Banknotes of the Limerick Soviet, April 1919. A study of the notes and their signature varieties

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Banknotes of the Limerick Soviet, April 1919. A study of the notes and their signature varieties

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Original [print] version (2015), published in Coin News as Banknotes of the Limerick Soviet, April 1919. A study of the notes and their signature varieties, November 2015, p76.
This [electronic] version (2015) Numismatic Articles and Papers / Occasional Papers on Irish Paper Money

Recommended Citation
Mac Devitt, M. (2015). Banknotes of the Limerick Soviet, April 1919. A study of the notes and their signature varieties. [Electronic version]. Accessed [insert date], from Occasional Papers on Irish Paper Money:

Banknotes of the Limerick Soviet, April 1919
A study of the notes and their signature varieties
By Martan Mac Devitt

In Ireland in April 1919, the proclamation of parts of Limerick city as a military area by the British Army resulted in a general strike. As with many other strikes at this time it was quickly referred to as a ‘Soviet’. This Limerick Soviet was unusual in that it issued its own token currency notes. These notes are a brief and interesting part of Irish numismatic history. They are rare, and are found in several varieties.

Background to The Limerick Soviet
The aftermath of the 1916 Rising had removed most of the militant Nationalist leaders from circulation. This allowed the rise of the militant labour movement, sometimes in an unsure alliance with the new Sinn Féin movement.

With a shortage of troops for the war in Europe, the British Government decided to extend conscription to Ireland in April 1918. Politicians, the Church and the labour movement, in the form of the ITGWU, all came together in their opposition to conscription. This resulted in a general strike in protest on 23 April 1918 which lead to the idea of conscription in Ireland being abandoned, a significant victory over the British Government.

At the end of World War 1 Europe was in turmoil. Against the background of the rise of Bolshevism, there was widespread social and economic revolution throughout the continent. Germany and the Austro-Hungarian Empire had collapsed, taking the old order with them. In the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Ireland there was similar unrest with regular strikes in major industrial cities in Britain. August 1918 to April 1919 saw general strikes in several locations in Ireland in a peaceful effort to win a better deal for workers. This was against a background of insurrection in Ireland as the War of Independence commenced.

The lead up to the strike
It was against this background that an incident occurred on 6 April 1919 in which Robert Byrne, a trade unionist and IRA man, court martialed and jailed in February on a gun possession charge, was rescued by the IRA from a prison hospital. It was a botched operation, during which a police constable, Martin O’Brien, was killed. Byrne also died later from his wounds. Whilst in prison, he had been a leader of the struggle for political status for IRA prisoners. Thousands of marchers attended his funeral on April 10.

Martial Law
On April 9, citing the death of the police constable as a reason, much of Limerick city and county was declared a Special Military Area under the provisions of the Defence of the Realm Act. These provisions were intended to flush out IRA men concealed in the midst of local populations. It enabled the military to issue exit and entry permits for the area and made the population subject to police inspections at any time. Tanks were used to secure the streets at entry points to the SMA. The restrictions were quite repressive and were resented by the population at large.

The Strike
The Limerick Trades and Labour Council (LTLC) was an umbrella organisation of 35 trade unions. It’s president was John Cronin of the Amalgamated Society of Carpenters. At a meeting on Sunday April 13, 1919, the LTLC called a general strike in Limerick, to protest at martial law and the fact that many workers had to have permits and pass through the military check points in order to go to and from work each day. The strike started on Monday 14 April 1919. 14,000 workers had joined the strike by that Monday evening.

The strike committee took over the administration of Limerick, a city of 38,000. The distribution of food throughout the city was regulated and prices were strictly controlled to avoid shortages or profiteering. Certain shops were instructed to be open between 2 and 5 pm each day to supply foodstuffs to the population. The LTLC also published its own newspaper and issued its own currency. It quickly became known as the Limerick Soviet, although the situation bore little in common with happenings in Russia.

