Paper Money

Bank of England celebrates 325th anniversary with exhibit

As part of the 325th anniversary of the founding of the Bank of England, artist Justine Smith created a botanical sculpture using genuine Series E £50 notes.

Image courtesy of bank of England.

The 325th anniversary of the Bank of England’s founding in 1694 is the subject of a new exhibit just opened in the bank’s museum. 

The exhibit “325 years, 325 objects” draws on the bank’s extensive collection to bring objects ranging from ancient Roman artifacts, to early paper money, to the technology of the present, all to explore, the bank explains, how money and the way we pay for things has changed since the bank was established. 

The newest, and 325th, piece in the exhibit is a work of paper money art commissioned by the museum specifically to celebrate the anniversary. Artist Justine Smith created a botanical sculpture using genuine £50 notes that had been designated for destruction because they were either an old design or Uncirculated test notes. These red £50 bills were issued from 1994 to 2011 and were withdrawn from circulation in 2014. 

The Series E £50 bank note was designed by Roger Withington. The back has a portrait of the Bank of England’s first governor, John Houblon, along with a drawing of Houblon’s house, which once stood on the site of the Bank of England’s Threadneedle Street headquarters building in the City of London financial district. A small oval inset on the left features a Bank of England gatekeeper in his pink robes.  

Smith created an array range of wild British plants out of the notes. They include dog roses, wild cherry blossoms, ox eye daisies, hazel, bindweed and daffodils. The stems are made of real twigs that she collected from southwest London’s Battersea Common. Smith made the flowers in her studio and brought them to the Bank of England to be assembled into a bouquet. They were then placed in a silver water jug made by silversmith Anthony Nelme in 1694 — the year the Bank of England was established — and once used in the bank’s parlors. The jug, too, is part of the Bank of England’s permanent collection. 

Smith said, “I am excited to see my work joining the collections of the Bank of England and lining up alongside 324 objects spanning its history. I am interested in the idea of wild flowers being tenacious and sturdy and finding their way to thrive wherever they can. And I’m using banknotes and I see them as a symbol of labor, strength and continuity — of putting down roots.”

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