Internment camp bank note highlights Downies auction

Firm schedules 309th auction for Oct. 2
Published : 10/09/11
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A paper money rarity highlighting Downies’ Oct. 25 and 26 auction in Melbourne is a remnant of a war-era prison camp in Australia.

The 1-shilling note issued by prisoners at internment Camp 7 at Hay, Western Australia, highlights the firm’s 309th auction. Internment camps, wartime warehouses of “suspect” humanity, were closed societies, and the note was created to fill a need for currency at one camp.

During World War II, in 1940 the British shipped off to Australia 2,542 “enemy aliens” (mostly political internees), aboard a hired military transport ship called the HMS Dunera, according to the 23rd edition of Rennik’s Australian Coin & Banknote Values, edited by Ian Pitt. Some 545 of those internees were dropped off at Melbourne, and the rest proceeded to Sydney where they boarded trains to one of two camps in Hay, New South Wales, according to Rennik’s. More than 900 prisoners, most Jewish, lived at Camp No. 7, including prisoner/artist George A. Teltscher, who designed three different denominations of notes (sixpence, 1-shilling and 2-shilling denominations) for use within the camp.

All of Teltscher’s notes are dated March 1, 1941. The different denominations of notes differ in color but share an otherwise common design. Surrounding the large center of the note is an design of looped and tangled barbed wire, with a legend WE ARE HERE BECAUSE WE ARE HERE BECAUSE WE ARE HERE carefully and cleverly woven throughout.

The last name of the camp leader, Eppenstein, is hidden within the fleece of the sheep on the shield on the note face, while the 25 sheep on the note’s back, representing the camp’s 25 huts, carry the names of the hut leaders hidden within their wool.

The notes also carry the message that they were legal tender in Australia, and so “contravened Australian law and their circulation ceased prior to September 1941,” according to Rennik’s.

When the national government closed civilian-owned canteens and began issuing its own internment camp money, notes that had been redeemed were destroyed, leaving only whatever examples people still had in their possession as physical proof of the inmates’ monetary efforts.

Three different signature combinations exist, not counting specimen notes, which are unsigned. The example in the Downies auction bears the signatures of M. Mendel and R. Stahl. In Good-Very Fine condition, the note has an estimate of $12,500 in Australian funds.

The note is one of many highlights among 3,078 lots of Australian and world military medals and militaria, Australian tokens and medals, coins of early Australia, and patterns and fantasies.

In addition, the auction contains predecimal and decimal coins, antiquities, ancient and world coins, and Australian and world paper money including bank notes and scrip.

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