New £50 note featuring Alan Turing enters circulation

·4 min read

Watch: British 50 pound note honours WW2 codebreaker

The newly minted £50 ($69.42) note has entered circulation in the UK on what would have been Alan Turing's birthday. 

In July 2019, the Bank of England announced that Bletchley Park code breaker Turing would be on the new bank note.

The bank chose Turing from a shortlist of almost 1,000 eligible names nominated by the public.

The bank also said that it would withdraw the old £20 and £50 currently in circulation by 2022. 30 September 2022 will be the last day you can use Bank of England paper £20 and £50 notes. After that, these paper notes will no longer be legal tender.

Governor of the Bank of England Andrew Bailey with the new £50 note which features Alan Turing, at Bletchley Park in Milton Keynes, England. Photo: PA
Governor of the Bank of England Andrew Bailey with the new £50 note which features Alan Turing, at Bletchley Park in Milton Keynes, England. Photo: PA

Alan Turing's portrait is based on a photo taken in 1951 by Elliott & Fry which is part of the Photographs Collection at the National Portrait Gallery.

Alan Turing provided the theoretical underpinnings for the modern computer. While best known for his work devising code-breaking machines during WWII, Turing played a pivotal role in the development of early computers first at the National Physical Laboratory and later at the University of Manchester. 

He set the foundations for work on artificial intelligence by considering the question of whether machines could think. 

Turing was a homosexual and was posthumously pardoned by the Queen having been convicted of gross indecency for his relationship with a man. His legacy continues to have an impact on both science and society today.

The new £50. Photo: Bank of England
The new £50. Photo: Bank of England

The £50 had previously played host to leading figures of the industrial revolution Matthew Boulton and James Watt.

The higher the value of a note, the larger it is. The new £50 is approximately 146mm x 77mm with a unique serial number printed horizontally and vertically on the back

There are currently 330 million £50 notes in circulation – with a combined value of £16.5bn. The £50 note accounts for 24% of Bank of England notes in circulation by value, and just under 10% by volume.

First introduced in 1725, the note was withdrawn in 1945 and reintroduced in 1981. At that point it had the purchasing power of around £217 at today’s prices. What's more, according to analysts at Hargreaves Lansdown, if you’d invested the £50 at launch it could be worth just over £2,300.

The BoE has revamped its currency over the last few years — from the materials the notes are made from, to the pictures that adorn the currency.

In 2017, the central bank unveiled its first plastic £10 note, which featured 19th century British novelist Jane Austen. The plastic, or polymer, notes are a lot more durable than previous notes. However, they have drawn criticism from vegetarians and some religious groups for containing trace amounts of animal fats.

Printing in progress. Photo: Bank of England
Turing £50 print run Photo: Bank of England

If you’d saved the £50 at launch and it grew at 5% a year it could be worth around £370. If it grew at 2% it could be worth around £110. If you’d have left it under the mattress it would have lost £38.46 of its buying power.

A Bank of England survey in 2013 found that 27% of respondents had used a £50 in the previous year, while 29% had never used one.

The note had been under threat in 2018. The government was considering axing it, on the grounds that nobody really spent the notes, and they were largely used as a store of value – which wasn’t terribly efficient. It was also a concern that criminals found them particularly useful.

Ready for distribution. Photo: Bank of England
Ready for distribution. Photo: Bank of England

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However, the BoE stepped in to argue that our largest denomination note is actually pretty small in international terms, has some key uses – including being popular among tourists, and if they got rid of £50 notes, they’d have to produce an awful lot more £20 notes to make up for them, which would be expensive, complicated and risky if something went wrong.

Snapchat has developed a lens which allows the public to see their cash in a new dimension through augmented reality. The Snapchat lens will be available from Wednesday.

The Snapchat key to unlock the AR experience. Credit: Bank of England
The Snapchat key to unlock the AR experience. Credit: Bank of England

Watch: Alan Turing £50 banknote enters circulation - as LGBT-inspired artwork unveiled at GCHQ to honour wartime hero

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