Paper Money

Rare British Guiana note leads March currency auction

A rarely encountered $20 note from British Guiana dated Jan. 1, 1942, with an estimated selling price of $20,000 to $25,000, is at the forefront of the 536 lots in the World Banknote Auctions Live Sale beginning at 10 a.m. Pacific time on March 3.

The note has a grade of Very Fine 20  with minor repairs that are described as nearly undetectable, making it the second finest ever graded by Paper Money Guaranty. The finest is only slightly better at Very Fine 25, and sold at auction in London twice, in 2017 and 2019, both times for the equivalent of around $24,000.

The $20 note is one of six denominations for this type that was issued in 1937 ($1 and $2), 1938 ($5), and 1942 ($10, $20, and $100). Printed in London by Waterlow & Sons Limited, they all have the Potaro River’s enormous Kaieteur Falls in the center on the face, with a toucan bird sitting on a branch at left, and a three-masted sailing ship in a seal at right. The back is unusual in that the portrait of the monarch, King George VI, is on that side surrounded by two ornate panels, each bearing the denomination.

The $100 note is very rare, making the $20 the highest collectible denomination, and one for which the Track and Price World Paper Money Census cites only one additional sale of an issued note other than the two in London. That was a Fine 15 example that went for $15,275 in 2017. Two sales of specimen notes are also recorded.

Another note that will turn heads for its intriguing design as well as its price, had already surpassed its low estimate of $15,000, at $17,250 with buyer’s fee, in early bidding more that two weeks before the sale. A classic among collectors of world bank notes, it is a specimen of a South Vietnamese 1,000-dong note that was made in 1955 or 1956 but was never issued.

Its famous design is stylistically reminiscent of contemporary French bank notes. The head of an old man is at the left and a temple at right on the face, and a young woman and a junk sailing on a river are on the back.

It is called Gem Uncirculated 66 by PMG. Several have appeared at auction in the last few years, with results ranging from $18,000 for one in About Uncirculated 55 up to $32,400 for a Gem Uncirculated 67 example.

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