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Home > Education and Museum > The Banknote Gallery

The Banknote Gallery

Banknote designExplore the history of banknotes in our new banknote gallery, which opened in September 2016.

The earliest paper money was a form of receipt for deposits left with goldsmiths for safekeeping. In time it became more convenient to exchange these receipts rather than the gold itself, leading to the rise of paper money.

The Bank has issued banknotes since it was founded in 1694, first handwritten, then printed. But it wasn’t until the twentieth century that the designs really started to change, from simple calligraphic designs to the intricate, colourful notes we use today. And in September 2016 we launched our first plastic note, the New Fiver.

In the new gallery you can:

  • Discover the origins of paper money in ancient China. 
  • See how banknotes have changed from the seventeenth century to the present day.
  • Find out the story behind the ‘Inimitable Note’ competition: a quest at the beginning of the 1800s to create a banknote that couldn’t be copied, and the many intricate and beautiful designs that were the result.
  • See how people have attempted to forge notes over the years.
  • Explore the complex designs that make modern banknotes difficult to counterfeit, and how cutting-edge technology is used to create the Bank of England’s newest note, the polymer £5.
  • Trace the lifecycle of your banknotes from design and manufacture to destruction and recycling.

Did you know?

  • ​The ‘Promise to pay’ has been a feature of the Bank of England’s notes since 1694.
  • The portrait of the monarch (Queen Elizabeth II) first appeared on Bank of England notes in 1960.
  • ​The first historical character to appear on our banknotes was William Shakespeare, who appeared on the £20 note in 1970.


Key Resources

See money come to life - museum guide