It turns out the new notes have been in development for 3 years, at a cost to the Bank of England of £70million and were unveiled by Bank of England Governor Mark Carney at Blenheim Palace, Sir Winston Churchill's birthplace. They feel alien and comparisons to Monopoly money have already been drawn by the press, but having experienced them in Australia (who were the first country to introduce them in 1988), we already know they're a massive improvement on traditional cotton paper.
So what are the new notes made from?
The polymer banknotes are made from a thermoplastic polymer called biaxially oriented polypropylene (BOPP), which is widely used in goods ranging from carpets to stationary folders.
Under a patented production method, Innovia uses 82-foot towers to melt the chemical which is then blow moulded into room-sized film 'bubbles'.
How is the polymer turned into notes?
The BOPP substrate is processed through the following steps:
- Opacifying – two layers of ink (usually opaque white) are applied to each side of the note, except for any areas deliberately left clear;
- Sheeting – polymer substrate roll is cut into sheets to suit a flatsheet printing press;
- Printing – traditional offset, intaglio and letterpress printing processes are used; and
- Overcoating – notes are coated with a protective varnish.
Why are polymer notes better than paper notes?
BOPP is a non-fibrous and non-porous polymer, so compared to paper banknotes, banknotes made using BOPP are harder to tear, more resistant to folding, more resistant to soil, waterproof, harder to burn, easier to machine process, and are shreddable and recyclable at the end of their lives.
On a practical level this means they'll be much better at withstanding being repeatedly folded into wallets, scrunched up into pockets and can even the spin cycle of a washing machine. Each new polymer note is therefore expected to last at least 2.5 times longer than the current paper notes (21,835 notes were replaced in 2015 due to damage).
Polymer notes are also better for the environment. Their longevity means fewer notes have to printed, which means less energy is used in manufacturing and cash transportation.
Who makes them?
Innovia Security, a division of Innovia Security, the United Kingdom-based producer of high-performance film, will produce the substrate, branded 'Guardian', at a new £40m facility in Wigton, England. Innovia’s polymers are used to make 99.9 percent of the 50 billion plastic notes already in circulation in over 30 countries around the world.
It's new facility has a polypropylene film bubble tower and an opacification plant that coats the clear polymer film and adds the security features. The notes are then to De La Rue in Debden, Essex for printing and overcoating.
What security features do the new five pound notes have?
The polymer banknotes have three levels of security, making them far more secure than cotton paper notes, which have been used for more than 100 years.
Primary security devices are easily recognisable by consumers
- There is a large see-through window containing a portrait of the Queen and a foil Elizabeth Tower (Big Ben)
- The Elizabeth Tower is gold on the front and silver on the back
- The silver foil patch at the bottom of the tower has a hologram of the word ‘Five’ which changes to the word ‘Pounds’ when tilted
- The silver foil patch at the top of the tower has an image of the coronation crown which appears 3D
- A circular green foil patch on the back of the note, which contains the word ‘BLENHEIM’
Secondary security devices are detectable by machines used by vendors, such as the number 5 appearing in bright red and green when the note is under ultra-violet light, as well as highly secret tertiary security devices which are only detectable by the Bank of England when a banknote is returned.
The new five pound notes have already become collectors items. We've just heard that one of the first five pound notes made with the serial number AA01000017 has been sold at Spinks auctioneers for £4,150.
The note with serial number AA01000001 was gifted to the Queen and the note with serial number AA01001945 was donated to the Churchill War Rooms.