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Forming a Collection

Collectors make up a very important part of our civilisation. They are generally people with inquisitive minds who want to learn about things. The numismatist Alexander Del Mar once wrote, 'The history of civilisation is the history of money' (History of Money in Ancient Countries, Bell, London 1885). It is no exaggeration to say that the world's museums would be half empty if it were not for the private collections sold or donated to them. However humble a collector may be he serves a useful purpose in that he preserves items which can be studied and researched by future generations to add to our general fund of knowledge.

The field of collecting paper money is useful for historical research as it can corroborate what is known from other sources. Often in the past paper money was only issued in emergencies so can be important and tangible evidence of times of turmoil.

Such notes are not necessarily expensive: some notes issued during the French Revolution for example can be purchased for as little as 6. More research is needed in many areas for the interested collector looking for a challenge. The collector has the advantage that paper money collecting is comparatively new and this is reflected in lower prices fetched against equivalent items in the more established coin and stamp worlds.

Few people considered collecting paper money in the early 1940s when a 10 Shilling note (50 new pence) could be a weekly pay-packet! It was just too expensive. But of course inflation has changed all that and nowadays we don't even bother printing paper notes for such low values as 10 Shillings. Indeed, one can buy notes of some countries with the denominations of millions for a pound or two.

The hobby first came into prominence at the end of World War I. Germany went through a time when all metal coin was hoarded and just about every town and village in the country issued its own small change in the form of notes, known to collectors as 'notgeld'. There was a boom in collecting them; magazines were devoted to them and local councils began making the notes attractive, and even issued them in sets recording local historical events and legends like the Pied Piper of Hamlin. Eventually the Reichsbank prohibited further issues.

There were, of course, a few far-sighted people in those days who did begin to form collections of world notes. One such collection (the Marquis of Bute's) helped to establish the British Museum's collection, which has now grown to be of world importance for research students. Beginners are well advised to start off by forming a general world collection so that they can see what the range of collecting can be. It is important too that they only collect notes that are readily available in perfect condition. Experienced collectors will take notes in bad condition but only because they know the note is extremely rare and virtually unobtainable. They would never buy a common note in circulated condition- for one thing its value would not be likely to increase, whereas in perfect condition it could double and treble in time. 

Investors have had considerable success in the paper money world because the increase in collectors has outstripped the more established hobbies, and notes that were common 30 years ago are now rare as the number of collectors has grown. Investors only tend to go for great rarities or perfect condition notes. Naturally, collectors need to pay attention to the value of a note. If they pay 30 for something, they want to know that they can get most of their money back, if not an actual profit in reasonable time. This is where catalogues are useful, as well as dealers’ price lists that can be compared at paper money fairs. 

The best way to form a collection is to collect something you like. If you like it, the chances are that someone else will like it too. The skill of the collector is shown by the way they put the collection together, how it is written up to tell a story and how it is presented. Some of the big societies hold competitive displays for members and awards 'honours' in the same way that philatelic societies do. Of course a collection that has been awarded a 'gold' or similar high award can go up in value when sold and auction catalogues always mention the awards a collection has received. Collectors have to decide for themselves what they want out of the hobby. Some may not be able to devote much time to it and are happy just putting together a few really interesting or rare items. Others may want to spend a lot of time on the collection but do not want to go bankrupt in the process. Such collectors need to pick an area where there are many inexpensive notes.

One piece of advice, which most collectors in their later years wished they had followed, is always keep a record of each note added to the collection. Write down the details of the note with its catalogue number, what was paid for it, who it was bought from and when it was bought. Some notes might have been gifts, or exchanges- that information will be useful in the future too. It will not seem very important to a beginner but twenty or thirty years later that information will be very interesting and, in that case of rarities, will become part of the provenance of a note.

Mounting a collection

Special albums are available nowadays for collectors of banknotes and many of the philatelic albums are just as suitable. It is very important to make sure the album see-through 'slip-in' pages are free from harmful plastic. Cheap plastic pages may have acid in them which in time will certainly damage any paper items inside them. Where notes are hand-signed the fugitive inks can react badly to poor quality paper. Good quality pages will be free from harmful acids and are well worth the extra cost.

