World War 2 banknotes in Ireland

Publications arising from the latest research on Irish Banknotes.
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World War 2 banknotes in Ireland

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Original [print] version (2016), published in Coin News as World War 2 banknotes in Ireland, March 2016, p75.
This [electronic] version (2018)

Recommended Citation
Mac Devitt, M. (2018). World War 2 banknotes in Ireland. [Electronic version]. Accessed [insert date], from Occasional Papers on Irish Paper Money

World War 2 banknotes in Ireland
A special marking was used on Lavery notes from 1940 to 1944 creating a highly collectible variation, and significant rarities
By Martan Mac Devitt

This major variation of the Lavery Legal Tender Notes can be regarded as a sub-series within the main series. A coloured letter in a circle was added to the main design of the upper left and lower right of each banknote. And, the letters and their colours were changed regularly, producing 28 variations and a rare variety. This created a wonderful opportunity for collectors of Irish notes


The Emergency Issue Banknotes
The war years were officially termed “The Emergency” in the Republic of Ireland, after the passing of the Emergency Powers Act, 1939. Emergency legislation affected many walks of life and introduced rationing similar to that in Britain.

It also affected currency with the usage of the “Emergency Tracer Overprint” (ETO) codes being prescribed by the Irish government at the time, in very precise terms (see Coin News, February 2000, and Irish Banknotes 1999) on newly issued banknotes of all denominations. Thus, on the fifteenth of November 1940 Section 45 (2) of the Currency Act, 1927 was amended to provide for a design change on the Legal Tender Notes (LTN) making it lawful for the addition “of a letter of the alphabet within a circle” to all Ten Shilling notes bearing a date subsequent to 30 June 1940. The effect was to add the first instance of the ETO code to the A Series LTN banknote design.

Similar amendments were made to the legislation governing the design of the other LTN denominations up to £20.

This was reflected in Irish banknote issues, as new notes entered circulation with various coloured letters in circles on them in the period from mid-1940 to the end of 1944 for all denominations except the £50 and £100 notes. They appeared in circulation shortly after rationing had been introduced. The ETO code, colloquially labelled “war code” by collectors from the late 1970s onwards, takes the form of a coloured letter in a circle on the top left and bottom right of the face of each denomination. ETO code notes are a highly collectible variation of the A Series banknotes, and include some of the rarest and most interesting issues of modern Irish paper money.


Why use a special marking?
The usage of ETO codes on Irish notes commenced in September 1940 when the “Blitz” started and ceased after the D-Day landings in 1944 when German bombing of London had stopped. The code was an extra security feature, used to keep track of the Irish banknotes from the time of their production in England by Waterlow & Sons Ltd. to their being delivered safely to Ireland. Like the dates on the banknotes, the overprint codes were chosen at random by the Issuing Authority. No significant pattern to their usage has yet been revealed.

The main danger to the banknotes would have been from hostile action such as German bombing, most likely at the printing facility in England, or during transit to Ireland. Such an occurrence could have destroyed the notes, or rendered them prone to theft. Should such a loss have occurred, then it would have been a relatively simple procedure, knowing the quantities of banknotes printed under each ETO code, to identify the losses and where necessary to cancel by decree all notes bearing a particular overprint. Fortunately, no batch of notes ever had to be cancelled.

Once banknotes of a certain code had started into circulation in Ireland, it was logical that the tracer code for that denomination would then be changed by the Issuing Authority. This explains the variation in the codes used with time. It also implies that the £20 notes, for which there is only one code, would all have been shipped to Ireland prior to any being put into circulation. With only about 33,000 £20 notes printed under code A, it is reasonable to assume that they could all have been delivered to Dublin in a single batch.

War Code Dates
There are 53 Ten Shilling; 52 One Pound; 41 Five Pound; 24 Ten Pound; and 11 Twenty Pound note dates for the war code notes, making a total of 180 to collect. Currently, as of February 2016 an example of each of the dates of all the denominations of war code notes have been recorded except for three £20 note dates: 5.4.43, 4.11.43 and 10.1.44. This is very close to a complete set! The closeness is offset somewhat by the fact that the three missing banknotes are among the rarest of all Irish notes. Collectors have to be optimistic though, and the recorded £20 notes are evenly spread across the dates, suggesting a nice mixture of notes in circulation. Thus, no date should be rarer than any other.

Whilst many collectors set out to secure a nice grade note of each code, some collectors preferentially target first and last dates of each code, some of which are scarcer than other dates, others of which are very rare dates. This tends inevitably to then lead the collector towards expanding to collect all the dates with codes on them. First and last dates are listed in Table 1, with rare dates marked by asterisks. The greater the number of asterisks, the rarer the date.

Table 1: Emergency Tracer Overprint Codes.

