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Decimal currency move a defining moment

Decimal currency move a defining moment

50 years ago on Monday, 10 July one of the defining moments in New Zealand’s history happened when we moved from pounds, shilling and pence to decimal currency.

Ministry for Culture and Heritage Chief Historian Neill Atkinson says the change was central to the development of our national identity and showed the world that, while we retained strong links with Britain, our identity was more than colonial.

He says decimalisation was first discussed as early as the 1900s, but it wasn’t until the 1960s that both the National and Labour parties supported it.

“The announcement of the change was made by the National Government in 1963 and then under-secretary for finance and future Prime Minister Rob Muldoon was given the task of over-seeing it.”

But it wasn’t a straight forward process.

Mr Atkinson says initial coin designs were criticised by the royal mint and when new designs were leaked to the public they got an unfavourable response.

“The government then published all the proposed designs, and got the public to vote on them. Designs by London-born New Zealander James Berry emerged as the public favourite and in 1966 the government, following the public mood, chose Berry for all six new coins.”

Designs for the notes – the first New Zealand paper money to show the reigning monarch - were kept under wraps until June 1967 to thwart counterfeiters.

“There was also much public discussion over what to call the new currency. Names suggested included ‘crown’, ‘fern’, ‘tūi’, ‘Kiwi’ and ‘zeal’. In the end, both Australia and New Zealand settled on ‘dollar’.”

Once that was decided the new money had to be made – 27 million new banknotes and 165 million new coins had to be minted and distributed in time for the change-over. The new money was valued at $120 million and weighed more than 700 tonnes.

Banks closed from Wednesday 5 July until Monday 10 July to give bank staff time to convert their records into dollars and cents. And, of course, the now-obsolete old money had to be disposed of. More information about the switch to decimal currency is available on the Ministry’s Te Ara and NZHistory websites, including the song which was used to help the public understand what was happening.


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