It is not a good idea to mount notes in loose-leaf paper pages using stamp mounts or photo corners. Very carefully done it can be safe enough, but there is a good chance of damaging the note in the process. Many collectors who use ordinary loose-leaf albums put their notes in Hawid-type strips and then mount them on a page. It is an expensive way of mounting a collection but is probably as safe as any known method. A collector should never use sellotape- it literally ruins a banknote.

Where large collections of small size notes, like German notgeld, are concerned, one idea is to put them in philatelic slip-in albums where the pages contain strips to hold stamps or notes. The interleaves keep the notes safe and flat and, just like stamps, then notes can be overlapped safely.

Those who exhibit parts of their collection at shows and club meetings use specially made exhibition pages which slip into protective see-through covers. Large collections of inflation notes- remember you can get something like 100,000 from Germany alone- can be file indexed alphabetically by the town name, issue or subject. Whatever method a new collector adopts it is well worth using the best material one can get for housing the notes. In past years we have encountered collections containing very valuable notes worth maybe 10,000 stuck in a cheap well-worn schoolboy's exercise book! The consequent damage to the notes can knock a '0' off the 10,000.

Writing up the collection is a skill of its own. Neatness always makes a page more attractive. Balance is an art in itself. The actual write-up should explain to a non-collector what it is all about. To caption a white 5 note dated 1949 with that information is not really necessary because it is already apparent from the note itself. But stating who designed it, who printed it, how many were issued and why, are details that the note itself does not give and can be of interest.

Finding the notes

There are many numismatic societies in most major cities of the world. Although primary for coin collectors, a great many cater for paper money collectors as well. Ninety per cent of all coin dealers also handle paper money. And of course there are specialist paper money societies like the worldwide International Bank Note Society, which has branches in many countries, issues a regular large magazine and holds auctions and meetings in various countries. It is particularly useful for beginners because it has an expert committee and advisors. A complaints committee will help any member who feels he has been 'swindled' and this has resulted in some people being expelled from that society. However it does not operate between dealer and dealer- as a judge once said about a managing director, 'Managing directors can look after themselves'. The society also has a major library.

In the US where the International Bank Note Society is based, there is also the Society of Paper Money Collectors which has the same benefits but specialises more in American notes. Both these societies are well worth joining; one of the attractions is that a new collector can meet and correspond with other collectors.

In the last few years paper money collecting has become more popular and many of the major international auction houses now hold bank note auctions. Prominent among them in the UK are DNW, Spink, Bonhams, London Coin Auctions and Morton & Eden. New collectors can gain a great deal of knowledge from obtaining the catalogues and the prices realised.

Then there are numismatic shops, most of which include paper money for collectors, and several of which specialise in paper money. Antique shops are a good source for rummaging through. Always ask if the shop has any old paper money. Nine out of ten might well say 'No' but the next one may say 'Yes'- such dealers have sometimes bought chests of drawers in which they have found a few old notes.

Once a year at the beginning of October there is a two day Paper Money Fair in London and dealers from all over the world take tables. It is a good opportunity for new collectors to meet dealers from foreign countries and to compare prices. A similar show is held in the Netherlands. In the US paper money dealers form part of the major shows, some a week long, in places such as Los Angeles and New York.


Books on the subject are very important. Essential to serious collectors are the Krause Publications which, in three volumes, catalogue the banknotes of the world. One volume deals with National Bank issues up to 1960, another deals with private banks of the world and a third deals with notes from 1961 onwards. This latter catalogue is issued yearly and for many collectors is the most important. The other volumes are sometimes printed quite a few years apart, so the modern notes catalogue is now in its 15th edition, while the volume for notes up to 1960 is currently in its 12th addition. The catalogues can be found in libraries but are well worth obtaining because dealers throughout the world use their catalogue numbers. These have a prefix 'P' which stands for 'Pick', the name of the famous collector who first listed world notes. Often a dealer's list will simply give the name of the country, the denomination, Pick number, condition and price. Throughout this website, the prefix 'P' is used when referring to a notes Pick catalogue number. Without access to the catalogue the collector will not be able to easily identify the note.

