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Australian Superscribed Banknotes 1910 to 1914

By AG    |   Sunday, 6 July 2003

Australian Superscribed Banknotes 1910 to 1914

The Australian Government assumed responsibility for banknote issues in 1910. In the four years until 1914, notes from 17 institutions (16 banks and the Queensland Government) were purchased and overprinted with a promise by the Commonwealth Treasury to redeem the value of the note in gold.The superscription was signed by Jas R. Collins, Accountant and Geo. T. Allen, Secretary to the Treasury and dated 1st December, 1910.

Superscription reads:

Payable in Gold Coin at the Commonwealth Treasury at the Seat of Government
Jas R. Collins Accountant
Geo. T. Allen, Secretary to the Treasury
1st December 1910.

The numbers shown in the below table were the note forms purchased direct from the banks between 19 October, 1910 and 30 October, 1911. Additional note supplies were obtained direct from the printers, the last consignment arriving in January, 1914.

Australian Bank of Commerce Limited4593,8757,15026,500
Bank of Adelaide3,0005,2508,50029,000110,000
Bank of Australasia8001,14013,90042,100185,700
Bank of New South Wales1,7502,1005,75028,50048,250181,000
Bank of Victoria Limited4,9001,85011,00013,000103,000
City Bank of Sydney, The48055020,7002,00035,000
Colonial Bank of Australasia Limited3,5992,3995,199
Commercial Bank of Australia Limited6301,5403,1758,7007,20038,300
Commercial Bank of Tasmania Limited2,0003,6005,00050,000
Commercial Banking Company of Sydney Limited7,00011,000176,000
English, Scottish & Australian Bank Limited2,8991,3995,9006,79923,999
London Bank of Australia Limited25060010,50011,30027,000
National Bank of Australasia Limited, The1,2003,30070014,50013,90057,500
Queensland Government10,00080,000
Royal Bank of Australia Limited1305791,3002,80024,500
Union Bank of Australia Limited1,3006,1509,70031,000159,998
Western Australian Bank5,0001,50025,000

The following table gives details of additional note form purchases.

Bank & Printer£100£50£20£10£5£1
Australian Bank of Commerce Limited
Perkins, Bacon & Co., London
English, Scottish & Australian Bank Limited
Sands & McDougall
London Bank of Australia Limited
Bradbury, Wilkinson & Co., London
National Bank of Australasia Limited
Bradbury, Wilkinson & Co., London

The prefix of the serial number on the overprint was F for £100, G for £50, D for £20, B for £10, C for £5 and A, E, H, I, J, K or L for £1 superscribed notes.

The overprinting took place in an area adjacent to the Treasury strongroom at the Commonwealth Offices in Melbourne. Ceremonial notes were overprinted on 19 October, 1910 and production began the following day. The ceremonial notes were A000001 - Bank of Victoria Limited £1; C00001 - Bank of NSW £5 and B000001 - Australian Bank of Commerce Limited £10.

Only small numbers of the higher value notes were actually issued. After March, 1912, the Treasury restricted superscription to the National Bank of Australasia Limited's note forms in an attempt to limit the risks of forgery. An article in the Melbourne Argus on 19 April, 1912 explains the reasoning behind this decision:

Whilst the banks issued their own notes there was little risk of extensive forgery being successfully perpetrated. Each bank dealt exclusively with its own notes, that is to say, kept none but its own notes in the till. As soon as a bank received another bank's note it was converted into gold. By this means a note was never long away from home and it was continually under the control of an expert, who, by reference to a register, could immediately check its genuineness. Now no such check exists, except at the Commonwealth Treasury, which rarely sees a note once it has been issued, except when it comes back for destruction, being in too dirty a state for continued circulation. Meanwhile, the Commonwealth notes are paid over the counter by the banks, are changed by them into gold, without in either case the slightest opportunity for efficient checking. That very grave danger attached to using so many different styles of notes did not escape the attention of the Federal Treasury, but there was apparently, no other means of keeping pace with demands. High watermark having been nearly reached, it has been decided by the Treasury that for the future and until the Commonwealth is in a position to employ its own special paper and dies, to use none but notes bearing the name of the National Bank of Australasia. As old notes come in for destruction they will be replaced by notes of this description, bearing of course, the Commonwealth superscription.

The release of new Commonwealth of Australia notes in 1913 meant that by 1914, sufficient supplies were available for the practice of superscription to be stopped. Superscribed notes were then gradually recalled and replaced with the new notes, commencing in Victoria in May, 1914, then the other states and completing the withdrawal in N.S.W. The withdrawal of superscribed notes was suspended on 24th August, 1914, and the practice of superscribing bank issues was revived for a short period at the begining of World War I when increased demand for banknotes led to the printing of an emergency issue.

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