History of the use of the single crossbar pound sign on Bank of England’s banknotes

Freedom of Information rules mean that, as a public authority, the Bank of England is obliged to disclose certain types of information, both proactively and on request

Date: 18 March 2022

Disclosure: 

Why has the GBP sign changed from 2 bars across the £ to one bar?

You may be interested to know that the use of this symbol as a unit of currency goes back many years. The origin of the pound sign (‘GBP Sign’) itself developed over the years from the letter L, the initial letter of the Latin word 'libra', meaning a pound of money. It is not actually known for certain when the horizontal line, or lines first came to be drawn through the L, although there is, in the Bank of England’s (the ‘Bank’s’) collection, a cheque dated January 1660 with a clearly discernible ‘£’ sign. By the time that the Bank was founded in 1694, the ‘£’ symbol was in common use. 

I thought it would be useful to briefly explain the history of the use of the single crossbar pound sign on the Bank’s banknotes over the years with different series notes. I have provided a timeline below:

  • The single crossbar on the £1 note was introduced in 1978 with the 'D' Series note depicting Isaac Newton on the reverse (the 'C' series did not have a pound sign).
  • The single crossbar on the £5 note was introduced in 1990 with the 'E' Series note depicting George Stephenson on the reverse. 
  • The single crossbar on the £10 note was introduced in 1975 with the 'D' Series note depicting Florence Nightingale on the reverse. 
  • The single crossbar on the £20 note was introduced in 1970 with the 'D' Series note depicting William Shakespeare on the reverse. 
  • The single crossbar on the £50 note was introduced in 1981 with the 'D' Series note depicting Christopher Wren on the reverse.

Our understanding is that the change from two to one crossbar was purely stylistic.

Two publications on the subject that you may find interesting are:

‘The Pound, A Biography’, by David Sinclair (Arrow Books, 2000; ISBN: 0099406063)

‘Sterling: The Rise and Fall of a Currency’, by Nicholas Mayhew (Alan Lane/Penguin Press, 1999; ISBN: 0713992581).

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