Specialist collectors have their own catalogues and, of course, these are essential too. The 'Bible' for English notes is Vincent Dugleby's English Paper Money published by well-known dealer Pam West, and here again the catalogue numbers are universally used with the prefixes 'B' for Bank of England and 'T' for Treasury.

Collecting Themes

Country Type Collection

A popular collecting theme is to try and obtain one note from every country. This is quite a challenge as the Krause World Paper Money Catalogue lists 234 countries or government authorised official issues up to 1960. This includes small territories like Memel, Lichtenstein and Andorra.

The task is almost impossible as, for example, Hejaz, a province of Saudi Arabia, produced specimen notes in 1924 which are extremely scarce and difficult to obtain. Next in line for rarity would be notes from German New Guinea. Gilbert and Ellice Islands, Grenada and the Leeward Islands (to name but a few) also pose significant difficulties.

Several collectors vie with each other to get the highest number of originating countries recorded in the Guinness Book of Records. By and large a collector can hope to get around 200 different countries before rarity and expense becomes serious problems.

One very popular favourite because of its rarity is Tannu Tuva, A small independent nation (1924-44) situated between Russia and Mongolia. It issued its own notes from 1935 to 1940 before Russia took over. Collectors should be aware that Russian notes exist with overprints for use in Tannu Tuva. These are all now thought to be spurious and were overprinted in the 1970s for the benefit of collectors. They are catalogued to aid collectors. It is noticeable that these notes, supposedly used in 1924, are overprinted on pre-1917 rouble notes, the most common of all Russian of notes, and not the scarce Chervontsev and Gold Rouble notes that did circulate in 1924. At least they are inexpensive and could make a 'space filler'. The genuine Tannu Tuva notes dated 1935 or 1940, the latter depicting an attractive scene of a Ploughman tilling land, use currency denominations of Aksha.

The idea of collecting notes from each country came about from holiday-makers keeping paper money from each place they visited. World travellers can expect to get something like 174, not including the Euro Zone where countries use a code on the euro notes. The Caribbean Islands now have a new series for all islands, identified by letters. Just one tip for anyone starting such a collection: in general modern notes only have a collector value if they are in uncirculated condition.

Another interesting worldwide theme, again based primarily on countries, is collecting all the different currency names used on banknotes.

Portrait Notes

After a while most collectors tend to specialise in one country, a group of countries or a specific theme. Perhaps the most popular (particularly in the US) are the portraits notes of British monarchs and members of the royal family such as Queen Victoria, Prince Albert, King Edward VII and George V (Canada pictured more members of the royal family on its notes during his reign than any other country). While the old king portraits tends to be very expensive, large collections can be made of Queen Elizabeth II Commonwealth portraits notes- the Queen even appears as a little girl on some notes.

Another very popular theme is forming a portrait collection of famous, and infamous, people or non-portrait notes with a particular relevance to people. Some notes are of interest because they depict the same person in different ways. On Iraqi notes for example, King Faisal II is shown as a boy in 1941, whilst later issues show him with different portraits as a young man.


Lenin’s portrait appears on many Russin notes, such as this 5 Chervontsev note of 1937.

A number of Russian notes show portraits of Vladimir Lenin, who is still honoured and regarded as the hero of the Soviet Union throughout Russia today. Interestingly, Joseph Stalin, generally accepted as one of the world’s most ruthless leaders, does not appear on Russian notes but is represented on a rare Chinese Communist note. Adolf Hitler was another ruthless dictator whose portrait does not appear on notes, though it can be seen on many Third Reich stamps. Both disliked banknotes, aware that inflation could reduce their portraits to waste paper.

