Monday, July 10, 2017

50 years of the NZ dollar

Fifty years ago today, on July 10, 1967, New Zealand made the switch from Pounds, Shillings, and Pence to Dollars and Cents. The video above is one of several commercials used to promote the change.

Wikipedia has a good summary of the change:
Prior to the introduction of the New Zealand dollar in 1967, the New Zealand pound was the currency of New Zealand, which had been distinct from the pound sterling since 1933. The pound used the £sd system, in which the pound was divided into 20 shillings and one shilling was divided into 12 pence, which by the 1950s was considered complicated and cumbersome.

Switching to decimal currency had been proposed in New Zealand since the 1930s, although only in the 1950s did any plans come to fruition. In 1957, a committee was set up by the Government to investigate decimal currency. The idea fell on fertile ground, and in 1963, the Government decided to decimalise New Zealand currency. The Decimal Currency Act was passed in 1964, setting the date of transition to 10 July 1967. Words such as "fern", "kiwi" and "zeal" were proposed to avoid confusion with the word "dollar", which many people at the time associated with the United States dollar. In the end, the word "dollar" was chosen anyway, and an anthropomorphic dollar note cartoon character called "Mr. Dollar" became the symbol of transition in a huge publicity campaign.

On Monday 10 July 1967 ("Decimal Currency Day"), the New Zealand dollar was introduced to replace the pound at a rate of two dollars to one pound (one dollar to ten shillings, ten cents to one shilling, 5⁄6 cent to a penny). Some 27 million new banknotes were printed and 165 million new coins were minted for the changeover.
The thing that strikes me about the old system is how complicated it was. I’m sure growing up with it made it easier, but I know I’d have struggled with that system if it had still been in place when I emigrated. In fact, I very nearly experienced that system before then.

In July of 1971, my parents took me with them on a trip to the United Kingdom and the Republic of Ireland. The UK had decimalised in February 1971, and when we got there we found coins marked “New Pence”, something that wasn’t discontinued until 1981. However, the old coins were still in circulation, which made things a bit confusing—pounds, shillings and old pence alongside pounds, and New Pence. It helped that there were still signs in shops telling people how much their old coins were worth in the new coins.

What astounds me is that at the time New Zealand decimalised, there were people who actually argued that the new system would be “too complex” and would “confuse shoppers” and that shopkeepers would use the switch to secretly raise prices (according to a thorough look back in the Sunday Star-Times, via Stuff). Apparently, complainers have always been around and will complain about pretty much everything. Who knew?

The doomsayers and staunch imperialists lost, and New Zealand now has a thoroughly modern and useful currency system. Most recently, the new “Brighter Money” series of notes, which use better anti-counterfeiting measures as well as being literally brighter, entered circulation. That began in 2015 with the $5 and $10 notes, and finished in 2016 (the $20, $50, and $100 notes. Apparently, the $5 note won an award for best banknote of the year in 2015, after being chosen out of 40 designs from 20 countries. You go, Sir Ed!

Money isn’t really the root of all evil (that’d be the human carrying the money…), and even in this age of Internet Banking and debit cards, cash is still really useful. And I’m sooooooo glad I never had to learn pounds, shillings, and pence—one might need a little £sd to cope with learning it.

Happy birthday, New Zealand Dollar!

Here are some related videos, first up – “Mr. Dollar helps you shop with dollars and cents”:

Next is “Shopping with Decimal Currency”:

“Pictorial Parade No. 194 (1967)” describes the secret story behind Decimal Currency Day (first four minutes of the newsreel):

And finally in this tale of New Zealand money, “The life of a bank note”, which is about the Brighter Money and the life and "reincarnation" of New Zealand banknotes:

On more video for comparison: “Decimal Currency, 14 February 1966” which has TV ads for Australia’s decimalisation about 18 months before New Zealand’s. These ads and New Zealand’s are obviously basically prettyt much the same:

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