Paper Money

British Museum collection obtains Banksy £10 note

The Coin Cabinet of the British Museum is best known for its enormous collection of classic coins, and as a go-to place for assistance in identifying counterfeit ancient ones. A story published on Feb. 1 in The Guardian and other publications sets the British Museum’s rather staid reputation on its heels with the revelation that its permanent collection of coins and paper currency now includes a fake £10 note from the artist Banksy, featuring the bust of the late Diana, Princess of Wales, and the obligation “I promise to pay the bearer on demand the ultimate price.” 

“Banksy” refers to the note’s creator, the anonymous satirical graffiti street artist whose works tend toward what some would consider subversive political and social commentary. His £10 “note” in question was first made in 2004 when about £1 million worth of them were printed to be thrown off a building.

Thom Waite, writing at, said that when some notes were handed out at a festival and people began using them for buying drinks in pubs, the artist realized he could be arrested for forgery and sent to prison for 10 years. He then tried to pull them “out of circulation.” 

But as bank note security was not a concern of the artist when he created the artwork, they could easily be reproduced in the same manner as they were made in the first place, by photocopy, unlike the real Bank of England notes. Thus there was no way to tell whether a “note” was an real fake Banksy or a fake fake Banksy.

Tom Hockenhull, the museum’s curator of modern money, had been trying to acquire one for years to add to its collection of parody notes, but he kept on running into the real fake versus fake fake issue. Finally, he encountered a donor close enough to the artist that he could trust the provenance — the artist’s sales representative, an entity known as Pest Control. 

As to the museum’s opinion of its acquisition, Hockenhull told The Guardian “There is a long history of political and social discourse through this type of protest which made us keen to acquire it. Also, it’s a Banksy — why wouldn’t we want it? It’s an opportunity for us to have a work by an artist of that stature as part of a collection that people might not consider the typical repository for a work by Banksy. From our perspective, it joins a long list of artists who have created, adapted or destroyed currency for the purposes of their work.”

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