings of Britannia, many of a poor standard which could easily be copied. In 1855 the Bank introduced a new design, with a Britannia in the style of a Saxon princess, engraved by the Irish artist, Daniel Maclise, R.A (1806-70).
This simple, elegant design - seen here in a note of 1947 - was maintained for just over a century, until a new coloured five pound note was issued in 1957. The old note is still remembered with affection by many people, for whom the crisp crackle of a black and white fiver was the very essence of money.
Maclise's Britannia has also appeared in colour on the notes of 1928, and more recently on twenty pound notes issued since 1991. On the current design she is one of the images visible in the silver foil hologram.
D. Byatt, Promises to pay: the first 300 (London, Spink, 1994)
V.H. Hewitt and J.M. Keyworth, As good as gold: 300 years of (London, The British Museum Press, 1987)