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Australia’s First 10-Shilling Note
By Dr. Kerry Rodgers, Bank Note Reporter
August 06, 2013

This article was originally printed in Bank Note Reporter.
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One hundred years ago, at 3.30 p.m. on May 1, five-year-old Anne Judith Denman, daughter of Australia’s governor general, perched alongside a table in King’s Warehouse, Melbourne. She pulled a lever that completed production of the Commonwealth of Australia’s very first bank note. She did so by impressing it with the red serial No. M000001. It was 10 shillings P-1Aa.

It was a historic occasion for the new nation but is also for Australian bank note collectors a century down the track. Six British colonies had federated on Jan. 1, 1901, to form the Commonwealth of Australia. It took the new federal government 10 years to introduce a national bronze and silver coinage. It took another two years to deliver the new nation its own distinctive paper currency.

The federal government was in no hurry. They gave much time and thought to the question of the first Commonwealth notes. In the interim the nation made do with superscribed trading banks issues (P-A72-A137).

The Treasury advertised for designs for new Commonwealth notes in October 1910. It stated a preference for designs that included the Australian coat-of-arms on the face and Australian scenery on the back.

The winning designs were announced in April 1911 although the Government Advisory Board noted that none of the designs were of sufficient standard for the proposed issue. The government took advice in Britain and gave London’s Bradbury Wilkinson the task of transforming those winning designs into something more suitable and secure.

A revised design for the 10 shillings note was received by the Australian Federal Treasurer in November 1911. Following some minor tweaking, a decision was taken to go ahead using three colors to print either side in order to frustrate counterfeiters. BWC was to engrave the dies but production would be undertaken in Australia once suitable machinery had been purchased.

In May 1912 Thomas S. Harrison, formerly manager of Waterlow and Sons, was appointed Australian Note Printer. Premises were set up in King’s Warehouse, Melbourne where Harrison arranged for the necessary machinery and its installation.

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Two passes were used to print the main features of the design. Four notes were printed per sheet of high quality linen paper. The notes were then guillotined to size before being pressed flat to obliterate any crinkling arising from the wet printing. It was now the notes were serial numbered, which is where young Judith Denman comes into the picture.

Following her numbering of M00001 Judith was presented with it by the Prime Minister. Her father, Lord Denman, the governor general, got the task of numbering the second note and her brother, Thomas Denman, did No. 3. Each received their numbered notes.

Others now stepped up to the plate and while the prime minister announced that anyone might try their hand at numbering, there would be no more freebies. Sir Rider Haggard numbered No. 4 and printer Harrison finally got to pull the lever himself to impress No. 13.

Those at the gathering who wanted to purchase these early numbers were allowed to do so at a cost of 10 shillings each. Subsequently the first 500 numbers were reserved for members of the federal parliament and other A-listers who might want to purchase them. The order of purchase was determined by ballot. Today one of those first issue 10 shillings (P-1) in, say, VF will set you back the thick end of $25,000 but the lower the number the higher the price. Presentation items, P-A1, command a hefty premium.

Treasury took delivery of the first consignment of 10 shilling notes on May 2. They started distributing them to banks on May 5. The Aussie public did not take to them. They preferred gold, given that 10 shillings was half a sovereign. By the end of May just 17,718 had been issued with less than 36,000 circulating among the public by the end of August. For the rest of the year the Treasury’s vaults bulged with several hundreds of thousands of freshly-printed but unloved notes.

Later that year a new printing included the words “HALF SOVEREIGN” in red in the top and bottom margins (P-3). This in no way melted the hard hearts of the average Australian. But then on July 28, 1914 World War I broke out. Gold was withdrawn and 10 shilling notes finally made it into Aussie wallets and hearts.

The last couple of months have seen Australia mark the centenary of the note that Judith made. The Post Office has issued two stamps and both Australian mints have struck coins. Packages that combined both stamps and coins were launched at the Australia 2013 World Stamp Expo in Melbourne on May 10-15 (World Coin News May, 2013, p. 32.)

As for M000001, it remained in Judith’s possession until her death in 1987. It appeared on the market in 1999 to be initially purchased by Australian dealer Barry Windsor for $1,000,000. In 2008 it was offered for sale by International Auction Galleries when John Pettit paid a staggering $1.909 million for it.

It is believed the note remained in his possession until recently. It has now surfaced in the hands of Belinda Downie of Coinworks,, who is selling it on behalf of administrators McGrathNicol. At the time of writing Belinda is offering it for sale by private treaty. Australian mainstream media have been reporting an anticipated price of $3.5 million.

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