Paper Money

Tiny hand-engraving on note in charity auction

The large photo is clearly that of Winston Churchill on one of England’s new £5 notes, but has an opening description reading “Bank of England, ‘Jane Austen’ £5”; readers can be forgiven if they wonder how a cataloger could make such a silly mistake. That is, until they read further.

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Morton & Eden’s Dec. 9 London sale explains that the £5 note is engraved with a tiny 5-millimeter portrait of novelist Jane Austen on the transparent section of the note beside Big Ben. It is surrounded by a quote from chapter 3 of Pride and Prejudice, “To be fond of dancing was a certain step towards falling in love.”

The altered note was one of four such examples executed by micro-artist Graham Short last December. It was done in collaboration with the Scottish modern art gallery, Tony Huggins-Haig, and anonymously released, to considerable media attention, into general circulation in Scotland, Wales, Northern Ireland, and England. All but the one in England have been found. The note auctioned was discovered by a woman in Northern Ireland who returned it to the gallery with a note that read “... £5 note enclosed, I don’t need it at my time of life. Please use it to help young people.”

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Bidding opened at £4,000 or $5,370 U.S. The note sold for a final hammer price of £5,000 or about $6,678 U.S. All proceeds are being donated to the BBC Children in Need charity.

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