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The First Australian Twenty Pound Note

The Twenty-Pound Note was first issued in June 1914. There is only one type of this denomination note with two signature combinations. This £20 note was in use from 1914 until the general withdrawal of high denomination banknotes in 1945. At one time it was suggested that the main use of this denomination was betting with bookmakers at the racetracks of the nation.

The banknote is printed in dark blue intaglio. The top centre of the note states THE COMMONWEALTH OF AUSTRALIA and under that, the words AUSTRALIAN NOTE. The legal tender clause states that “The TREASURER OF THE COMMONWEALTH OF AUSTRALIA Promises to pay the bearer TWENTY POUNDS in gold coin on demand at the Commonwealth Treasury at the seat of Government” On each side of the note are panels with border patterns. On the left panel in the centre is the Australian coat of arms and the figures 20 are on each corner of the note. Above the legal tender clause there are two panels for the serial numbers separated by a crown. Below the clause is the denomination in figures £ 20 to the left in an ornate panel with the signatures below. Below the border is the imprint T.S.HARRISON, AUSTRALIAN NOTE PRINTER at the centre of the note. The background design of the note is a large TWENTY in the lower half with a shadow in red and a series of 20’s in differing sizes in circles as cross type patterns.

Back of the Australian £20 banknote 1914 to 1938
Back of the Australian £20 banknote 1914 to 1938

The back of the banknote is dark blue intaglio with the major feature being a central circular panel depicting timber cutting on Bruny Island, Tasmania. An ornamental frame surrounds this panel with small 20’s at each upper corner and the words TWENTY POUNDS on each side in the lower corners. The background shading is green in the centre and red on each side. A lack of research meant that initially the scene was believed to have been of Queensland. However, a photograph of timber cutting on Bruny Island, Tasmania that was taken in around 1895 is identical to the engraved vignette. This photograph has been hanging in the offices of the Forestry Department in Hobart for many years.

James Richard Collins – Assistant Secretary, and George Thomas Allen – Secretary to the Treasury signed in blue, the first Twenty pound notes issued in June 1914. The banknotes were issued with a prefix X and small seriffed serial numbers in black. The serial numbers for this signature combination are estimated to be X 000001 to X 040703 from the records of notes delivered to the Treasury. The highest serial number observed has been X 033124.

The second signature combination for this denomination of banknote is Charles John Cerutty – Assistant Secretary, and James Richard Collins – Secretary to the Treasury. As no notes of this denomination were delivered to the Treasury after 1914 until May 9 1917 it is surmised that serial numbers for this issue may be X 040744 to X 167283.

In 1924 the first notes with serial numbers and a suffix X were delivered to the Note Issue branch. They had the same signatures as the previous issue and bold black serial numbers and X suffix numbered from 167284 X to 421500 X. There were 421,500 twenty pound notes printed and only some 380 note remain outstanding. These have been officially written off, as they have not been redeemed with forty years of issue.

The Twenty pound note, in common with the other high denominations, was recalled after the Second World War. This was due to the government’s desire to control, “black marketing, tax evasion, large scale betting and other illicit transactions, and to prevent the hoarding of currency which might otherwise be directed to savings banks or Government Loans.” This was gazetted in May 1945 as a national Security Regulation that stated that after August 31 1945 that denominations of £20 and over would cease to be legal tender. While this regulation never became law it had the effect of uncovering nearly £ 5,700,000 in hoarded currency. At the end of 1945 the following notes remained un-presented: – £20 – 506, £50 – 2,830, £100 – 2,146, and £1,000 – 317.

Originally published in 2003 by Richard E. Fahy – The Right Note. Copyright