A campaigner who forced the Bank of England to have female representation on banknotes has pledged to donate her first Jane Austen tenner to a women’s shelter as the new plastic currency enters circulation.
Caroline Criado-Perez threatened to take the Bank to court for discrimination when the former governor Mervyn King announced that it was phasing out paper fivers featuring the prison reformer Elizabeth Fry, the only woman other than the Queen to feature on legal tender at that time.
They were replaced last year by the new £5 featuring Winston Churchill.
But on the new £10 note the bank backed down and on Thursday more than 1bn new tenners featuring Austen begin entering circulation. It ends a four-month period in which there has been no usable note featuring a woman other than the Queen.
Criado-Perez was subjected to online abuse after leading the campaign for female representation. Writing in the London Evening Standard she said she would not quite believe the success of the campaign until she held a new tenner in her hand.
“I imagine it will feel amazing,” she said.
Criado-Perez, co-founder of the feminist blog the Women’s Room, added: “I’ll be donating my first Austen tenner to my local women’s shelter. It feels like the right way to end this chapter of my life.”
Criado-Perez told the Guardian said: “This represents so much more than a banknote: the Bank of England changed their entire selection procedure to make sure an all-male line-up would never happen again. That was the real fight and that’s what I’m most proud of achieving.”
She pointed out that Austen was the bank’s choice not hers.
The Bank of England has persevered with polymer notes despite complaints from religious and vegan groups over the animal fat tallow used in the production process.
After the bank issued polymer fivers last year one vegan restaurant in Cambridge refused to accept the new notes. A staff member at the Rainbow Cafe in Cambridge said she was unsure whether it be would be accepting the new plastic £10. “I haven’t discussed it with the owner,” she said.
The cafe’s owner, Sharon Meijland, has been contacted by the Guardian, but has yet to respond.
For the first time the new note includes a tactile feature aimed at helping blind and partially sighted people identify it.
The Royal Institute for the Blind helped design the feature, which consists of two groups of four raised bumps in the top left corner of the note.
The new notes are 15% smaller than the paper version, which will be withdrawn from circulation in the spring.
The new £10 note also includes a metallic image of Winchester Cathedral, where Austen was buried. It appears overlaid on a transparent window on the note and is gold on the front and silver on the back.
Under the portrait of Austen is a quote from her best known work, Pride and Prejudice. But the line, “I declare after all there is no enjoyment like reading,” has sparked controversy because as critics point out it spoken by a character with no interest in books.
The Queen will be presented with the first new tenner – with serial number AA01 000001 – while Prince Philip is given the second and Theresa May the third. The general public must wait a little longer while Britain’s 48,000 cash machines are loaded with the notes. Only a handful of ATMs around the UK are expected to be dispensing them on Thursday.
Collectors are on the hunt for very low serial numbers – those beginning AA01 – after the lowest number £5 note issued to the public, AA01000017, sold for £4,105 at a charity auction last year. Popular serial numbers for the new £10 note are expected to be the birthday of Jane Austen, 16 121775, and her death, 18 071817.