The resolution of the strike
Negotiations progressed throughout the duration of the strike. The British Army softened the regulations governing the issue of permits, by suggesting that employers be allowed to issue them, a move rejected in the first instance by the Soviet’s leaders. In the end, the strike was not supported by other unions outside of the Limerick area, most notably the big unions based in Britain. The hope of its organisers that it might become a country-wide general strike, or that Limerick ­would be evacuated, were not realised, leaving the strikers few options but to accept a settlement. The LTLC decided to end the strike, and on Friday 25 April most strikers resumed work, only those subject to permit inspections remaining out. The strike ended on Monday 28 April with all the strikers returning to work.

In the event, any IRA men who were within the SMA kept a low profile throughout the proceedings and it proved ineffective in its efforts to flush them out. On 5 May Military restrictions were officially ended.

The British Army commander in charge of the military area was a General Griffin, who handled the whole affair with cautious but firm diplomacy and sought to avoid any nasty incidents. On the whole, the affair was a generally peaceful one. The only significant confrontation was the eventual successful breach of the area by several hundred people on Easter Monday, 21 April 1919, following a protest the day before.

Although an open challenge to the British Government, the strike was not intended to be political, but was about the rights of workers to come and go to their place of work without repression. Thus, it was in defence of civil liberties (Mehir & Morissy, 1988), and not an aim to set up a new administration, socialist or otherwise, in Ireland. Once a settlement allowing the restoration of civil liberties had been agreed, the strike came to an end. Additionally, Pollard (1922) notes that Sinn Fein would have had little tolerance for any kind of rival administration in Ireland and was likely to have put pressure on the Limerick Soviet to dissolve itself.

The Limerick Soviet banknote issue
Some unions, most notably the National Union of Railwaymen, decided not to issue strike pay to their striking members inside the Soviet. Although food was sent in sizable quantities from the outside, little money was forthcoming. The resulting shortage of money in circulation lead the Soviet to take the decision to issue its own currency in the form of banknotes. The April 21 edition of the daily paper of the Strike Committee, the “Workers Bulletin” announced that “The workers council has issued its own currency notes in 1/-, 5/-, 10/- issues, which will be circulated this evening, and same will be duly redeemed.” The issue of the “Strike Treasury Notes” was reported in various North American newspapers on 22 April 1919 (Toronto World, 1919).

Security for the note issue was in the first instance to be the food stocks sent free from outside and the financial support of the workers of Limerick. Later, the notes were backed by the Trades and Labour Council, the National Executive of the Irish Labour Party and the Trade Union Congress (Young., D. IN, No. 16, July-Aug 1970), and by the approved shops which agreed to accept them. The banknote issue proved to be a stable one.

A sub-committee of the LTLC propaganda committee was in charge of printing and issuing the currency. The size of the population would suggest the need for a substantial banknote issue. Available data suggests that the entire issue was redeemed by the LTLC. A small surplus of unredeemed banknotes remained in a fund that had been subscribed to by sympathisers throughout Ireland. Some of these notes may have been kept as souvenirs.

Kemmy (1974) states that ‘thousands of pounds’ were issued. However, notes have not been seen numbered above the 300s in any denomination. The 33 notes in the LSNC may be considered to be a random sample of the extant notes, and a reasonable indication of the numbers of notes issued. Based on this, assuming a total issue of 400 notes per denomination this would give a total amount of £320 face value. This is clearly far short for the population covered. Thus, it is likely that the “Treasury notes” were only intended as a supplement to other currency already available and in circulation. Also, the ‘thousands’ of pounds may have been printed, but unissued before the end of the strike.

Anomalies in the signatures on the notes
The Limerick Soviet notes first came to the attention of the broader numismatic community after an article about the Limerick Soviet in The Irish Times, May 17, 1969, by the late James Kemmy, which illustrated two notes (1/-, No.307; 5/-, No.167) with Type B signatures (Young., D. Mystery of the Limerick Soviet Notes. Irish Numismatics, No. 16, July-Aug 1970 pp. 188-189). Subsequently, John Cronin’s son, Jeremiah, wrote to the The Irish Times stating that the signature on the notes illustrated was not that of his father, and provided a note (10/- No.123, a Type A note) with a genuine signature for comparison. Thus, right from the start, the numismatic story of the Limerick Soviet notes started with a mystery. Suggestions were made that there had been official proxy signatories (Young 1985), that forgeries had circulated in the lifetime of the note issue (Cahill, 1990), or that souvenir notes had been ‘signed’ after the termination of the note issue (Cahill, as cited by Young, 1985).

