The ‘Lady Lavery’ Legal Tender Note issue of the Irish Free State, 1928

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The ‘Lady Lavery’ Legal Tender Note issue of the Irish Free State, 1928

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Original [print] version (2015), published in Coin News as: The ‘Lady Lavery’ Legal Tender Note issue of the Irish Free State, 1928, December 2015, p75.
This [electronic] version (2016) Numismatic Articles and Papers / Occasional Papers on Irish Paper Money

Recommended Citation
Mac Devitt, M. (2016). The ‘Lady Lavery’ Legal Tender Note issue of the Irish Free State, 1928. [Electronic version]. Accessed [insert date], from Occasional Papers on Irish Paper Money:

The ‘Lady Lavery’ Legal Tender Note issue of the Irish Free State, 1928
By Martan Mac Devitt

The Lavery Legal Tender Notes (the A Series) are widely regarded as being one of the great world series of banknotes, being issued more or less unchanged for nearly 70 years, from 1928 to 1977. This article explores the rarity of the first issue fractional prefix notes dated in 1928, the early Lavery notes of the Irish Free State, using data from the Lavery Rare Notes Census (LRNC).

Background to the Irish currency
At the time of the establishment of the Irish Free State there already existed a sophisticated banking system throughout the island of Ireland, which utilised the English Pound Sterling as a currency in various different forms. Sterling had been Legal Tender in Ireland since 1826. Before this, there had been an Irish Pound which was separate from the Pound Sterling, and had a different value to it.

During British rule a great variety of banknotes circulated in Ireland from about 1709 onwards. Currency stability had been attained by the time of the Bankers (Ireland) Act, 1845, which built on earlier acts and regulated the issue of paper money in Ireland. Banknotes then were issued by six commercial banks under license from and under the control of the Bank of England. English currency also circulated in Ireland.

After Irish independence in 1921 the banknotes of the banks with the right of note issue continued to circulate throughout the island of Ireland. English currency also continued to circulate. However, during the 1920s the need for a distinctive Irish currency and an authority to control its issue became apparent. A Banking Commission was appointed on 8 March 1926 by the Minister for Finance to study the matter. The Banking Commission consisted of eight persons; six bankers, one civil servant and a Chairman, one Professor Henry Parker Willis, of Colombia University, New York, USA. It sat for nine months, issuing four interim reports, and one final report. It recommended the creation of a new Legal Tender Note issue, the Saorstat Pound (later termed the A Series) and the retention of the right of note issue of the commercial banks as a combined issue (this became the Ploughman series). The recommendations lead to the 1927 Currency Act in the Irish Free State.

The currency circulating in Ireland changed radically with the provisions of the 1927 Act. The Currency Commission was created and commenced the issue of Irish Legal Tender Notes in 1928. In 1929 the commercial banks’ issues in the island of Ireland split into Consolidated Banknotes regulated by the Currency Commission in the Irish Free State, and a new Belfast issue in Northern Ireland regulated by the Bank of England. The new Legal Tender Note issue would eventually replace the notes of the commercial banks in circulation in the Irish Free State. The Irish Pound was divided into 20 shillings. It was issued in seven denominations, 10 Shillings, £1, £5, £10, £20, £50, and £100.

For stability, the currency was linked to and exchangeable at par with the British Pound Sterling (Moynihan, 1975). Thus, Northern Ireland notes and Bank of England notes always continued to circulate in the Irish Free State and later the Republic of Ireland, though the notes of the Currency Commission and Central Bank of Ireland did not circulate in Britain or Northern Ireland.

Lady Lavery Notes 1928
The design of the A Series Legal Tender banknotes was intended to have a strongly Celtic flavour, and to avoid any political symbolism. The Currency Commission had specified that an archetypal Irish Cailín (Girl) should form the central theme of the design of the notes. She was, as Kathleen Ní Houlihan, to symbolise the Irish State, a type of symbol frequently used in the past. The banknotes were designed by Mr. John Harrison, the Chief Portrait Engraver of Waterlow and Sons Ltd, London, who were to print the notes.

A few years before this, Harrison had engraved a series of bookplates for Sir John Lavery, RA. One of these was a portrait by Lavery of his wife, Hazel, Lady Lavery. Harrison adapted this portrait for use on the banknotes. Lady Lavery is depicted in Irish national costume resting her arm on a Cláirseach (Irish Harp). Behind her in the background are lakes and mountains, typical of Ireland. The full portrait is used on the £10, £20, £50, and £100 denominations, with a head and shoulders cut-off on the lower denominations.