The continent of Africa has left us with a positive gallery of tyrants! These include J.B. Bokassa of the Central African Republic. Several of his portraits exist on paper money. Perhaps the most notable is when he changed the name of the country to 'Empire Centrafricain', abolished the Republic and declared it a monarchy. He spent three-quarters of his country's annual income on a splendid coronation ceremony, the regalia and grandeur of which paralleled that of Napoleon Bonaparte, and installed himself as emperor. His portraits start off as a hatless head in 1974 but shortly afterwards change to include military head-gear. Some of his notes can be bought today for as little as 95. Several exist showing him as president and then emperor of the new proclaimed 'Empire', culminating with a 10,000 Franc note issued in 1978 (P.8). Fortunately for everyone else the French authorities decided they had had enough of him and deposed him following the machine-gunning of some schoolgirls who were not wearing the correct uniform. His portrait also appears on Equatorial African States notes.

Idi Amin in full military uniform on a Ugandan note undated (c.1973).

Idi Amin portrait notes of Uganda are still easily obtainable. His bemedalled portrait looks quite distinguished (he awarded himself the Victoria Cross for conquering the British Empire) and he once asked for Queen Elizabeth II to stop over and pick him up when she was flying to a Commonwealth heads of state meeting. Israeli commandos brought him down to size in 1976 when they raided the country's main airport and rescued several hostages held inside by hijackers.

Equitorial Guinea 100 Ekuele note picturing President Biyogo who changed his name from three words (‘Macais Nguema Biyogo’) on early banknotes to five words (‘Maise Nguema Biyogo Negue Ndong’) to indicate his becoming a God in 1975. Feared for his voodoo powers, he was executed by firing squad on the orders of his successor.

The portrait of African leaders who were executed are also particularly collectable, notably President M. Ngeuma Biyogo of Equatorial Guinea who came to power in 1969. He changed his name from 3 to 5 words on notes which collectors can easily distinguish. It is said he was concerned with voodoo and was very unpopular. Eventually he was sentenced to death, his hands having already been smashed so that he could not point a voodoo finger at anyone as he was led out to be shot.

He was succeeded by his nephew, the man who ordered his execution, Teodoro Obiag Nguema Mbasogo in 1979. In 2009 he had the distinction of having reigned longer than any other African leader including Mugabe of Zimbabwe. Although his portrait does not appear on notes they deserve a place in the collection. In December 2002 the main four candidates against him in the elections all withdrew because of the violence against their supporters. Opposition parties were only allowed in order to qualify for foreign aid in the 1990s. He saw no reason, however, why he should let them actually stand a chance of winning and he saw to it that he received ninety-seven per cent of the vote- down from ninety-nine and a half per cent in the previous election. Mark Thatcher, son of British Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher, was accused of helping a coup attempt against him which failed.

There are a number of portraits on Sudanese notes, the president in 2009 being the subject of an arrest warrant by the international authorities at the Hague. A previous ruler, President Numeriri, is well pictured but made the mistake of flying out of the country in 1985 to attend a political meeting.  When he returned he found he had been overthrown and his notes withdrawn.

The mineral rich province of Katanga broke away from the Republic of Congo under President Moise Tshombe in 1960. His portrait is on this 10 Franc note (this note was not issued- it was an attempt by Waterlows to gain the contract to print the notes for Katanga). After over two years of vicious fighting involving Congalese, Belgian an United Nations forces, Tshombe met his death and Katanga was reintegrated as the Shaba region of the Republic of Congo, which subsequently changed its name to Zaire.

Moise Tshombe's portrait is on notes of Katanga between 1960s and 1962 before the vicious fighting ended in Katanga being taken back into the First Republic of the Congo. Biafra is another African territory with a very short life after Colonel E.O. Ojukwu, Military Governor of the Eastern Region of Nigeria, proclaimed the Republic of Biafra on 30 May, 1967. His portrait does not appear on the few issues of notes before his forces were virtually wiped out and the country restored to Nigeria in 1970.