Some 45 years later a clearer picture of the notes has emerged, though without a clear answer as to the nature of the ‘proxy’ signatures on some of the notes. And other, different proxy signature varieties have come to light. The trickle of Limerick Soviet notes that has turned up since the 1970s has provided a larger pool for study. So far, images of 33 notes have been recorded in the Limerick Soviet Note Census (LSNC), from collections, museums and various auctions. The 33 are listed in Table 1. A quick google search will reveal pictures of about 10 of these. Although 33 is a very small sample, it comes from a wide range of sources, and in the author’s opinion there is enough variety to propose answers to the question as to the nature of non-genuine proxy signatures, and to draw some conclusions. A study of the 33 LSNC notes is presented here.

All notes observed so far fall into the Type structure set out following. This is a slight revision of the last published structure of Types in Irish Banknotes (Mac Devitt, 2011). Notes have been seen printed on various shades of paper, primarily cream white and grey-blue. Later-numbered notes tend to be on the grey-blue paper, though a very high number has been seen on white paper. The grey-blue paper is of lesser quality than the white paper. All denominations have been seen on both shades of paper. However, all Type B notes (see following) seen have been on the grey-blue paper only. Observed variations in the two paper colours may be due to aging, or to variations in the paper stock used.

Two very interesting notes have been seen: a 5/- which appears to have been used as a Specimen; and a 10/- which was retained as a souvenir by the then US consul in Ireland, Charles M. Hathaway, Jr, and kept in a Consular envelope.

Five Types of Limerick Soviet Notes
33 notes in all have been recorded by image in LSNC in the period 2007–2015. Six 1/-; seven 5/-; and thirteen 10/- notes. Twelve of the 33 are known to be in museums.

Table 1. Notes recorded in the Limerick Soviet Note Census (LSNC).
Numbers with letter ‘m’ suffixed are those known to be in museums.

The notes break down into one Specimen type and five basic Types, A–E, with sub-varieties.

Specimen. Signatures John Cronin, Chairman; James Casey, Treasurer. Notes Stamped but not Numbered. Countermarked on the reverse “Cancelled J.C.” in Casey’s handwriting.
One note recorded. This may be an example of a Specimen note for recognition purposes, or an ‘official’ souvenir note signed by the actual signatories. Either way, it meets the definition of a Specimen note. Only one example seen, a 5/- note. There could possibly also be a similar 1/-, and 10/-. This note is also unique in that it is the only example of an unnumbered note signed by the correct signatories.

A. Signatures John Cronin, Chairman; James Casey, Treasurer. Notes Stamped and Numbered.
A1. This is the standard issue note. 18 notes recorded: three 1/-; six 5/-; eight 10/-.
A2. Correct signatures as in A1, but banknote not stamped. Only one example of this has been seen so far (10/- No. 311), and it may simply be that the stamp is very faded, as has been seen on some notes. This observation is based on a rather poor quality image taken from ebay in 2007, when the note was recorded. However, there are other instances of very poor surviving impressions of the stamp, and on all of these the stamp remains discernible even in instances where the available image of the notes is of poorer quality than that of the image of 10/- No. 311. A better quality image of this note is needed to be sure of its status. If it missed the stamp, it may be regarded as an error note.

B. Signed as the signatories but by persons other than the signatories. Notes Stamped and Numbered.
These are either official proxy signature notes, or were specifically printed as souvenirs after the end of the strike. 5 notes recorded: two 1/-; two 5/-; one 10/-. All notes seen are unused, and printed on grey-blue paper, pointing towards a souvenir issue.
B1. Signatures: John Cronin, Chairman; J. M. Casey, Treasurer, but authored by two persons other than the signatories. It is noteworthy that the spelling of the signature of Casey differs to that of Type A notes, matching that on Type C3. These notes are either issued notes signed by proxies during the lifetime of the issue, or more likely, souvenirs specifically printed as such after the redemption of the official note issue.

