This month, I even have invited Jonathan Callaway, an expert on currency from Ireland and Scotland, to share a variety of his thoughts on collecting and identifying banknotes. I could not pass up the prospect to say a couple of questions on the ever-iconic Lady Hazel Lavery notes. Please make sure to read part two in an upcoming issue to determine what Callaway was kind enough to share on the topic.
- How long have you ever ever been a banknote collector?
A. I bought my first banknote in 1970. it had been a Bank of England 11 shillings note and it cost me 13 shillings and sixpence, the equivalent today of £0.64. My father thought I wont to be crazy! I had been a collector of coins since childhood but after this first purchase, I gradually focused more and more on paper money. In those youth, I didn’t have much money spare for purchasing quite the occasional item which I didn’t know much about what I wont to be buying either – there are no detailed catalogs of either British or Irish notes.
As my collection grew, I turned to research the background history of what I wont to be acquiring, and out of this eventually came the two catalogs I even have co-authored; firstly in 2009, paper money of eire, which broke new ground by covering during one volume all Irish paper money from the first known banknotes issued within the 1730s to the present day. This involved plenty of research which I thoroughly enjoyed; nobody learns quite the researcher himself! My second book was paper money of Scotland, which I co-authored with Dave Murphy. This was published in 2018 and was how bigger effort requiring two volumes and 1,140 pages to cover every Scottish paper money issue from 1695 to the present day. I’m proud to say both books won the International Bank Note Society’s Book of the Year Award.
- What kind of banknotes do I collect the most?
In the beginning, I focused purely on English notes but soon began to explore what was available elsewhere within the British Isles – which increasingly meant the fascinating and endlessly varied notes from Scotland alongside Irish notes from both the Republic and Northern Ireland. These I found equally, if less, fascinating given Ireland’s complex history which is reflected in their paper money story. I also collect the notes of the Isle of Man, Guernsey, and Jersey also as English Provincial banknotes dating from the 18th and early 19th centuries when there are literally many small banks across the country.
Over the years I even have also acquired a few “story notes” which hold special resonance in numismatic history. to call just three examples, the Bank of Poyais 1 Hard dollar, intended for issue by the Cazique of Poyais, one Gregor MacGregor, a Scottish adventurer of scurrilous repute, during a completely fictitious country; the 1922 Banco de Portugal 500 escudos note where fraudsters convinced the printers to repeat the primary print run but deliver the notes to not the bank but to the care of the Charing Cross Station left luggage store!; and a Labour Note for 1 hour issued by the National Equitable Labour Exchange, a utopian institution founded by Owen and signed in-person by the famous Victorian-era philanthropist.
- what is the foremost interesting banknote you’ve encountered?
If I were to pick one out it’d probably be the Bank of Scotland 1 guinea note on which the great Scottish poet Burns wrote his famous poem “Wae worth thy power, thou cursed leaf!” He wrote those words in 1786 and thus the banknote itself has been preserved within the National Trust of Scotland’s Burns Birthplace Museum in Alloway, Scotland. I even have a note of the same type in my collection, but it isn’t one he has written on! The poem could also be a lament to his lack of funds and thus the loss of his fiancée because he couldn’t afford to marry. A “cursed leaf ” indeed!
Over the course of your career and study of banknotes, what do I think has most affected the evolution of note design?
In the youth, banknotes had mostly very simple designs, using only one color, normally black, and had only a couple of anti-forgery elements. Forgery, or the threat of it, was a superb driver of design innovation and issuers quickly realized that including a well-engraved portrait, or a minimum of a vignette of a well-known landscape or building, could be an efficient deterrent.
The advent of plate engraving within the early 19th century enabled engravers to supply far more detailed designs and this caused a step-change in artistic and technical quality. Many 19th-century notes were artistically superb – and hence very collectible today. This also made them harder to forge. When photography was first developed, banknote producers reacted to the present new threat by turning to the utilization of multiple colors, especially the greens and blues that photography found hard to duplicate. Scottish note design illustrates these trends particularly well, albeit Scottish banknote history is punctuated with famous (or infamous, counting on your view), forgeries. These, too, are collectible, especially people who appeared within the 19th century.
An exception to the present trend was the Bank of England. Though their notes were also forged, they adhered to the principle that simplicity of design and hence greater public familiarity with their notes was the simplest deterrent. Right up to 1956 their “white fiver” was printed on one side only and during a single color, black, and this was despite the economic scale forging of their notes by the Nazis during war II. The Nazis were getting to destabilize the British economy by dropping many forged Bank of England notes over the country, but their loss of control of the skies meant this plan never took effect. The forgeries are easy to seek out today and most English collections will have a couple of to display alongside their genuine counterparts. What the apparent simplicity of design hid was, of course, numerous secret marks and tiny subtleties that enabled Bank of England tellers to select up the overwhelming majority of forgery attempts. They were also merciless in prosecuting any offenders they caught though many were unwitting holders of notes others had forged.
If you were ready to give advice on growing an Ireland or Scotland collection, what would you suggest?
Start modestly, start with the foremost recent issues and buy the simplest your budget allows. I might also recommend getting advice on who the simplest dealers are then getting advice from those dealers – most are very happy to assist new collectors. attempt to specialize in a kind collection first, and only later add the minor varieties that teem in both countries’ notes. Perhaps avoid the very best denomination notes (£100 notes have long been issued in both countries) as these will always retain their face value – and you’ll quickly traffic jam tons of capital by collecting £100 notes!
Old-time collectors like me also are very happy to share their knowledge, so seek them out too. Oh, and eventually – join a corporation like the International Bank Note Society where back copies of the Journal have numerous articles on Irish and Scottish note