Catching up fast!
Volume 44, Number 5, May 2007
IT isn’t often I write about banknotes in these Editorial comments but with the publication of the brand new fifth edition BANKNOTE YEARBOOK (on April 14) and the recent release of a new £20 I feel perhaps this month I can make an exception! Also in this month’s issue feature a fascinating interview with Bank of England Chief Cashier Andrew Bailey—an interview with some very interesting insights as to what the future of banknotes may be. Banknote collecting is a relatively new branch of our hobby, partly because banknotes themselves are relatively new when compared with coins and partly, perhaps, because it has traditionally been less easy to set aside a high value banknote from ones own personal funds. If an interesting penny, shilling or even florin was found in change then the hardship of squirrelling it away rather than spending it wasn’t quite as great as setting aside a £1 note, or worse anything of higher value! True, foreign notes have often been worth less (who can forget the old Italian Lira notes) but only in the last three decades has foreign travel become popular (and cheap) enough to allow collections to be formed. As a consequence “notaphily” has had some catching up to do—but it seems to be doing so very quickly. Certainly, it still doesn’t attract the same numbers as maybe coin collecting does but every year sees an increase in the number of both collectors and dealers and there can be little doubt that it is no longer seen as on the “fringe” and is, in fact, firmly established in its own right. The publicity, controversy and public interest surrounding the launch of the new Adam Smith £20 note and the pre-launch sales figures of the BANKNOTE YEARBOOK are testament to that. And, of course, it is just possible that with the computer age banknote collecting is about to take off in a big way. No, I’m not referring to the ease of buying via the internet—indeed with banknotes the internet auctions etc., are not a particularly good way of adding to your collection. After all with a coin you stand a reasonable chance that the picture accompanying the lot is a reasonable reflection of condition (particularly when buying lower grade items) but with notes no picture will give away the tiny flaws and blemishes that make such a difference—you won’t be able to see pin holes, creases, whether it’s been ironed etc., and, as such, it’s often far better to rely on a reputable dealer than to run the risk of buying from someone you’ve never heard of. However, the advance of technology may well have a huge impact on the hobby, especially if those at the cutting edge are to be believed. Apparently it is more than possible that in a few years time banknotes will be a thing of the past. The public, already wary of carrying around large amounts of cash, will, we are told, soon to be able to do all transactions with just a smart card. It’s possible that coins will survive, still used for the smallest transactions, but anything over a pound or two and it’s a wave of a card and nothing more is needed—banknotes will, inevitably, cease to be. And what then will happen? Well it could be a case of out of sight out of mind, the note could go the way of the phone card and we may be left with just a hard core of collectors but I don’t think so. If we do go down the route of the cashless society we won’t find the banknote easily forgotten and far from being a relic of the past, a mere footnote, the nostalgia factor will keep notes very much at the forefront of many people’s minds. They’ll hark back to the days when money was money, the days when you could go out with a full wallet and actually feel rich, the untraceable days before “Big Brother” was watching every move and before the supermarkets tracked every penny you spent, and notes won’t be forgotten. There’s something uniquely romantic about banknotes, the look of them, the smell of them, the images and imagery they conjure up; images from the silver screen of suitcases stuffed full of them, huge bundles handed over in late night poker games or crumpled notes flung across the pool table at the hustler who’s just claimed another victim. A card just doesn’t have that power over the imagination. Notes make us feel rich in a way plastic never can and for that reason if nothing else the future of the banknote is safe. They may disappear in time, swamped by a tidal wave of technology, but they’ll always endure and when the public tire of their little bits of soulless plastic I think we’ll find that the popularity the hobby is enjoying currently is absolutely nothing compared to what’s around the corner. Whatever way the future takes us I think we’ll find that this “new kid” on the numismatic block is here to stay.
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