Mobutu's portrait is very common as so many different notes have been issued under his rule in Zaire (now the Democratic Republic of Congo). It is said that Zaire was the most ill-prepared country ever to be given independence. Inter-tribal warfare was such that the Belgian military forces had to move in to protect their citizens. Pierre Mulele Lumumba, rebel leader in the 1964 Simba rebellion, was lured out of exile in Brazzaville on the assumption that he would be given amnesty, but was tortured and killed on the orders of Mobutu. He consolidated his power by publicly executing the Prime Minister (Evariste Kimba) and three cabinet ministers in 1966 before an audience of 50,000 people. Recalling the incident he said 'one had to strike through a spectacular example, and create the conditions of regime discipline. When a chief takes a decision, he decides- period'. He was finally overthrown in 1997.

Democratic Republic of the Congo 5 Zaire specimen note printed in Germany by Giescke & Devrient. It bears the portrait of Mobutu who stayed in power for many years until finally being overthrown in 1997. He first issued portrait notes of himself in 1967.

There are some old African leaders like Kwame Nkrumah of Ghana, who decided to make himself a god. There is an amusing story of a major American postage stamp producer arriving in Ghana to negotiate a contract. Nkrumah sent a car to fetch him from the airport but the American, who was a devout Jew, said he preferred to walk to see Nkrumah, it being a religious day. Nkrumah took this to mean that the American acknowledged his divine status and, as he was the first foreigner to do so, gave him the stamp contract without any further ado.

The African continent did not have a monopoly of tyrants and violence. Afghanistan's President Muhammed Duad deposed the last King of Afghanistan, King Muhammad Zahir in 1973 and established a republic. Both feature on many banknotes. Duad himself was overthrown- he was machine-gunned down together with some 30 members of his family, and replaced with a pro-Soviet republic. Since then Afghanistan has seen continual fighting with the Taliban and its supporters.

Afghanistan has a violent history, the Afghan military having defeated British forces in the 19th century and Soviet forces in the 20th century. Taliban fighters control vast areas of the country to this day . A coup in 1973 overthrew the king and brought to power President Muhammad Duad, who was machine-gunned down with his family in a military takeover in 1978.

Nepalese notes bear many portraits of its kings, one of which, with other members of his family, was shot dead by a prince whom he had forbidden to marry.

President S. Niazov's iron-fisted rule over Turkmenistan has given collectors a good number of portraits notes to choose from. He had a weakness: he loved building huge monuments in his own honour. His critics, who made sure they were out of the country, condemned him for renaming the months of the year after himself and his mother (a Roman emperor once did the same) and placing a giant gold-plated statue of himself on top of the highest building in his capital, Ashgabad.

North Korea has portraits of Kim Il Sung, who is not very popular in the West.

North Korea 100 Won dated 1978, featuring the total dictator and much feared Kim Il Sung.

There are plenty of other notorious leaders for the collector to choose from. Collecting their notes and researching their past is a good way of building up an encyclopaedia of the world's leaders.

Then there are portraits of famous people who are tyrants or heroes according to your viewpoint. Che Guevara of Cuba is on several different notes and Castro (who in 2009 became the last surviving world leader of World War II)  is pictured addressing his people on the back of a note. When Guevera became president of the bank of Cuba he signed notes with his forename 'Che'.

Cuba 3 Peso note. The famous Che Guevara appears on three different 3 Peso notes. After Castro took over Cuba he was put in charge of finance and his signature 'Che' appears on some notes. Legend has it that Castro asked his entourage 'Who is a good economist?', in response to which Che put his hand up and was made president of the bank. 'I thought he asked 'Who is a good communist?'' said Che, who had no experience of finance at all!

10 peso Cuban note of 1960 showing Che Guevara's signature: 'Che'.

There are notes of Mexico issued by a bandit chief. Born in 1877, he started off as a cattle rustler called Doroteo Arango before turning to banditry and changing his name to 'Pancho' Villa. He was to become a modern Robin Hood worshipped by the poor people of Mexico. When the government put a high price on his head he joined forces with Franciso Madero and overthrew the government! Later, following Madero's assassination, he joined forces with Carranza and drove General Huerta from Mexico. While made temporary Governor of Chihuaha (1913) he issued his own paper money clearly named 'Grl. Francisco Villa'. The American Bank note company had sent a consignment of well designed notes leaving spaces for signatures of issue is to be inserted. Villa was short of money and ordered them to be issued without bothering to waste time having them signed. After he had fallen out with Carranza, Villa was furious that the US recognised the new government of Carranza. In reprisal, with 400 men, he attacked Columbus in the southern US. This led to an expedition by General John P. Pershing to catch him. It failed. But like most men of violence, General Villa eventually died violently himself. He was assassinated in 1920.

