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New, smaller, ‘plastic’ £20 note on its way

12:00am | & Lifestyle

A new and ultra-secure design has been unveiled for Britain’s most used and most forged banknote.

The new ‘plastic’ £20 note will enter circulation on the 20th of February 2020 (that’s a lot of 20s!) and will join the now familiar polymer £10 and £5 notes previously introduced.

Like its lower denomination stablemates, it will be made of the hardwearing and durable polymer plastic designed to last much longer than traditional ‘paper’ banknotes. And just as the new polymer £5 and £10 notes are smaller than their predecessors, the new polymer £20 note will also be slightly smaller than the current one. It will measure 139mm by 73mm – a centimetre less in width and 7mm less in height.

The design for the new £20 note will feature a portrait of English Romantic artist J.M.W. Turner (1775-1851) – actually a self-portrait from 1799, when he was about 24 years old. It will also feature one of his best-known paintings, “The Fighting Temeraire” – which is on display in the National Gallery. HMS Temeraire played a key part in Nelson’s decisive 1805 victory at Trafalgar and Turner’s artistic tribute to the great warship was voted Britain’s greatest painting in a 2005 poll.

Turner’s signature on the new £20 note is taken from his will, in which he bequeathed his work to the nation. It also features a quote – “Light is therefore colour” – taken from an 1818 lecture by Turner at the Royal Academy of Arts. Turner’s popularity received a recent boost through a successful 2014 film about his life and work, starring Timothy Spall as the great artist.

Built-in and high-tech security features of the new banknote will include two see-through windows and a metallic hologram. These and other features are designed to make the note much harder and more costly to counterfeit. The official Bank of England notes will also cost more to make, but this is offset by the saving from them lasting much longer.

In the first six months of 2019, 88% of detected forged banknotes were the £20 denomination, making it the crooks’ favourite. Of the 228,000 forged banknotes discovered, 201,000 were £20 notes. It has been the most commonly forged banknote in Britain for each of the past 10 years.

Security features of the new £20 note contrived to foil the counterfeiters include:

  • A large see-through window, based on the shape of the fountains in London’s Trafalgar Square, with a blue and gold foil on the front depicting Margate lighthouse and the Turner Contemporary gallery in the town
  • A smaller see-through window in the bottom corner of the note inspired by Tintern Abbey
  • A metallic hologram which changes between the words “Twenty” and “Pounds” when tilted
  • The Queen’s portrait in the see-through window with “£20 Bank of England” printed twice around the edge
  • A silver foil patch with the 3D image of the Coronation Crown
  • A purple foil patch containing the letter ‘T’, based on the staircase at the Tate Britain gallery
  • Viewing the front of the note under ultraviolet light, the number 20 appears in bright red and green
  • Not a security feature as such, but raised dots in the top left corner of the note will help blind and partially-sighted people identify its value.

Statistics from the Bank of England show the £20 is also Britain’s most commonly circulating banknote, with two billion of them in the system. That means it will take quite some time to fully change over from the current £20 note to the new one. Everyone will be able to use the existing paper £20 note (introduced in 2007 and featuring a portrait of economist Adam Smith) alongside the new one until the old note is officially withdrawn from circulation.

The Bank of England will announce the withdrawal date for the old note after it has issued the new polymer note. It will give at least six months’ notice of the withdrawal date, allowing people plenty of time to root out their stashes of old £20 notes and get them spent or exchanged.

Even after the withdrawal date, there will be ways to exchange old notes for new ones. For a limited period people will be able to exchange them in person at their bank or local Post Office, but after that they will need to be sent direct to the Bank of England.

The Bank received almost 30,000 nominations from the public after announcing it wanted to feature an artist on the new £20 note and asking who it should be? They were whittled down to a shortlist of five – J.M.W. Turner, filmmaker Charlie Chaplin, sculptress Barbara Hepworth, painter William Hogarth and designed Josiah Wedgewood. Bank of England Governor Mark Carney made the final choice, commenting: “Turner’s painting was transformative, his influence spanned lifetimes, and his legacy endures today. The new £20 note celebrates Turner, his art and his legacy in all their radiant, colourful, evocative glory.”

The new note will be the first to carry the signature of Bank of England chief cashier Sarah John. She praised its cutting edge security features, saying: “The new £20 is an important part of our commitment to providing banknotes that people can use with confidence. Our polymer notes are much harder to counterfeit and, with the £20 being our most common note, this marks a big step forward in our fight against counterfeiting.”

After it is introduced next February, the only remaining ‘paper’ note (actually a type of linen) will be the £50 note, which is Britain’s least used banknote. That is also set to change, with a new polymer £50 note set to enter circulation by the end of 2021. It will feature a portrait of computer pioneer and codebreaker Alan Turing and will measure 146mm by 77mm, slightly smaller than the current paper £20 note.

You can find out more about the new £20 note by clicking here.

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