C. Signed as the signatories but by persons other than the signatories. Notes Stamped but not Numbered.
This is likely another ‘souvenir’ note which uses unissued notes.
C1. Signatures: John Cronin, Chairman; James Casey., Treasurer. Two 10/- notes recorded.
C2. Signatures: John Cronin, Chairman; James. M. Casey., Treasurer. Three 10/- notes recorded.
C3. Signatures: John Cronin, Chairman; J. M. Casey., Treasurer. One 10/- note recorded.
Different authors to Type B. As the notes are not numbered, these may be examples of unissued notes signed up after the conclusion of the strike for the purpose of extra souvenirs. It appears that the person who signed as Casey on C3 may also have signed as Casey on B1—note the style of the initial J—further examples would be needed to clarify this.

D. Numbered and Stamped, but not signed.
2 notes recorded, 1/-, Nos. 185 and 341. Possibly unissued notes awaiting signatures which were kept as souvenirs after the end of the note issue. 185 is printed on grey-blue paper.

E. Signed backwards by a single person as James Casey, Chairman; John Cronin, Treasurer. Numbered and Stamped. One note recorded, 5/-, No. 195. This note is unlikely to be anything other than a souvenir, created by someone ‘signing up’ a Type D note.

Validation of the note issue and numbering
The security of the notes relies on three features: the purple Mechanics Institute Stamp on the bottom left; the serial number, and the signatures of the Chairman and Treasurer. To be valid, a note must bear all three of these security features. Looking at the 33 surviving notes in LSNC, it can be inferred that the notes were stamped first, numbered next, and lastly signed. There are two anomalies to this, the Specimen 5/- note (Officially cancelled on reverse), and 10/- 311 which appears to be missing the stamp—this note might be an error note, or bear a very faded stamp, not clear in the image seen.

Banknotes were numbered 1-n, up to three digits. The highest numbers observed for each denomination would seem to indicate a possible issue of up to a thousand notes in all, spread across the three denominations. There are no notes recorded with the same number in different denominations. While this is noteworthy, the sample size is far too small to draw any conclusions from this observation. One suggestion that has been made from time to time about the numbering of the notes is that they may have been numbered from 1 to n as they were issued without regard to denomination. This would point to a total issue of under 400 notes in all. It would be useful to see an example of notes of different denominations with the same number, or a note register, to rule out this theory.

The notes are crude by the standards of the day. Uniface, they were probably printed one up on a letter press, using newspaper ink on stationery paper stock, with some later notes printed on lesser quality (grey-blue) paper, of the type used for leaflets or tickets and the like. Four typefaces are used. Extra 10/- notes (Type C) might have been printed as souvenirs after the strike had ended, as was done with the top half of the 1916 proclamation.

Solving the puzzle of the Signature Varieties
Following the discovery of unofficial signatures, several suggestions emerged as to why more than one signature variety exists. The first suggestion is that a proxy signature system was in use during the issue period of the notes whereby others signed the notes in the name of the signatories with their agreement (Young 1985). The second suggestion is that unissued notes were signed after the end of the strike, by persons other than the signatories, for souvenir hunters (attributed to Jim Kemmy by Young, 1985). A third suggestion was that there were forgeries in circulation, though there is no supporting evidence of this whatsoever.

There are several varieties of suspect signatures, falling into two main classes: stamped, numbered notes, Type B; and notes without numbers, Type C. Type B notes might well be a case of an official proxy signature, in which case it might be regarded as an extraordinary issue, as stamped, numbered, signed notes are valid issue. That is unless Type B notes were produced as souvenirs after the end of the note issue. Type C notes occur without numbers, and thus are not issued notes. Additionally, there are three variations in the signature of Casey on Type C notes, suggesting a certain informality. In addition, the style of the J (of James) on Types B and C seems to match (also mentioned by Young) and does not match that on Type A notes. Finally, the syntax of Casey’s signature on Type B—J. M. Casey—matches that on Type C2, not that on Type A. Thus, Type B and Type C were signed as Casey by the same person. It could be argued that on such a small note issue, or any note issue, the notion of using proxy signatories might be considered an anomaly, pointing further to Type B notes being souvenirs, ‘signed-up’ Type D notes. When Type D notes had been exhausted, unnumbered 10/- notes were used for souvenir signing, producing Type C.