Zapata, another very popular leader of the Mexican people, came up against the wealthy land owners who persuaded the government, whom Zapata had supported, to trick him into attending a meeting. When he arrived the Guard of Honour, on a prearranged signal, instead of presenting arms, shot him dead. He issued cardboard notes which today are very scarce. Collectors will see that all these men struggling for power in Mexico are featured on notes, or by notes, and can form a large collection of their own.

The story of the fall of the Shah of Iran and the rise of Ayatollah Khomeini is another collecting area full of interest and surprises. A plethora of notes followed the overthrow of the Shah and one particularly interesting note is that signed by Ali-Resa Nobari, Governor of the Bank Markazi, and Abol Hassan Banisadr, President of Iran. With the rise of the Ayatollah, Banisadr was simply told, 'You are no longer the President of Iran'- he took the hint and went into hiding. Nobari wrote of his experiences at this time. He said the first inkling in the West that anything was wrong came when his wife checked in her luggage at the airport to fly back to Iran and telephoned his office to say she was coming. The date was 8 June, 1981. There was no answer, which was ominous. She hastily took her luggage off the plane and stayed put. Nobari was on the 'death list' but had received a timely warning and hid with friends before making a five month trek over mountains to the border with Turkey and eventually to the safety of the West.

The Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini astounded the West when his forces broke international convention and took over the American Embassy, taking hostages. This led to hostilities but from a paper money collector's point of view his interference with banknote production was even more astounding and nearly bankrupted his country.

One of the first things he did on taking power was to declare that all notes with the portrait of the hated Shah were to be invalidated. He was persuaded to give people three months to turn them in and the Bank in Tehran immediately began putting improvised crosses, some in red and some in blue, over the Shah's face. Many avid supporters of the Ayatollah did their own obliterating of the Shah. At first these were commanding high prices but when it became apparent that anyone could obliterate the notes- even years later- collectors concentrated on those of the Bank in Tehran. Fortunately for collectors the major western collector of Iranian paper money, 'Mich' Stevenson, obtained these 'Cross' notes at the time of issue, so genuine ones can be identified from the many counterfeits which subsequently came on the market.

Designing and printing new paper money was going to take time and Iran was on the brink of bankruptcy and badly needed circulating currency. The Ayatollah reluctantly agreed to allow the Shah notes to stay in circulation provided they had a suitable obliteration over the Shah. An elaborate arabesque design was produced which effectively covered the offending portrait. Various printers were used and bank records show that high value notes could be turned into the bank and obliterated on the premises and then returned to the owner. Eight different official obliterations are recognised in the Krause World Paper Money catalogues. Of course there were many mistakes, obliterations not properly covering the Shah, some upside down, some overprinted twice and so on.

Just as things looked like getting back on an even keel, it was brought to the attention of the Ayatollah that these notes still had a portrait of the Shah in the watermarks. This was unacceptable to him and so the watermarks of those not already in circulation, together with new issues, were hurriedly overprinted with a Lion and Sun emblem- the ancient symbol of Persia. This did not please the Ayatollah either as it still bore the famous lion used from ancient times. Four watermark overprints came into being altogether, one with the calligraphic text, 'Jumhuri-ye-islami-ye-Iran' (Islamic Republic of Iran). The Lion and Sun emblem was itself obliterated by one of the others. The shortage of paper money was already chronic and now 20 different printing firms were ordered to take part in overprinting the emblems.

