10 July 2017

Decimal Currency Changeover: 50 years ago today

Today marks the fiftieth anniversary of Decimal Currency in New Zealand – a highlight of our childhoods for those of a certain generation. No longer did we have the learn pounds, shillings and pence, and counting in groups of 12; but dollars and cents, and counting in groups of 10.
Decimal Currency Board Trade Stall
Ian Matheson City Archives, Palmerston North

The currency change legislation was passed in 1964, leading to much discussion about the designs and education up until the date of the introduction. The Decimal Currency Board was responsible for educating the public for this significant change: providing materials to schools, where children studied and sat tests to become ‘Dollar Scholars’.(1)  The Board also held regular education sessions and roadshows for members of the public.

Such a major change in currency design was not without controversy. The Treasury’s Coinage Design Advisory Committee commissioned several designers to submit designs. When the initial designs met with resistance from the London-based Royal Mint Advisory Committee new designs were called for. They eventually commissioned James Berry to design the new coins in denominations of 1, 2, 5, 10, 20 and 50 cents.(2) The banknotes, in denominations of $1, $2, $5, $10, $20 and $100, were the first New Zealand banknotes to show the reigning monarch, and featured complicated geometric patterns, including Māori imagery.(3)

On Monday 10 July 1967 the New Zealand Herald dedicated its front page to the changeover, leading with the headline, ‘Dollars, Cents Have Now Become Coin 0f Realm’.

New Zealand Herald headlines on 10 July 1967
New Zealand Herald11 July 1967, p 2
The changeover was generally smooth, with prices being advertised in both currencies, and retailers advertising staff services to assist customers make the transition.

However, some consternation was caused when the first two cent coins were found to be ‘mules’. A significant number of the coins had been stamped with the New Zealand reverse – the kowhai design – and the Bahamas obverse of the Queen’s head, designed by Arnold Machin. The Royal Mint estimated that 100,000 of the coins had been minted, agreeing to replace them at no cost to the New Zealand Government.(4)

The conversion to decimal currency was a highlight of that year of my life. We had recently got a television set and I can still remember the advertisements which formed the soundtrack for a large part of that year.

Further information:

To see what it would cost today take a look at the Reserve Bank of New Zealand’s Inflation Calculator:

1.  Decimal Currency Act 1964 (1964 No 27), Sec 23c: 
2.  Reserve Bank of New Zealand, James Berry and New Zealand’s 1967 Decimal Coins: http://bit.ly/2v04Fpo.
3.  Reserve Bank of New Zealand, ‘Series 3 banknotes’: http://bit.ly/2uGYRlI.  
4.  Reserve Bank Museum and Education Centre, Fact Sheet, The 1967 two cent 'mule': http://bit.ly/2tXTFfw.  
5.  New Zealand Herald headlines and advertisement used with the permission of the publisher.

© 2017, Maureen R West
All Rights Reserved

1 comment:

  1. I loved the song..."the 10th of July, this year!" To be honest, I sing it every 10th of July.
    Great memories Maureen..thanks for stirring them up again!