50 years of Decimal Currency

By Sarah Johnston (Senior Client Access Liaison – Takawaenga ā-Iwi Matua, Nga Taonga Sound & Vision)

The New Zealand dollar first came into use 50 years ago when we switched over to decimal currency on the 10th of July 1967. That date is embedded in the memories of many older New Zealanders, thanks to a very catchy advertising jingle which was heard on radio and television in the year leading up to the conversion:
“Don’t shed a tear in July next year, for cumbersome pounds and pence. From July next year, every clerk and cashier will be dealing in dollars and cents..”

38400 Decimal currency radio commercial 1966

Radio and television advertising played a key role in getting New Zealanders used to the idea of a whole new currency system and the end of the pounds, shillings and pence inherited from Britain. The advertising campaign for the switch to decimal began the previous year and featured an animated character named “Mr Dollar.” He and the jingle reminded everyone of the date for Decimal Currency Day, known as “D.C. Day”

C1098 Decimal currency. Mr Dollar. (Morrow Productions)

C9904 Decimal currency. Mr Dollar. (Morrow Productions)

Retailers were obviously the sector most affected by the currency change. A radio commercial in our collection from the transition period, gives grocery prices at the national supermarket chain ‘Self-Help’ in both currencies.

39895 Self-Help commercial, 1967

There was a lot of debate around what to call the new currency. Some suggested names included the ‘crown’, the ‘fern’, the ‘tūi’, the ‘Kiwi’ and the ‘Zeal’. But in the end, we settled on the ‘dollar’, as did Australia who had switched to decimal the previous year.

The designs of the new currency were also the subject of hot debate. Some initial designs for the new coins were leaked to the media and there was outcry in Canterbury over a planned 20-cent piece which featured a rugby player – wearing a jersey which looked suspiciously like an Auckland team uniform.

Rejected designs for New Zealand’s new decimal coins in 1967. (Alexander Turnbull Library)

The designs for the 1967 notes were less controversial, with all of them featuring native birds on one side and a portrait of the Queen on the other. Dr A.H. McLintock, who was a member of the government’s Coinage Design Advisory Committee, was interviewed for the radio about the design process and commented on how pleased they were with the new decimal banknote designs.

40194 Decimal currency interview with A.H. McLintock

The new decimal currency was the subject of this humorous commercial recording, a 45rpm disc, released by Kiwi Records featuring The Choir of St Mary’s Cathedral, Auckland. On one side they intone the New Zealand weather forecast and on the reverse, they sing the words of an official brochure called “Dollars and Cents and You”, which was delivered to every household in New Zealand by the Decimal Currency Board. The choir renamed it “Dismal Currency” for their recording. Here is a brief excerpt:

19652 The New Zealand Weather Forecast/Dismal Currency – Choir of St Mary’s Cathedral

And what happened to all that old money …

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