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22 Mar 2017
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The new £20: Polymer and Animal Fat Free

Polymer £20 note will be released by 2020, The Bank of England announced today. The banknote will feature a self-portrait by J.M.W Turner from 1799 and will follow the issue of the polymer £5 and £10 notes. The first 440 million polymer £5 notes have been in circulation since September last year and the £10 pounds will be in use by the end of this year.

What is a polymer banknote?

Polymer banknotes are made of strong polymers such as biaxially oriented polypropylene (BOPP) which is elastic and very resistant. They are considered to be very strong, no matter how much you wash them in your laundry; much cleaner than the paper notes; safer – with 3 levels of security and also to last significantly longer, which reduces the cost of production, replacement and decreases environmental impact.

For the first-time polymer banknotes were introduced in Australia in 1988, after a 20-years scandal in the country with millions of $10 being forged. Since 1996 the country has switched completely to polymer banknotes. Today, another seven countries – Brunei, Canada, New Zealand, Papua New Guinea, Romania, Kuwait and Vietnam – have changed their currency and over 30 countries have one or two polymer banknotes in circulation.

Refreshing the Cash Store

The intentions of The Bank of England are to change most of the notes and some of the coins used in the country with new ones by year 2020.

That started with the release of £5 note last September. To mark the new era of its cash policy the Bank of England has organised a little treasure hunt competition – engraving a print of Jane Austen image in to four of the banknotes in circulation. It was said that any of the four £5-ers cost £50,000. By far, only 3 of them have been discovered.

Next week, will also be the official issue of the new 12-sided £1-pound coin, which after October this year will be the only one accepted in public transactions such as shops and restaurants.

The history of £20

The £20 is considered to be most popular note in the UK. It was introduced for the first time in 1725 and those earliest notes were handwritten. Their design has changed 3 times ever since 1943, 1970 and 2007. The latest banknote bears the image of Queen Elizabeth II on the obverse and the image of Scottish economist Adam Smith on the reverse and it is estimated that currently there are 1.9 billion of them in circulation.

The new polymer edition will feature the portrait of J.M.W. Turner on the reverse instead of the Scottish economist and philosopher. The choice of Turner involved a long selection process, starting in May 2015 with two months’ nomination period when the public could put through their proposals. In total 29,701 were made with only 590 eligible to go for selection. “Turner is perhaps the single most influential British artist of all time. His work was transformative for the art world. His influence spanned his lifetime and well beyond,” Governor of the Bank of England Mark Carney explained the choice.

The Curious Case of the non-vegetarian banknote

Shortly after the release of the £5 banknote the Bank of England came under fire after emerging allegation of discovered traces of animal fat used in the making.  However, despite facing legal battles the Bank stated that it won’t withdraw the new banknotes as that will cost too much to the tax payers.

As for the making of the £10 and £20 notes it was announced that an option for using coconut or palm oil is also considered. According to the Bank, that it will not affect the quality of the new banknotes.

It is expected that manufacturing the new £20 will start by the summer of 2017.