From a Roman gold bar to Bitcoin: Bank of England Museum charts money evolution

Wednesday, Feb 28, 2024

Visitors to a new exhibition will be able to catch a glimpse of the new banknotes featuring King Charles, before they start to appear in shops and wallets this summer.

The Future of Money exhibition opens at the Bank of England Museum in London on Wednesday.Among the highlights will be the first opportunity for the public to see the freshly-designed King Charles polymer banknotes in £5, £10, £20 and £50 denominations before they officially enter circulation on June 5 2024.

The wide-ranging exhibition will reflect the transformation of money over many centuries; from a Roman gold bar, to a tally stick from 1824 recording money owed, through to contactless payment innovations including wearable devices as well as digital currency such as Bitcoin.

Other objects covered include a Sibstar pre-paid debit card designed in partnership with the Alzheimer’s Society, to help people living with dementia stay financially independent.There are also Chinese lucky red envelopes, which are given on special occasions, with several apps now offering virtual red money envelopes, and items made from recycled banknotes and gold.

The use of artificial intelligence (AI) systems which learn from users’ behaviour to automate tasks, detect fraud and speed up payments will also be explored. The exhibition will also present ways of making banking more sustainable and ethical.

Cash use has declined sharply in recent years as the choice of ways to pay has increased. But many people still rely on cash. The Financial Conduct Authority’s Financial Lives 2022 survey indicated that 3.1 million adults (6%) had used cash to pay for everything or most things over the 12 months to May 2022.

The exhibition looks at the Bank of England’s work to ensure there is an adequate supply of banknotes for the economy.Jennifer Adam, curator at the Bank of England Museum, said: “The way we handle money has completely transformed in the last century, from gold and silver coins to the tap of a smartphone.

“Our new exhibition will show how money is continuing to change, and what this means for people of all ages.“We begin to find out about money using real cash as children – from pretend shops to being the banker when playing Monopoly – but how do we learn to manage money when it’s in a digital form? As a starting point for information about money and understanding the economy, this is the place to visit.”

Ms Adam told the PA news agency that the exhibition has been shaped around questions that the Bank is asked by the public in various ways, including in comment cards at the museum, in letters and at outreach events.

She said: “We begin by looking at the notion of money, what is money, in terms of accounts, a store of value, a method of exchange. Because these qualities affect what we use as currency and how we adapt technology as currency as well.”

Ms Adam said the exhibition also looks at “more cultural issues, about how we learn about money, the role of cash, money in traditions, people’s experiences as well”.“And at the centre of it all is the notion of choice, is that people should have a choice of secure and reliable ways to pay, whether it’s cash or whether it’s a digital payment that you prefer to use,” she added.

The exhibition runs until September 2025 – and no money needs to change hands to visit – as entry is free of charge.The Bank of England and the Treasury launched a consultation in February last year over a central bank digital currency (CBDC).

A final decision has not been made over whether to pursue the new currency and a decision is set to be made around 2025 at the earliest, once the design phase is complete.