The Collector's Guide to British £5 Notes

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The Collector's Guide to British £5 Notes

As Britain prepares to switch from paper to plastic for its £5 notes, it is the perfect time to begin or expand a collection of paper currency that includes five pound notes. Paper currency has more than 300 years of history in Great Britain, and that gives collectors an unusually large range of options for putting together exciting and unique collections.


Multiple Issuing Authorities and Multiple Designs

The Bank of England issued its first white £5 note in 1793, but it was more than 50 years later when the first entirely printed note appeared in 1855. Until the mid-19th century, private banks issued notes throughout Great Britain. The last private notes were issued in Wales and England in 1908 and 1921, respectively. Three banks still issue Scottish five pound notes, and four banks issue Irish five pound notes in Northern Ireland. The Bank of England issued the first coloured £5 note in 1957.

Determining the Condition of a Five Pound Note

Collectors use standard terminology when it comes to describing the condition of notes on the market. This terminology includes much more than the simple 'circulated' and 'uncirculated' terms familiar to the public.







No evidence of handling


About uncirculated

Light handling

May include a light fold near the middle


Extremely fine

Clean and bright

Up to three light folds

Slight signs of wear at corners and edges


Very fine

Some dirt or smudges and edge wear



Paper no longer crisp

Some tears may mar the borders


Very good

Abused but intact

Not unattractive


Good, fair, and poor describe heavily used notes with extensive damage in some cases. Collectors generally seek notes in much better condition than any of these three ratings.


Printing Errors and Serial Numbers

Printing errors add to the value of bank notes. Errors may include notes without all the colours, with ink blurs or running ink, or with missing serial numbers. A noteworthy printing error occurred in 2002, when printed serial numbers rubbed off new British five pound notes. Notes from the beginning or end of a press run are also generally valuable. A serial number that begins with the prefix A01 typically comes from the start of a press run. Sets of bills with sequential serial numbers also have higher values. Some collectors focus on out-of-sequence 'replacement' notes, which were inserted at banks to replace notes with printing errors before the digital printing era.


Issue Dates, Signatures, Designs, and Historic Moments

Some collectors seek white five pound notes with signatures of the Bank's various Secretaries or Chief Cashiers. Others collect notes with specific issue dates or locations or notes that represent historic moments. White notes issued before Ireland separated from England are an example. Fivers that commemorate living heroes, such as the Jack Nicklaus and George Best five-pound notes, are always fun.

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