Scottish Banks Print Their Own Money

Times Staff Writer

The Scots have more money than most people, and it isn’t because they’re thrifty.

More money, that is, in terms of the variety of paper notes they circulate. Four different types of sterling notes in various denominations are used throughout Scotland, from the Isle of Skye to Edinburgh.

Notes in denominations of 1, 5, 10, 20 and 100 pounds are issued by the Bank of Scotland, the Royal Bank of Scotland and Clydesdale Bank.

And each bank has its own design on each denomination. In other words, that’s 15 different Scottish bills. The various denominations of pound notes issued by the Bank of England are also in wide circulation.


So, wallets and purses here have a mix of Scottish money as well as British pound notes, all equally accepted and interchangeable in cities and hamlets in the Highlands and lowlands of Scotland.

There is a bit of conformity, though, in Scottish currency. For each denomination, the three Scottish banks use the same colors and sizes. Bills increase in size as the value goes up.

Green is for 1-pound notes, blue for 5 pounds, brown for 10 pounds, purple for 20 pounds and red for 100 pounds.

As for designs, take the 1-pound notes, for example:

Clydesdale Bank--On the front, dressed in a suit of armor, is Robert the Bruce, the Scottish king who drove the English from Scotland. On the other side is Robert the Bruce again, this time in a suit of armor astride a horse with his troops surrounding him.

Royal Bank of Scotland--On the front, white-wigged Lord Ilay, the first governor of the bank, along with a photo of bank headquarters. On the other side, there is a watermark of Lord Ilay, Edinburgh castle and the National Gallery of Scotland.

Bank of Scotland--On the front, Sir Walter Scott; the official coat of arms of the bank, which includes the Cross of St. Andrews and a shield with four circles inside an X.


The reverse side shows a ship; part of the coat of arms of the Union Bank of Scotland, which merged with the Bank of Scotland in 1954; the Cross of St. Andrews and the medallion of the old British Linen Bank, which merged with the Bank of Scotland in 1971.

“We get Bank of England 1-pound coins here in Scotland, but we don’t like them,” said Edinburgh taxi driver Robert Feirgrieve, 34, en route to Orchard Brae House, the Bank of Scotland’s home office. “The Scottish paper pound is so much easier to deal with.”

In England, Scottish sterling notes are a novelty, refused by many people not familiar with Scottish currency.

“When I first started in the banking business in 1951, there were eight banks in Scotland, each issuing its own series of notes,” said Stewart Murray, 52, manager of public affairs for the Bank of Scotland.

He explained that there have been 40 banks since 1695 that have issued separate series of sterling pound notes. In 1695, the Bank of Scotland was organized as the first bank in the country.

“There are just three banks left in Scotland today. The others have merged or quietly disappeared,” Murray said.


Parliament in 1845 ruled that only the Bank of England could issue currency in England. It wanted to apply the same rule to Scotland, but the Scots would have none of it.

So, Parliament compromised and said the 19 banks then existing in Scotland could go on printing their own currency but prohibited new banks from issuing sterling notes.

The Royal Bank of Scotland, founded in 1727, is Scotland’s largest bank with 590 branches scattered throughout the country. It has 450 million pounds of its currency in circulation.

Second-biggest is the Bank of Scotland, with 500 branches and 234 million pounds in circulation. Clydesdale Bank has 186 million pounds in Scotland and 130 bank branches.

“All of our branches issue only Bank of Scotland notes,” Murray said. “The Royal Bank of Scotland and Clydesdale Bank issue only their notes.”

“As the pound notes are received by tellers in our bank branches, the currency is separated and later sent to the other banks in exchange for our currency the other banks have received.” Murray admitted that “to a non-Scot, our money may seem very confusing. But we are accustomed to the system which is part of our heritage and find nothing strange about it at all.”