Bring out your ‘Houblons’

Old-style £50 notes to be withdrawn from circulation on April 30

Criminals, tradesmen and savers beware: the old-series £50 banknote is to be withdrawn from circulation this Wednesday, April 30.

After today, notes featuring the first governor of the Bank of England, Sir John Houblon, will be unlikely to be accepted in shops, and will only be exchangeable at the discretion of individual banks and building societies.

The BoE estimated a couple of weeks ago that 53m old “fifties” were still in circulation, worth £2.65bn. Should the notes – known in some circles as “nifties” or “bullseyes” – not be spent or deposited today, they can be exchanged at face value with the BoE.

Barclays, the Post Office and the RBS group of banks have agreed to exchange the notes up to a value of £200 per transaction until the end of October.

So-called “Houblons”, introduced in 1994, are last remaining of the “E” series of Bank of England notes which also featured composer Edward Elgar (£20), novelist Charles Dickens (£10) and railway pioneer George Stephenson (£5).

Their replacement, introduced in November 2011, features Matthew Boulton and James Watt, the business partners who developed steam engine technology in the late 18th century.

The new notes incorporate a number of security features, including an ultraviolet feature and micro-lettering, that make them harder to counterfeit. They are the second of the BoE’s “F” series of notes, after the £20 note featuring Scottish economist Adam Smith.

New £5 and £10 notes are set to be introduced in 2016 and 2017 respectively, featuring wartime prime minister Winston Churchill and author Jane Austen. The selection of the latter followed a successful campaign to retain a female historical figure among those gracing the BoE’s banknotes.

These two notes will be printed on polymer, a thin flexible plastic film, rather than the cotton paper that has been long-used. The BoE has said that polymer notes will prove more durable and secure material. Australia and Canada are among the 25 countries already using polymer tender.

Alongside these advances in banknote technology is the advance of contactless card payment.

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UK consumers spent a record £109m using contactless cards during the month of March, treble the amount in March 2013, according to data released by the UK Cards Association.

Purchases up to the value of £20 can be made by touching a card against a retailer’s contactless reader. The average value of a transaction by contactless card is currently £6.46, the trade body says.

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