Thus, the notes are colloquially referred to as the Lady Lavery series. The original portrait painting is now on display in the National Gallery of Ireland. Incidentally, in the original painting Lady Lavery faces left, whilst she faces to the right on the banknote designs.

Lady Lavery Notes – reverse designs
For the reverse of the Legal Tender Notes, Harrison used designs based on a selection from a series of fourteen stone sculptured masks representing the Atlantic Ocean and thirteen rivers of Ireland. The River Masks were sculpted in the eighteenth century by Edward Smith and adorn the facade of the Custom House, Dublin, one of Ireland’s most attractive buildings. The Custom House itself adorns the reverse of the Consolidated £1 Ploughman note.

For the first four denominations, Ten Shillings through to Ten Pounds, the smile on the faces of the River Gods broadens with ascending value. This may or may not be intentional. From the Twenty Pound note upwards however, the faces maintain a more serious disposition.

A different River Mask was selected for the reverse of each denomination. 10 Shillings: River Blackwater, wearing a headdress of a basket of apples on a carpet of fish; £1, River Lee; £5, River Lagan; £10, River Ban, wearing a linen turban and river pearls; £20, River Boyne, this one is interesting in that while the original mask on the Custom House appears with the date 1690 on its turban, commemorative of the Battle of the Boyne, the date is omitted on the banknote version, in keeping perhaps with the notion of non-politicisation of the currency; £50, River Shannon; £100, River Erne, displaying its eel fisheries on its headdress.

Circulation and relative rarity
Irish banknotes made their first appearance on Monday 10 September 1928, with the issuing of the first Legal Tender Notes by the Currency Commission. All denominations of the Legal Tender Notes bore the same date of issue, 10.9.28, the actual day on which they were issued.

Consolidated Banknotes accounted for under one twentieth of all the Irish currency in circulation in the late 1920s and early 1930s. The remainder, the vast bulk of Irish banknotes in use, were the Legal Tender Notes, first issued seven months before the appearance of the Consolidated notes.

As the Irish currency was linked to the United Kingdom Pound Sterling, both banknotes and coins of the British currency circulated freely within Ireland in addition to those produced by the Irish Issuing Authority. In fact, in the early days of the Irish State it was never envisaged that British coinage would be removed from circulation in Ireland (Moynihan, 1975), and the amount in circulation was factored into the calculations for the necessary amount of Irish coinage to be minted.

The Lavery Rare Notes Census (LRNC)
The LRNC is a census of the rarest standard issue Lavery notes. It includes the rarer 1928 denominations: 10/-, £10, £20, £50, £100. Table 1 presents a list, by grade, of the surviving 1928 notes which have been recorded by serial number. 10/- notes were much rarer a decade ago than they are now. Significant increases in numismatic value has brought more examples of these notes onto the market, and they continue to do well when offered.

10/- notes of the second date, 23.10.28 have always been more difficult to obtain than 10.9.28 notes, probably due to the first date being preferentially kept in the 1970s and 1980s. Additionally, in the 1970s only better grade notes were retained. Thus, notes lower in grade than VF tended not to be kept, especially denominations higher than £1, because of the high face value. One dealer recalled having to lodge a VG grade 1928 £100 note to the bank in the early 1980s as he couldn’t sell it, even at face value! Inflation and growing numismatic interest (leading to better prices) began to kick in around 1990 and notes tended to be kept in any grade from then on.

Table 1: Recorded A Series Legal Tender Notes dated 1928 exLRNC.

Though scarce, 1928 £1 and £5 notes are not rare and are not included in the LNRC. For both these denominations, 10.9.28 is scarcer than 23.10.28. 3,000,000 £1 notes of each date, and 650,000 £5 notes of each date were printed. £1 notes were next printed in 1930, and £5 notes in 1932. More 10/- notes however, were needed in 1929. 10/- and £1 notes made up the vast bulk of the currency in circulation, along with Consolidated £1 notes (See Table 2).

Table 2: Actual value of Legal Tender Notes in circulation prior to the printing of any dates later than 1928.
Figures in brackets are the amount soiled and withdrawn by the given dates, other figures are the amount in active circulation. The figure for Consolidated Banknotes (CBN) is given for comparison of £1 and £5 note amounts.

