22 June 2007

Bank of England £5 Notes 1793-2007

Bank of England naturalists have today announced the passing of the last known £5 Note on Britain's streets, leading experts to claim that £5 Notes have died out in the wild.

Bank of England £5 Notes or "Fivers" was born in 1793 during the Napoleonic Wars, at a time when British armed forces were becoming the laughing stock of the French for their pantaloons' habit of falling down due to the heavy weight of gold coinage in their pockets(1). Initially, Fivers found it difficult to find their ecological niche as small currency, possibly due to the fact that they were some 8½ by 5½ inches in size, though this did mean a relatively small company of men could fashion their wages into a handy get-away glider in an emergency.

Despite their size, for more than 160 years Fivers remained unchanged, much to the delight of leather manufacturers, who could sell two cows' worth of hide to make a single wallet, and the disgust of thieves and robbers who faced the risk of suffering a hernia if they tried to steal much more than fifty quid.

In the 1950s, Fivers - at last realising, like so many of Bernie Ecclestone's girlfriends that small can be beautiful(2) - reduced their size and came to sit beside smaller-denominations such as One Pound and Ten Shilling Notes in purses, wallets and back pockets across Britain. Together they spread throughout the financial system, enabling people in the street to perform the everyday task of buying and selling things without needing to carry the coinage content of a Las Vegas casino's worth of slot machines around with them.

Happy in their lot and unaware of the economic pressures around them, Fivers went gaily about the business of small business. Times, however, were changing. Though the Fivers - unlike the Shilling, Ten-Bob Note, Crown and Guinea - survived the changes to the economic ecology brought on by decimalisation, successive devaluations and rampant inflation placed ever greater pressure on the smaller notes. Pound Notes and Fivers found themselves bundled into ever more pockets and passed ever more swiftly from hand-to-hand. By the 1980s the One Pound Note had breathed its last, replaced by the brash and chunky new Pound Coin.

Despite all their efforts and a strong captive breeding programme at The Bank of England, Fivers' time was soon to be cut short. For while there were hundreds of millions of Fivers waiting to go out into the streets of Britain, the High Street Banks charged with delivering them into the hands of the public and thus enabling the small economy to function properly, found themselves unable to perform the task of stocking their hole-in-the-wall ATM machines with the little notes. This was due partly to the banks being distracted by such things as (a) constantly surveying interest rates so that they could bung up mortgage and loan costs while failing to increase their savings rates, (b) keeping a weather-eye open for the slightest opportunity to sting their valued customers a tenner for going a single penny into overdraft and (c) flogging mortgages to people who would never, ever be able to repay them. Mainly, though it was down to the fact that the banks couldn't be arsed to fork out the cash to get someone to load the ATM machines twice a day instead of once.

So it was that fewer and fewer Fivers were seen in circulation. Those few that survived were poor specimens indeed, inevitably grubby, torn and battered, frequently the survivors of accidental journeys through the boil wash or intentional journeys up a minor celebrity's nose, often held together by little more than sellotape and hope, their metal security threads dangling limply from their sides.

The last Fiver is believed to have passed away yesterday, when repeated attempts to get it accepted by a London Underground ticket machine resulted in the note being torn into shreds and a nearby member of LU staff receiving ten minutes of sustained abuse for something that really wasn't his fault.

The Last Fiver will be buried at The Church of Our Old Lady of Threadneedle Street. The minister will bury The Fiver in the back of a cash register before handing the congregation a pint, at which point the congregation will respond "A Fiver?! For a pint!? I'm not drinking in Central London again - I'll tell you that for nothing".


(1) The habit of British forces getting caught with their pants down was recently honoured in the moving ceremony whereby 15 members of the Royal Navy were captured by Iraqi forces and ceremonially stripped of their iPods.
(2) Admittedly, this is most often true if small also happens to be a multi-millionaire.

4 Comments:

Delicolor said...

Its still slightly alive- I have seven of them in my wallet. It has been declared a threatened species zone, along with the moths.

The As A Dodo Team said...

Ah, good to know there are some still in captivity outside the Bank of England. Thanks for the update!

D' Boyd said...

I know you guys are "english"....so..recently on a trip to "UK", I arranged for a HUGE innernational exchange of funds with one "guy called Simon"..who paid for the whole transaction in "10 bob notes"..he said these were worth "a whole lotta money mate"..so i assumed..um, if it wouldn't be TOO much to ax, just how much ARE 6 "10 bob notes" worth these days in my home country (at least the banks i use) of umm..Switzerland?
thanks, and LOVE your show,
Doto Boyd

The As A Dodo Team said...

Hmm ... six 10 bob notes in Switzerland? Oh dear, I reckon that works out at about 1 millionth of a gnome of Zurich, a twentieth of a cuckoo clock or quarter of a chocolate bunny.