“Tenth of July, this year”

New Zealand changed from pounds, shillings and pence to dollars and cents fifty years ago, on 10 July 1967. The occasion is remembered as much for the nationwide advertising campaign that accompanied it as it is for New Zealand’s adoption of decimal currency. At the centre of that campaign was Mr Dollar, decimal currency’s jovial cartoon mascot.

You can watch all of Mr Dollar’s starring roles at Ngā Taonga: Sound and Vision

Meet Mr Dollar

A number of people and agencies were involved in the creation of Mr Dollar. In 1965, the Government Publicity Department reported that

Experience in South Africa and Australia has proved the value of a [cartoon] character to assist in publicity — with uses in pamphlets, advertising, newsletters, and so on. The character needs to be versatile and reasonably sophisticated as well as friendly and helpful.

While Decimal Dan (from South Africa) and Dollar Bill (from Australia) may both have influenced the campaign, Mr Dollar bears a striking resemblance to the latter.

Two advertising agencies were employed to work on the Decimal Changeover (DC) Day campaign, J Inglis Wright and Kenyon Brand Riggs. A third party, Morrow Productions, animated Mr Dollar based on story-boards provided by Kenyon Brand Riggs.

Sir Robert Muldoon, then the Minister of Finance, provided feedback on an early version of Mr Dollar, noting that his accent needed to be adjusted so that “dollar” did not sound American.

Cover of 'Decimal Currency and You', showing a bowing Mr Dollar.Decimal currency and YOU: Meet Mr Dollar! Decimal Currency board, 1967.

Mr Dollar’s first public appearance was in Decimal Currency and YOU: meet Mr Dollar. Decimal Currency Board Chair S.L. Moses stated at the time that “We expect that he can quickly show people that the change — as we already know — is quite simple. We hope his happy personality will assure everyone that [decimal currency] is to be welcomed and not to be feared.” (Archives New Zealand, R21908413.)

Mr Dollar took on a number of personas as he prepared New Zealanders for decimal currency. He was a shopper, a teacher, an accountant and a mechanic. Another character, referred to at the time as “a Maorified Mr Dollar” was introduced in 1967 and featured in a booklet explaining decimal currency in te reo Māori (Archives New Zealand, R21908417).

Page of guidance on the change from imperial to decimal currency, showing a variant Mr Dollar with patterning around his head.Nga taara me nga heneti, Decimal Currency Board, 1967.

25,000 copies of the booklet were produced and distributed through the Department of Māori Affairs’ district offices. More on the Māori Mr Dollar from Te Ara.

Fifty years later, we take the decimal system for granted, but between 1966 and 1967, Mr Dollar’s education campaign taught New Zealanders how to write the symbols of the new currency ($ and ¢), how pounds, shillings and pence would be converted to dollars and cents, and how to talk about the new money:

A certain amount of abbreviation can be used. $2.10 may be expressed as ‘two dollars, ten’, it being customary to omit the words ‘and’ and ‘cents’. Confusion could be caused if abbreviations go too far. ‘Two ten’ is not sufficiently clear.
Dollars and cents and your business, Decimal Currency Board, 1966.

If you would like to learn more about Mr Dollar’s history, the Decimal Currency Board’s papers are a great place to start. Try searching for the “Decimal Currency Board” in Archway.

Pages explaing what decimal currency is, and why the change is happening. Shows three small cartoons of Mr Dollar.Dollars & cents and your business, Decimal Currency Board, 1966.

DC Day

Mr Dollar “stepped up his activity on television, radio and in press advertisements” in the lead up to DC Day. (Decimal Currency Board Annual Report, 1967.)

On 10 July, New Zealand reached peak Mr Dollar. Not only was he in most daily newspapers, he was on most pages, reassuring the nation that the change to decimal currency would be straightforward. The previous week, the New Zealand Woman’s Weekly devoted a large part of its magazine to Decimal Currency: there was a letter from Muldoon (“To you... women who handle the money”), a two page article detailing the changeover and a selection of meals that could be created for one dollar: “Turn dinner planning into a useful lesson in tallying your decimals.”