Denominations of £10 and higher are all quite rare, having relatively low printages (See Table 1) and having had a long period of time in which to be used up. The next printage after 1928 of £10 notes was in 1932 (200,000+ notes). £20 (37,000) and £50 (5,000) notes were next printed in 1943, with the next printage of £100 notes (6,000+) spread across four dates in 1937. These printage dates point to the usage rates of the denominations. 1928 £10 notes are rarer than Ploughman £10 notes, as are all the higher denomination 1928 Legal Tender Notes.

Whilst all the other denominations have survived in high grade, it is notable that 1928 £20 notes have not been recorded in grades higher than VF, and only three notes at that, one of them with graffiti on the reverse. The vast majority of surviving £20 notes have had a lot of use and fall into the VG to fine range. £20 notes had a significant usage relative to £50 and £100 notes, especially on fair days when livestock would be changing hands. In one typical small town farming household in the early 1930s, the lady of the house would raise a few livestock to sell to cattle jobbers on fair days. £20 notes were always seen after the cows had been sold, whilst only once was a £50 note ever seen. Between fair days, the £20 notes would rest in a bank, the Post Office, or tin boxes, ready for next time.

When the banknotes were initially issued, each member of the Currency Commission had the opportunity to retain some of the first notes, i.e. low numbers (hearsay attributed to Brennan). Several numbers below 20 have been recorded as follows: 10/- (4), £1 (5), £5 (3), £100 (1). Number 000009 of the three lower denominations turned up in auction in the US a few years ago. Although it is not known if denominations of £10 or higher were retained, a gVF £100 note with a low number (reported to be 000008) was seen in a Dublin auction in the late 1980s. Interesting, as £5 number 000008 has also been recorded, and is on display in the former House of Lords, Bank of Ireland, College Green, Dublin, for anyone who wishes to go and view it. It is to be hoped that one or more £20 notes were also kept, and have survived in nice grade.

A steady increase in collector value
All 1928 notes have seen a steady increase in value over the past 20 years. In 1994 a VG grade £20 note could be bought for £40, Fine would cost about £80. Today in these grades the notes change hands at around £1200 and £1800 respectively. £50 and £100 notes have always fetched similar prices, and have seen a corresponding rise in value. In 1995 a £50 in EF weighed in at about £900. VG grade notes would generally change hands at around £200 in the early 1990s. The most recent auction sale of a high grade note, was of a £100 in 2009 (DNW) in gEF which fetched £18,000 plus fees. A gVF to EF £50 note could be expected to fetch in the region of £13,000.

Considering their rarity, 1928 £10 notes have always been a bit undervalued. Currently, a fine grade note will bring around £700. Both dates of 10/- notes from 1928 could be had for as little as a tenner back around 1994 in VG, with a VF fetching around £50. A few strong results in auction for nicer grade notes in the late nineties pushed up values. Today, an EF example would be expected to fetch in the region of £1,300, with a VG note weighing in at around £300.

Collecting the 1928 series
The first issue of Lavery notes, with all denominations dated 10.9.28, is a highly desirable set from a collector’s point of view. This date is the only instance of the same date appearing on every denomination, a fact which pushes many collectors to aspire to owning a note of each denomination. 1928 £20 and £50 are the only Lavery Currency Commission notes of these denominations.

£1 and £5 notes are relatively easy to obtain in circulated VG to Fine grade, and are likely to be the first notes to be acquired by a collector. The other denominations are quite scarce, and can be more of a challenge to obtain. It may take years for a collector to come across the entire set. £20, £50 and £100 are quite rare.

In terms of cost, the notes are not that expensive in collectible VG to Fine grades. For grade conscious collectors all the denominations except the £20 have been offered occasionally in higher grades of gVF or better. It would be interesting to see what a VF grade £20 note would fetch in auction.

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

Doherty, J. The Evolution of Central Banking in Ireland. Annual Report, Central Bank of Ireland, Summer 1993.

Fitzwilliam Museum Library, University of Cambridge, UK.

Honohan, P. (1997). Currency Board or Central Bank? Lessons from the Irish Pound’s Link with Sterling, 1928-79. BNL Quarterly Review, 200., March, 1997.

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

Mac Devitt, M. (2009). Irish Banknotes. Irish Government Paper Money From 1928. Updates. Seachran.

Moynihan, M. (1975). Currency and Central Banking in Ireland 1922–60, Gill & MacMillan in association with the Central Bank of Ireland.

Young, D. (1972). Guide to the Currency of Ireland–Legal Tender Notes. Stagecast, Dublin, 1972.
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