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New plastic £20 note launches

Paloma Kubiak
Written By:
Paloma Kubiak

The new plastic £20 note featuring artist JMW Turner has entered circulation today, but it could be some time before you get your hands on one.

The note is made from polymer, a thin, flexible plastic material – already used on £5 and £10 notes – which is expected to last around 2.5 times longer than paper.

New notes will start appearing in ATMs and tills throughout the country and The Bank of England expects half of all cashpoints across the UK to be dispensing them two weeks after issue.

The note features influential British artist Joseph Mallord William Turner and his self-portrait, painted c.1799, is displayed on the £20s as well as currently at Tate Britain alongside the banknote.

It is the most secure note yet and includes two see-through windows and a two colour foil which make it very difficult to counterfeit. When tilted, words change between ‘Twenty’ and ‘Pounds’. A portrait of the Queen is printed on the window with ‘£20 Bank of England’.

There are also three clusters of raised dots in the top left hand corner. This tactile feature helps blind and partially sighted people identify the value of the note.

The paper £20 note featuring economist Adam Smith which entered circulation in March 2007 will be slowly withdrawn. But the Bank of England confirms consumers will be given six months’ notice before it loses its legal tender status.

Speaking at Tate Britain, which houses the Turner bequest, Governor Mark Carney said: “Our banknotes celebrate the UK’s extraordinarily rich and diverse heritage and highlight the contributions of its greatest citizens. Turner’s art was transformative. I am delighted that the work of arguably the single most influential British artist of all time will now appear on another two billion works of art – the new £20 notes that people can start using today.”

A new polymer £50 featuring Alan Turing will be issued next year, replacing the paper version issued in November 2011 featuring entrepreneur Matthew Boulton and engineer James Watt.

Fun facts about the new £20 notes

  • There are over two billion £20 notes in circulation. Laid end to end, two billion polymer £20 notes would stretch around the world almost seven times and weigh a total of 1,780 tonnes – that’s over 141 double decker buses
  • Turner’s signature on the note is from his will, in which he left many of his paintings to the nation
  • The artist left £4,100 to beneficiaries in his will written in 1849, which equates to £328,763 in today’s currency or 16,000 of the new £20 note, according to Ancestry
  • The higher the value of a note, the larger it is. This note is approximately 139mm x 73mm.
  • The new £20 note is the first to feature the signature of Sarah John, the Bank’s current Chief Cashier.
  • Snapchat users will be able to see the note come to life. By hovering over the note or an image on the note, it will become a live piece of artwork.
  • The majority of counterfeit notes found in circulation are £20 notes. In 2018, more than £8.5 million were counterfeit.