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The First £1 note, 1797

The First £1 note, 1797

The First £1 Banknote, 1797

The first £1 note was introduced by the Bank of England in 1797, following the gold shortages caused by the French Revolutionary Wars. During the French Revolutionary Wars, fear of French invasion led to a run on the banks. To maintain gold reserves, the payment of gold for banknotes was suspended. The first £1 notes were issued to compensate for the lack of gold coins in circulation.

The earliest pound notes were handwritten and were issued as needed to individuals. These notes were written on one side only and bore the name of the payee, the date, and the signature of the issuing cashier. Between 1797 and 1821, the lack of bullion meant that banks would not exchange banknotes for gold. Still, after the end of the Napoleonic Wars, the shortage was alleviated such that notes could be exchanged for an equivalent amount of gold when presented at the bank. One pound notes ceased to be issued in 1821 and were replaced by gold sovereigns.

During the First World War, the British Government wanted to maintain its stocks of gold, and so banks were ordered to stop again exchanging banknotes for gold. Gold sovereigns were replaced by one pound notes issued by the Treasury. These notes were nicknamed “Bradburys” because of the prominent signature of Sir John Bradbury, Permanent Secretary to the Treasury displayed on the banknotes. Britain returned to the gold standard in 1925, although the Bank of England was only obliged to exchange notes for gold in multiples of 400 troy ounces (12,000 g) the typical size of a “Good Delivery bar.” The responsibility for the printing of one pound notes was transferred to the Bank of England in 1928, and the ability to redeem banknotes for gold ceased in 1931 when Britain stopped using the gold standard.

The last Bank of England £1 note was printed in 1984, and the banknote was withdrawn in 1988 in favor of the one-pound coin.

One Pound Note

  • Title:              The First £1 note
  • Date:             1797
  • Origins:          London
  • Material:         Monochrome on Paper (printed on one side only)
  • Dimensions:   200mm x 113mm
  • Museum:        Bank of England Museum

A Tour of the Bank of England Museum

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“If you owe your bank a hundred pounds, you have a problem. But if you owe a million, it has a problem.”
– John Maynard Keynes

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Photo Credit: JOM

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