Looking at the number sequence, signature Type B is found on the highest numbered, stamped examples so far seen of the signed 5/- and 10/- notes. However, there is one Type A 1/- note recorded, No.362, which is higher in number than the two Type B 1/- notes seen (307, 308). This observed number/signature occurrence of the Type B notes, arguably points towards a proxy signature system being in place late in the life of the note issue. It could also point to a certain randomness of the order of signing, with notes being signed out of numerical sequence, supported by 1/- No.185 which is a Type D, unsigned. Further investigation must await the emergence of more notes.

Further, the 33 observed banknotes in this study suggest that Treasurer Casey ran a tight operation, using an unnumbered Specimen initially, and restricting signed souvenirs to notes signed by persons other than the signatories, with nonstandard syntax of his signature, a security control device. This would further point to Type B notes being souvenirs. Type D notes would thus be unofficial souvenirs, and the one Type E note seen could be regarded as a Type D with graffiti on it. In the absence of records to the contrary, it cannot be ruled out that all notes other than Type A may be post-issue souvenirs rather than official proxy signatures. The balance of argument suggests that the souvenir theory is more plausible than that of proxy signatures.

It must be considered further that after the redemption of the circulating notes was complete, surviving redeemed notes (Type A) may then also have been retained as souvenirs. One of these is certainly known to have been kept as a souvenir, 10/- No.261 which turned up in a collectibles shop in San Francisco in 2003. Still in the American Consular Service envelope it had been kept in, inscribed ‘Souvenir’, it had been kept by Charles Hathaway, Jr, US Consul in Ireland at the time.



Availability of Limerick Soviet Notes to collectors
Over the past five years there have been a small number of Limerick Soviet notes—fewer than ten (author’s observations)—have been offered for sale by auction houses, on ebay, and by dealers. Even those in more obscure auctions tend to do well, regardless of their grade. About half of these notes are new to the LSNC, with the remainder being previously known notes reemerging on the market. The notes are rare and highly sought-after, and have an appeal outside of the banknote collecting community, given their historical connections. Coming up to the 100th anniversary of the 1916 rising, and the 100th anniversary of the Limerick Soviet, there is an increasing demand for items connected with the era of Irish independence. However, as is the case with many Irish notes, their value doesn’t really reflect their rarity.

Currently there is apparently no differential in value between notes of the three denominations, though nearly half of all examples observed have been 10/- notes. In time, a differentiation may begin to grow in value between Official notes (Type A) and souvenirs (All other Types). Valuations are approximate, and based on auction results.

Readers can follow the progress of the LSNC and also find links to some of the many on-line resources on the Limerick Soviet forum page. The Census is in its infancy. Readers who have Limerick soviet notes which are not listed here are invited to send a scan or to post on the forum to help expand the census and provide more examples for research.


References and further reading
Cahill, L. (1990). “Forgotten Revolution. Limerick Soviet 1919: A Threat to British Power in Ireland” O’Brien Press, Dublin, 1990.

Census of Ireland, 1911.

Dixon, F.E. “Limerick Soviet Notes” Irish Numismatics, No. 67, Jan–Feb, 1979, p.21.

Mac Devitt, M. (2011). Irish Banknotes. Irish Paper Money From 1928–2001. Dublin.

Mehir, N., Morrissey, J. “Ten Days that Shook Limerick” Revolt of the Bottom Dogs. History of the Trade Union Movement, Limerick City & County 1916–1921. 1988, pp10-11, Labour History Research Group, Limerick.

Pollard, Hugh B. C. (2013). pp. 236-7. The Secret Societies of Ireland: Their Rise and Progress. London, 1922.

Young, D. Mystery of the Limerick Soviet Notes. Irish Numismatics, No. 16, July-Aug 1970 pp. 188-189.

Young, D. “The Limerick Soviet and its Notes” Coin and Medal News, February 1985, p54.

Kemmy, J. The Limerick Soviet. Saothar 2. Journal of the Irish Labour History Society, 1974.
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Re: Banknotes of the Limerick Soviet, April 1919. A study of the notes and their signature varieties

Post by Mac »

There are images of all of the Types and varieties of the banknotes of the Limerick Soviet in the Limerick Soviet Note Issues section on the main website.

For the latest information on research into the Limerick Soviet Treasury note issue, including the census of notes, visit the Limerick Soviet Notes Forum.
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