Currency Commission and Central Bank of Ireland
The ETO code banknotes straddle the era when the Currency Commission Ireland was wound up and replaced by the Central Bank of Ireland in 1943. Thus, the variety appears under each of the Issuing Authorities. The four lower denominations (10 Shillings through to Ten Pounds) of Currency Commission notes were issued with ETO codes in the period 1940 to 1942. Just before the introduction of the ETO code, £10 notes with three dates in 1940 were issued without codes on them. The last pre-ETO code note was a £10, dated 2.7.40. ETO codes appear on the five lower denominations of the Central Bank issue from 1943 to 1944. The Code was discontinued on banknotes dated from January 1945 onwards. The first post-ETO code note was a £5, dated 17.1.45.

Twenty Eight War Code Letters to collect
Twenty eight different ETO codes were used. Spread across the five lower denominations. They employ twenty different letters and many colour variations. The letters I, O, Q, U, X, and Z were not used. The first four of these are the letters which were always avoided in serial prefixes on the A Series notes, due to their potential similarity to numerals. Perhaps this precluded their use as ETO codes also. X and Z might have been allocated, perhaps to the £50 and £100 notes, but not used before the end of the usage period of the codes. There is no apparent pattern to the order of the codes, and the letters and colours were probably chosen at random.

All of the codes are distinctively coloured, as reproduced in Figure 1. The colour tone varies slightly for most of the codes. This is normal, and probably due to variations in the ink and in printing conditions. There are very significant differences in colour shade in the blue codes (10/-, H; £1, Y; £20, A), which vary from a pale sky blue to a very dark blue. The occurrence of the variation is randomly spread throughout the dates of issue. The difference in shades is most marked in the H code on the Ten Shilling notes, where it is arguable that there are two varieties, dark H and light H.

Except for the £20 note printed under code A, examples of all the codes are easily obtained in collectible condition. Obtaining the notes in gVF or higher grade can be a bit more of a challenge, and it is then that the relative rarities of the codes becomes apparent (See Table 1). War code notes turn up occasionally in AU grade—no strict UNC notes have ever been seen—and there are small runs in sequence of some denominations, for example: £5, 6.5.43 N; £5, 2.3.44 M; £10, 7.9.42 F. Overall, Ten Shilling notes are the most challenging to find in EF or better grade, followed by £1 notes. Interestingly, an example of 10/-, 4.9.43—one of the rarest dates—has been seen in gEF/AU grade. Only three examples of this date have been recorded, the other two being VG-Fine grade. Generally, Currency Commission £5 notes of codes C and D, and all Central Bank of Ireland 10/- notes tend to be the most difficult to find in gVF or better grade.

Specimen notes of the Central Bank of Ireland first date war codes (L, G, N, S, A) were printed and these also turn up occasionally. The £20 would be the most interesting of these given the rarity of the issued note. There are images of the Specimen notes on the Emergency Tracer Overprint Codes section of, along with an image of a note of every recorded date.

There are no specimens of Currency Commission notes bearing ETO codes. This implies that the Specimen ETO code notes are specimens presenting the new Central Bank of Ireland notes rather than specimens presenting the notes with ETO codes on them. However, when the codes were removed from the design, Specimens were then produced of the LTN denominations without codes on them.


Displaced Code Variety—echoes of replacement notes
Certain specific dates of Ten Shilling and One Pound notes occur with either of two codes on them, the normal expected code for that particular date, and the code used previously to that normal code, a code ‘displaced’ from its normal group of dates. Displaced Code variety notes are banknotes of those dates which bear the earlier code. There are seven dates for which Displaced codes occur, and there are two varieties of Displaced Codes: End Displaced Code (EDC): 10/- 1.12.41, 28.3.44; £1 22.9.42, 6.12.44, and Middle Displaced Code (MDC): 10/- 10.8.43; £1 3.9.41, 29.10.43. The system of Displaced Codes has only been observed with 10/- and £1 notes.

The pattern for displaced codes is that every second changeover date of 10/- and £1 notes exists with a Displaced Code. This is a result of the 10/- and £1 war code notes being printed in batches using two code letters at a time. An exception to this is Currency Commission 10/- notes, which only have three codes, twice as many notes as normal having been printed under the first used code, H. Thus, the codes should be considered in pairs when being examined: 10/-: H, KJ, LM, RE; £1: TB; PV; GY; EF. Interestingly, the last H date, 9.10.40, has a printage of around 100,000. This banknote has always been a scarce date.

One wonders why the number of notes per printing run was changed after the first batches of H were printed. One theory could be that each batch of 10/- and £1 notes (approximately 1.2 million notes) were required to be transported in two shipments, thus requiring two codes. This is just a conjecture though.

The existence of these Displaced Code notes is due most likely to the stand-by blank replacement note system in use at the time, with remaining set-aside blank notes being used up on the last date at the end of a printing batch. Other factors may also apply. The distribution of the Displaced Code dates within Type 4 and Type 5 notes is due to the production of the codes in pairs as mentioned earlier.

