The introduction of decimal currency

Release date: 9 February 2016

Many people may well remember the introduction of decimal currency on Monday 14 February 1966, which was known at the time as “C-Day” (Conversion Day). The replacement of pounds, shillings and pence with dollars and cents was a momentous change that affected key aspects of daily life in Australia.

The Decimal Currency Australia: 1966–2016 stamp issue, released on 9 February 2016, commemorates 50 years since this historic event.

Following much discussion and debate, Prime Minister Robert Menzies announced, in 1963, the existing currency of pounds, shillings and pence, based on a system of 12, would be replaced by a decimal system, based on 10, with the major unit made up of 100 subunits (i.e. 100c = $1). While this sounds logical enough, in reality it took a significant amount of planning and work to ensure an efficient transition.

Dollar Bills and Dollars Jills …

Following an extensive 18-month public advertising and education campaign, it would seem that, for the most part, Australia’s transition to decimal currency was relatively smooth. In the lead-up to the change, Australians sung the “Dollars and cents” jingle, to the tune of “Click Go the Shears” and had their questions answered by the “Dollar Jills” in the general post office of each capital city. A cartoon character, “Dollar Bill” wrote to millions of school children about the change, and every householder received a special conversion card and detailed booklet.

A transition period of around 18 months operated from C-day, during which pounds, shillings and pence were in dual circulation with decimal currency. (There was no grace period for banks, however, which had the make the switch immediately, by law.) And yet, in many quarters it seems that the introduction of new currency was swift. In Australian Stamp Monthly, for example, advertising in the January 1966 edition was in pounds and pence, whereas by the March 1966 issue, dollars and cents featured virtually throughout.

Perhaps unsurprisingly, some, such as used car salesmen, appeared more reluctant to convert because doing so made their prices seem higher. And indeed, while it seemed that the cost of most items had literally doubled overnight, it appeared that the same had happened to salaries too!Perhaps the transition to decimal currency was fairly smooth in part because the pre-decimal system was so complex. Our pre-decimal monetary system was inherited from Great Britain and comprised three units: pounds, shillings and pence. The pound (£) divided into 20 shillings, and a shilling into 12 pence, which meant that £1 equalled 240 pence. And to think that all of these conversions were done without the aid of modern devices. Like the English language itself, the complexities seem much easier when you are “born” into the system …

What’s in a name?

While the term “dollar” may seem a totally obvious choice to replace “pound”, there was much discussion and even a little controversy on the matter. Prime Minister Menzies sought to maintain Australia’s historical ties with Britain by naming the new major unit of currency the “royal”, but this did not sit well with the community, which favoured a name that signified a greater sense of independence. Many public submissions were received, recommending names as varied as the “austral”, “oz”, “roo”, “emu”, “kanga”, “quid”, “dinkum”, “digger” and even “Canberra”.

The implication for stamps

At the time, all Australian stamp production was undertaken by the Note Printing Branch, in Melbourne. This made things particularly challenging, in part because the production of the new decimal notes had the greatest of priority and in part because of the sheer volume of philatelic items that needed to be produced – an estimated 200 different postal items for Australia and the territories. Pre-decimal stamp production continued together with the production for new decimal stamps. Care had to be taken, of course, not to overproduce pre-decimal stamps, so as not to cause wastage (as the stamps could not be sold after C-Day).

By November 1965, the initial production of 24 different decimal stamps was completed, necessitated by the fact that every post office across Australia had to be stocked with decimal stamps for sale on C-Day. Production was aided by the fact that the new stamps involved making minimal design changes to existing stamps. All pre-decimal stamps were withdrawn from sale on the last day of trading before C-Day, Saturday 12 February 1966.

The low denominations of decimal stamps (1c to 4c) comprised the Queen’s portrait stamps printed by the one-colour intaglio process. The common design eliminated the need to engrave separate stamp dies.

The medium range of denominations (5c to 30c) consisted of birds and marine life stamps printed by the multicolour photogravure process. Again to save time, most of the bird stamps required the change of only one new printing cylinder for each stamp for the new denomination.

The high-value Navigators series (40c to $4), printed by one-colour intaglio, involved a change of denomination only, again to minimise the engraving of new dies.

The 50th anniversary stamp

The stamp design, by Melinda Coombes, represents the change from pre-decimal to decimal currency through the £1 note, $1 note and $1 coin.

The new decimal $1 note, introduced in 1966 was designed by renowned Sydney-based designer Gordon Andrews (1914–2001). Andrews also designed the $5 and $50 notes, released in 1967 and 1973 respectively. The $1 note stylistically references Aboriginal culture in the coat of arms, while still complying with the Royal Warrant of 1912. The back of this note shows Andrews’ interpretation of a bark painting by David (Daymirringu) Malangi, as well as other Aboriginal paintings and carvings. The two banknotes are accompanied by the $1 coin, which was designed by expatriate Australian gold- and silversmith Stuart Devlin (1931–). It was introduced in 1984 to replace the $1 note. The stamp shows its reverse, which depicts a mob of kangaroos, while an effigy of Queen Elizabeth II appears on the obverse.

The coins produced with the introduction of decimal currency were the 1c, 2c, 5c, 10c, 20c and 50c. These were also designed by Devlin, who was chosen over a pool of five other designers. Geelong-born Devlin, who has long lived in England, was granted the Royal Warrant in 1982, as goldsmith and jeweller to the Queen. He has designed coins for some 36 countries during his distinguished career. The original designs of only the 5c, 10c and 20c remain in circulation, a testament to Devlin’s beautifully modern and sculptural designs.

So while we reflect on this important change in Australia, some of you may even be tempted to sing the jingle …

In come the dollars,
in come the cents,
to replace the pounds and shillings and the pence.
Be prepared for change when the coins begin to mix,
on the 14th of February, 1966.

Clink go the cents folks, clink, clink, clink.
Changeover day is closer than you think.
Learn the value of the coins and the way that they appear
and things will be much smoother when the decimal point is here.

View the National Film and Sound Archive of Australia video of Dollar Bill and Australians Keep The Wheels Of Industry Turning

The Decimal Currency Australia: 1966–2016 stamp issue is available from 9 February (while stocks last) and also at participating Post Offices and via mail order on 1800 331 794.

A fascinating history behind the introduction of decimal currency is told in the prestige booklet accompanying the stamp issue In Come the Dollars.

 

Technical details

  • Issue date

    9 February 2016
  • FDI withdrawal

    8 March 2016
  • Denomination

    1 x $1
  • Stamp design

    Melinda Coombes, Coombes, Whitechurch Design
  • Product design

    Melinda Coombes, Coombes Whitechurch Design
  • Paper (gummed)

    Tullis Russell Red Phos
  • Printer (gummed)

    EgoTrade Pty Ltd
  • Printing process

    Offset lithography
  • Stamp size

    50mm x 30mm
  • Sheetlet size

    150mm x 200mm
  • Perforations

    14.4 x 14
  • Sheet layout

    Module of 10
  • National postmark

    Canberra, ACT 2600
  • Issue withdrawal date

    31 August 2016

*This content was produced at the time of the stamp issue release date and will not be updated.