The Royal Bank of Scotland has issued banknotes since its birth in 1727. We have always been at the cutting edge of banknote design, introducing several of the features accepted today as essential to any banknote. In 1777 we were the first bank in Europe to issue multi-coloured banknotes and in 1826 we became the first British bank to issue a double-sided note.
We also issued the European Union's very first commemorative note in 1992.
Our notes today
In Scotland three banks are currently allowed to issue banknotes. At 1 January 2014 the Royal Bank of Scotland had notes worth £1,432m in circulation, representing over 113m individual banknotes.
The design of our current banknote series was launched in 1987. To aid identification all British banknotes, including ours, have an agreed size and predominant colour for each denomination. £5 notes are predominantly blue; £10 notes brown; £20 notes purple; £50 notes green and £100 notes red. Only the Royal Bank of Scotland continues to issue £1 notes. These are predominantly green in colour and are the smallest of all the banknotes.
Whenever they pass through our hands our banknotes are reviewed for quality. Generally the most commonly-used denominations, such as the £20, have a shorter life span than high value ones like the £100, which circulate less widely. Any notes found to be unfit for circulation are withdrawn and securely destroyed.
Each note the Royal Bank of Scotland issues incorporates a number of security features so that the public, retailers and banks know that the notes they receive are genuine. Most of these features are visible to the naked eye. Many are also machine readable.
Security features common to all of our current main issue notes include:
- raised print: The Royal Bank of Scotland title, the promise to pay and the value of the note in words is written in raised print
- watermark: held up to the light a watermark image of Lord Ilay is visible from both sides of the notes
- see through: held up to the light the bank logo towards the bottom left of the front of the notes will fill neatly with colour
- microprinting: examined with a magnifying glass the text within the block of colour at the bottom of the front of the notes reads ‘RBSRBSRBSRBS' and the line immediately above the block of colour reads ‘The Royal Bank of Scotland'
- serial numbers: a unique serial number comprising a letter over one or two numbers and followed by six same-size numbers is printed twice on the front of each note
- denomination numerals: the numerical value of the notes, accompanied by a £ sign, appears twice on the front of the notes and twice on the back.
In addition the paper should feel crisp; all lines should be sharp and well defined with no blurred edges; and colours should be clear and distinct.
Are our notes legal tender?
Scottish banknotes are not legal tender. Bank of England notes are not legal tender in Scotland either. Officially, the phrase 'legal tender' means money that a person is obliged to accept if offered it in payment of a debt. Under Scottish law, that does not include banknotes, which are classified as 'legal currency' but not 'legal tender'.
The only historical exception was during the two world wars when, as a temporary measure, the government made banknotes legal tender in Scotland, as a way of reinforcing people's trust in them. This was important in a time of shortages, when the government needed to be sure that people would not hoard gold.
The value of our old banknotes
The Scottish banks have always undertaken to accept at face value any of their old banknotes, even after designs have left circulation. Many notes are, of course, worth much more than their face value, because they have become collectors' items over the years. We are not able to advise on the collectors' value of old banknotes.