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Noteworthy Notes: 1889 Bank of North Queensland £1

By Philip Thomas - June 16, 2022

This rare 1889 Bank of North Queensland £1 note is graded PCGS VG10. Courtesy of PCGS. Click images to enlarge.

G’day, mate! In a bit of a geographic departure from the early American banknotes showcased in the most recent Noteworthy Notes features, this issue’s installment takes you down under to explore a piece of early Australian financial history that recently made the lengthy 7,500-mile trek across the Pacific Ocean to our Southern California grading room. Before we get started, it should be noted that PCGS maintains teams of banknote experts across the globe on multiple continents capable of delivering unparalleled expertise while authenticating and grading the full spectrum of world banknotes from every time period — not just early American material, of course.

In nearly every nation, the 20th century saw the rise and eventual dominance of central banking, a financial era characterized by a more uniform assortment of circulating banknotes from fewer, larger issuers responsible for broader swaths of populations and economies. Prior to that, privately issued banknotes from smaller, localized financial institutions and municipalities were commonplace around the world, and Australia was no exception. From 1817 to 1910, hundreds upon hundreds of issues from many dozens of Australian private issuers and local governments have been cataloged, with the bulk of these banknotes being quite rare. Our featured note here is one formidable example: an 1889 £1 note from The Bank of North Queensland (Townsville branch) graded by PCGS as VG10.

One of this private issue’s most appealing qualities involves the fact that it spent time in circulation as a fully issued banknote. Because of the small stature and footprint of most private issuers as well as the short length of time in business operating and issuing banknotes (bank failures of various forms were inevitable for many), unissued, unsigned, and undated remainders as well as printers’ proofs and specimens of banknote designs in high grades are much more frequently encountered. Unlike the overall trend in the universe of numismatics that prioritizes the loftiest grade possible, this particular banknote’s lower grade is a testament to its history, rarity, and desirability.

The Bank of North Queensland formally operated out of Brisbane — the capital and most populated city of the northeastern Australian state of Queensland — from its origin in 1888 until its amalgamation with the Bank of Queensland in 1917. However, its head office was located in the smaller coastal town of Townsville approximately 1,000 miles north of Brisbane and was responsible for the issuance of this example. Several other arms of this institution were established as well, including branches existing in Sydney, Rockhampton, Cairns, and Cooktown.

The most notable aspect of the bank’s history involves its two-month closure as a result of the Panic of 1893, a global economic phenomenon that reached the shores of Australia in April of that year with hard-hitting effects. On May 15, the Bank of North Queensland suspended operations (i.e. shut its doors! Crikey!) due to an unsustainable drain on cash deposits resulting from public fear that its money was at risk if left under the bank’s guardianship. Many Australian private banks at the time did not have sufficient liquidity to remain open, needing anywhere from one to six months to weather the storm. The Bank of North Queensland reopened on July 19.

The vignette at center depicts Mercury, the Roman god of financial gain, carrying his caduceus and handing over a bag of coins to a female allegory representing commerce at what appears to be a shipping port. It’s such an elegant, scarce, and historically significant banknote to behold!

Article provided by PCGS at
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