Paper Money

Waterlow specimen book leaves estimate way behind

Estimating a lot too low is a popular and often successful strategy for an auction catalog. But what do you say when an estimate is £500 to £700 ($650 to $915), and the lot ends up selling for £248,500 ($324,201) including the 17.5 percent buyer’s fee and applicable VAT?  

Antiques Trade Gazette, an art market weekly in the United Kingdom, says that is what happened at an Aug. 31 sale by Tring Market Auctions northwest of London. Lot 236 was described as “A Waterlow & Sons Ltd book of specimen bank notes printed for locations throughout the world c.1930.”

Waterlow & Sons was a large and well-known English bank note printer founded in 1810 and bought by De La Rue in 1961. 

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Steven Hearn, Tring’s director, said the book was brought to him in a plastic bag by an elderly local woman who revealed that her late husband worked at Waterlow’s. She said that when the company was shutting down its operations, he was allowed to take the book.

Hearn described it as in excellent condition and not opened in years. He also suggested that the very low estimate was part of his marketing plan. “There was a lot of pre-sale interest which developed into six principal banknote collectors there on the day, and it was quite obvious the estimate was just a come-and-get-me estimate really. We did have an idea before the sale they would go on to a higher level — but not to that level.”

News travels fast, and it reached that level due to the presence of six London-based dealers in the room and more on the phone. 

Jonathan Callaway, an English collector familiar with the sale, said by email, “As I understand it only three or four complete books of Waterlow commercial specimens have come on to the market over the years.” He added, “The excitement in this case was the presence of a Zanzibar color trial as well as several very rare Hong Kong and Chinese notes and an extremely rare Hyderabad piece. The book was probably put together in the late 1920s but only closer examination of the notes can confirm that.”

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