New designs were ordered and the banking authorities tried to speed things up by using most of the design of previous notes and only changing the area of the Shah's portrait, which now showed Islamic buildings. It is well worth studying the signatures on these notes. It will be found that several signatures were of officials subsequently shot on the orders of the Ayatollah. New notes were issued, the high values (the last to bear the signature of Nobari before his escape) showing a procession of people carrying placards which bore the portrait of the Ayatollah, thereby circumventing the Islamic convention against putting portraits of living people on notes. Most of the issues with his portrait were issued after his death. A 200 Rials note with a six-pointed star design on the reverse was considered to be too reminiscent of the Jewish faith and was quickly changed to a twelve-pointed star.

It will be seen that a collection of Iran's notes can trace the historical events of the country, the revolution and its aftermath and make an important contribution to our knowledge of those times.

Part of a 50 Rial note of Iran with the portrait of the Shah obliterated by an arabesque overprint on the orders of the Ayatollah Khomeini. The Shah Pahlavi's head is shown on earlier notes. Khomeini hated the Shah so much he sent the obliterated portrait notes back to the printers because the Shah still appeared in the watermark. He didn't like the resulting overprint, which showed the 'lion' emblem of ancient Persia, so they were rejected and other notes with calligraphic overprint on the watermark made. This process had a desperate effect on circulating currency which grew very short!

The Ayatollah Khomeini's portrait on banknotes after his death.

Still fresh in many people's minds is the former President of Iraq, Sadam Hussain. He was supported by the West when he attacked Iran but subsequently found himself at war with the US and Britain after occupying Kuwait. After the second Iraq war he was captured and handed over to the Iraqi government who hanged him.

25 Dinar note of 1986, portraying Saddam Hussein, the President of Iraq. His portrait appears on many notes. After the second Iraq war he was handed over to the Iraqi government and hanged.

Art on paper money

Art on paper money is also a popular subject. It happens that the world’s finest engravers were employed to make banknotes- not so much because they were the best artistically, but because counterfeiters would find it very difficult to copy them. Some people collect individual engravers, such as the famous J.A.C. Harrison whose animated portraits are in a class of their own.

There are some world famous collections of unusual subjects. Dr. Underwood, a prominent member of the IBNS, formed a collection related to medicine and lectured with it to the top body of medical authority. At the time of writing he is making a similar collection of insects on banknotes. Collections illustrating Buddhism, Christianity or Islam, have great potential. Very serious collections corroborating history have been formed from World War II notes including such specialised subjects as prisoner of war, concentration camp and military notes. It will be seen that there is plenty of choice for a collector to form unusual collections perhaps even related to other interests.

Compared to stamp and coin collecting, paper money is comparatively new and this means the areas for research are wide open.  For example, cheques and postal orders are yet to be fully explored. Several books have been published on English postal orders, but very little seems to be known about foreign ones. There is now a society for studying place to orders which helps of course, but it is young with lots of room for new researchers. Then there are financial ephemera and travellers cheques which give ample scope for study and, as so little is known about them, allow collectors to pick up rare items at bargain prices. Lottery tickets have a fascination of their own and tell us a lot about social history. Goldsmith notes are very rare, but quite a lot of collectors find it difficult to distinguish between them and early promissory notes. Another field for research is the Royal and government pay-warrants, some hand signed by famous people such as King Henry VIII. Most are in museums but well worth studying.

Tibet 100 Srang Notes issued between 1942 and 1959 when the Dalai Llama fled to India. Not knowing how to make watermarks, the Tibetans used two pieces of paper on one of which they 'painted' a watermark inscription. The two pieces were then stuck together. Serial numbers were hand-painted on each individual note by Buddhist monks and the notes bear the seal of the Dalai Lama.

Fortunately for the collecting world, everyone has different ideas. If we all wanted to collect the same thing there would not be much of it around to find! Some people think prefix collecting it is of little interest, others like their notes to be slightly circulated so that they have fulfilled the purpose they were made for. Investors cringe at the very thought of that. Absolute perfection, they claim, make a note a good investment. Some say they do not like specimens because they are not 'real' notes. No-one is right or wrong. Collect what you like, whatever gives you the most pleasure. If you make an interesting, informative collection, then the chances are that other people looking at it will want to collect them as well.