By this point, Mr Dollar’s image had been borrowed by a number of advertisers, keen to tell their customers that it would be business as usual under decimal currency. Mr Dollar was used to demonstrate the new prices for favourite products, for instance, and Woolworths gave him a mortar board to ensure customers that their staff had received extensive training in decimal currency:

If you wish to make an enquiry about currency prior to making a purchase have a chat with one of our Courtesy Girls. These girls move about the store ready to assist anyone who finds herself in a ‘decimal dither.’
New Zealand Herald, 8 July 1967, p. 10.

It is not clear how the Decimal Currency Board viewed this use. Their Australian counterparts had noted, however, that they retained the copyright for Dollar Bill and his use by “private concerns [would] be authorised by the Board only where specific educational messaging [was] proposed.” (Archives New Zealand, R21908413.)

Mr Dollar appears throughout the collections of the National Library — in both his sanctioned and unsanctioned forms. Try spotting him in our collections by searching for “decimal system”.

Mr Dollar in an IGA ad, advertising prices for foods in new and old money.IGA ad, Otago Daily Times, 10 July 1967.

Too much of a good thing

The ubiquity of Mr Dollar made him irresistible to satirists, particularly cartoonists. He was an easy-to-draw, readymade character and the changeover to decimal currency was already well established as a source of humour.

The following three editorial cartoons each appeared on DC Day. Nevile Lodge, drawing for the Evening Post in Wellington, sent Mr Dollar to the races along with a number of New Zealanders ready to exchange their old money for new.

Nevile Lodge, "Commentary on today's big national fixture". Evening Post, 10 July 1967. Ref: B-133-477.

In the Otago Daily Times, Sid Scales drew a fatigued Mr Dollar smoking a pipe.

Ad with several cartoons, including a small Mr Dollar in the corner, smoking a pipe.Sid Scales, "Little Laughs". Otago Daily Times, 10 July 1967.

Eric Heath, whose cartoons appeared in the Dominion, showed Mr Dollar waking up an unsuspecting couple by jumping on their bed singing his jingle — suggesting, perhaps, that after a year of campaigning Mr Dollar’s enthusiasm and song were wearing thin.

A strained and tired Mr Dollar sings his famous song to a waking couple.Eric Heath, "The 10th of July is here!" Dominion, 10 July 1967.

The campaign had a strong impact on New Zealand. Many can still sing the jingle (“Tenth of July, this year”) or tell you of their success as Dollar Scholars.

New Zealand Women’s Weekly editor Jean Wishart wrote:

Each of us is writing a page of our history today [10 July]. Future generations will not care much about yesterday or tomorrow, but in 20, 30, or 40 years’ time we should have a guaranteed audience of fascinated youngsters who will ask, ‘What was it like the day New Zealand changed from pounds to dollars?’ For mothers and grannies and aunts this could be as historic a conversation piece as ‘What did you do in the war, Daddy?’

Wishart overstated the case somewhat, but Mr Dollar has a lasting impact on New Zealanders and is a delightful part of our social and visual history.

Mr E D Vallence of the Reserve Bank feeds the furnace with redundant sterling banknotes.Sterling bank notes being destroyed, Wellington, 1968. Ref: EP-Economy-Currency-02.

Many thanks to Raewyn Peters and Mark Holland at the Reserve Bank of New Zealand, and to Ani Waapu and Krissi Smith for their help translating Nga taara me nga heneti.

By Hannah Benbow

Hannah is the Turnbull's Research Librarian for cartoons.

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Becky Ellen-Johnson July 10th at 11:00AM

What a great little slice of Kiwi history. And now I have the jingle stuck in my head. Still catchy fifty years later.

Chris July 11th at 9:58AM

Thanks Hannah. This is really interesting. I remember when New Zealand transferred to metric measurement, with the Hammond Family singing .... "500 grams of brussel sprouts, 500 grams of buuuutter...." Mr Dollar was a bit before my time, but I get how some people today would still remember the jingle.

And how about the "Maorified" Mr Dollar!

Vivienne Sanders July 11th at 12:09PM

Fabulous piece Hannah!

Kirstie Ross July 16th at 11:22AM

Hi Hannah
I really enjoyed your blog, digging deeper in the Mr Dollar campaign and revealing some wonderful examples from the National Library and Turnbull Library's collections.
Kirstie Ross
History curator, Te Papa