Coin News

Volume 36, Number 8, August 1999

Hairy security

Volume 36, Number 8, August 1999

THE annual report of the Bank of England is an 88-page document, crammed with weighty and portentous matter of primary interest to economists, bankers and financiers, but here and there we find little nuggets of numismatic appeal. The year under review was particularly significant for the passage of the new Bank of England Act which came into force on June 1, 1998. This set out the major changes in the Bank's powers, responsibilities, governance and financial framework which had been forceast by the Chancellor in May 1997. It is interesting to note that the Bank is not only the government's chosen instrument for maintaining monetary and financial stability on a day-to-day basis, but also a not inconsiderable source of revenue to the state. The Act requires the Bank to make an annual payment in lieu of dividend to the Treasury of half its post-tax profits-"or such other sum as HM Treasury and the Bank may agree". The Organisation Overview summarises the work of the Bank's sub-divisions and collectors of banknotes will be particularly interested to read the section dealing with the printing works, which manufactures its own inks and security threads as well as printing plates. The role of Debden Securities Printing Limited (DSP) in applying its expertise to commercial sales at home and abroad is also highlighted, and this is reflected in the more commercial approach to the sale of matched pairs and other products to collectors. The retirement of Graham Kentfield, Chief Cashier since 1991, is recorded, together with the introduction of the new Chief Cashier, Ms Merlyn Lowther, from January 1, 1999. This of course has brought about a change in the signatures on the new issues of banknotes. More important, however, is the introduction of a completely new £20 note honouring the Worcestershire composer Sir Edward Elgar. Although the report itself does not contain details of the design, this was the subject of a recent television news item which seemed to imply that Elgar was chosen not because of his musical renown so much as for his hirsute qualities. Hair, we were told, was impossible for the forger to duplicate accurately, and that was what had made the tousled locks of Michael Faraday so appealing in the first place. Now it is the exceptionally bushy moustache of Sir Edward which has recommended him to the Bank. The hair adorning the upper lip of the composer of "Land of Hope and Glory" is, indeed, of the uncontrollably bristly variety rather than the well-trained and waxed or briskly clipped military types. On this basis may we therefore expect in the fulness of time to see Charles Darwin supplanting Charles Dickens on the tenner? According to the Bank Report there was a significant increase in £10 and £20 notes in circulation-5,966 million of the former and 11,414 million of the latter-by far and away the most popular notes and a soberinj reflection on inflation and the depreciation of our currency at the end of the 20th century. By contrast, only 1,111 million fivers are now in circulation.

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