The presence of Displaced Code varieties are likely evidence of the Unmarked Replacement Note system in use, whereby a stock of blank notes was set aside to act as potential replacements should they be needed. This replacement system was in use until the introduction of a star replacement notes (those with a special prefix cypher) in 1974. All such Unmarked Replacement Notes were numbered by hand with the number of the note they replaced during the removal of error notes.

For war code notes such set aside blank notes would have been used as replacements only while notes of the same code were still being produced. With a change of code, a new batch of set aside blanks with the new code would be used for replacements. The unused remainder of the set aside blanks of both codes would then have been used up en-masse only at the end of a printing batch, which in this case was at the end of every second code (excluding H). This is demonstrated by the periodic existence of very rare dates, usually at the end of each Type, to use up extra notes. It also explains the existence of the Displaced Code variety.


End Displaced Code (EDC) Variety
This is an end date of Type 4 or Type 5 war code notes for which the normal code for the date in question has been recorded, and also examples of the same date with the previously used code.

An example of this is £1 note dated 22.9.42. It normally occurs under code V, and is one of the more common V dates. It also occurs under P, its Displaced Code. From serial number observations, there were probably around 25,000 notes printed with this date under P, with around 475,000 printed under V. As 22.9.42 is the last date of the Currency Commission £1 notes, it is likely that all of the then remaining Currency Commission £1 blanks would have been used up on this issue, including any blank notes left over of the previously employed code. 22.9.42 P code notes occur as a single group of serial numbers with V code notes occurring both before and after them in number.

Plate Tracer (PT) codes were used by Waterlow at the time to mark the position of each banknote in the sheet during printing and altered each time a change in the plate was made (Mac Devitt, 1999). These PT codes were compared on 22.9.42 P notes with those of 22.9.42 V notes, and with notes of the P and V code blocks generally. The comparison indicated that the 22.9.42 P notes were printed amongst the other P era notes, and not with the blank notes used for the later V code notes. This also serves as supportive evidence that the ETO code was printed on the banknote blank prior to its being dated and numbered. The same evidence has been observed on all other displaced code notes, indicating that the banknotes with displaced codes were printed with earlier notes of the same ETO code.

Middle Displaced Code (MDC) Variety
The second Displaced Code variety occurs on some of the changeover dates of the 10/- and £1 notes. There are three known MDC variety dates, all scarce changeover dates. 10/-, 10.8.43 uses up code M, and also exists with code L, using it up also. £1, 3.9.41, a rare date uses up code B and T; it is equally rare with either code. £1, 29.10.43, scarce, uses up Y, and also has code G.

The PT code evidence is as before with the EDC variety notes, demonstrating that the Displaced Code blanks were printed along with the rest of the blocks bearing their codes. What is interesting here is that the out of place blank notes are being used up in the middle of the series of ETO coded notes, and not at the end, as with the EDC variety. The usage of two codes per batch of banknotes printed accounts for this distribution of the Displaced Code variety notes within the 10/- and £1 ETO code date structure.

£1, 29.10.43 Y has been noted with serial numbers higher and lower than 29.10.43 G, illustrated, with all the G notes occurring in a contiguous run. This indicates that these remainder set aside blank notes were most likely numbered in the order of original code usage. This has also been noticed with other Displaced Code variety dates.

Other code varieties unlikely
It is extremely unlikely that any non changeover dates amongst the ETO codes would exist under Displaced Codes. However, given that the displaced code notes were set-aside of some kind, it is possible that there might exist other dates with displaced codes resulting from the displaced note being used as a replacement, though this would break the general convention of the time. Thus, for example any 1943 Y date might have a G code resulting from a replacement of an error note using a G set-aside. Whilst notionally possible, it is unlikely that these exist—we would probably have seen one by now, given the quantities of war code £1 notes available for study and the occurrence level of replacement notes: 0.51% in a circulated pool of Irish notes (MacDevitt, 1999), 0.62% in US notes (Feller, 1995).

Annual Reports of The Currency Commission and The Central Bank of Ireland, Irish Government Publications.
Bank of Ireland Archives.

Feller, S. (1995). Star replacement note survey. Editor’s Column. IBNS Journal, 34, 4, p2.

Mac Devitt, M. (1999). Irish Banknotes. Irish Government Paper Money From 1928. Seachran & Whytes.

The Banknote Yearbook, 9th Ed., 2015. Token Publishing Ltd.

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Re: World War 2 banknotes in Ireland

Post by Mac »

Pictures of all the recorded dates for the war code notes are in the Legal Tender view by Date section.

There is also a dedicated section of the website on Irish World War 2 issues, which includes the Displaced Code Variety and images of war code Specimen notes.

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