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Irish Three Pound Notes - Contemporary Forgeries of Early Irish Banknotes ca1800-1930

Irish Three Pound Notes

A Review of the £3 Denomination Issued by the Irish Joint Stock Banks 1835 - 1915

Bank of Ireland 3 Pounds 1912Ireland National Bank 3 Pounds 1912bank of ireland 1 pound 1869

Three Pounds

Three Pounds is a denomination that has always had a special attraction to people in general as well as to collectors in particular, being unusual and curious in modern terms. Up to the beginning of World War 1, it was a normal denomination, though one of those in less common usage, being issued in somewhat smaller quantities than £10 notes by banks. The denomination had become entirely extinct in circulation by around 1920.

Early Three Pound Notes

From ca1700 to 1826, before joint stock banking started in Ireland most note issue came from small private banks which were restricted to partnerships of six or less persons. Many odd denominations in today’s terms were in use: Guineas, Shillings and Pounds, and fractions of these. With little coin available at the time, banknote denominations tended to reflect useful coinage amounts. £3 was a relatively common denomination in the era of the Irish private banks, and a broad range of examples survive, such as the Gibbons & Williams £3 note from 1833, pictured in Fig. 1.

Six big joint stock banks with the right of note issue were founded in Ireland the period between 1824 and 1837. They joined the Bank of Ireland, which had existed since 1783, in providing a stable banknote issue for the island of Ireland. During this era all of the note issuing private banks either went out of business or were taken over by one of the emerging joint stock banks. The private banks’ note issues disappeared with them, as there was little to back their issues.

The Irish joint stock banks of note issue provided the currency that circulated throughout the island of Ireland up until the partition of Irish currency in 1929 which resulted from the formation of the Irish Free State, and Northern Ireland in 1921.

The range of denominations employed by the joint stock banks varied by bank, and settled on what may be regarded as logical steps. £1 (=20 Shillings), £2, £3, £4, £5, £10, £20, £50, £100, and £500 notes were issued. 25, 30, and 35 Shilling notes were also in use after 1835 by various banks. The range of lower denominations rapidly shrank down to £1, 30 Shillings, £3, and £5.

Three banks made extensive use of the £3 denomination, the Bank of Ireland, the Provincial Bank of Ireland, and the National Bank of Ireland. The Provincial and National banks were of similar size in terms of the amount of their total note issues (see Table 1, Coin News, July 2017, p.86 which shows the actual note issues of each of the banks in 1928). The Bank of Ireland’s total note issue was approximately four times the size of each of these banks.

Gibbons & Williams Three Pounds Dublin 1833

Fig 1. A Private bank Three Pound note issued by Gibbons & Williams, Dublin in 1833

An Overview of the £3 Note Issues of the Joint Stock Banks 1824 - 1915

Three Pound notes were a curious low value denomination, in that where evidence is available, it indicates that they were largely a comparatively scarce note in circulation. Printages were significantly lower than those of £1 and £5 notes for all of the banks which issued the denomination, and by the Twentieth Century were also lower than those of £10 notes. Eventually, by around the end of the First World War, the denomination fell out of use altogether and production was discontinued.

Five of the joint stock banks issued £3 notes at some stage: Agricultural & Commercial Bank of Ireland (Fig. 2), which failed in 1839, Bank of Ireland (Fig. 3), National Bank (Fig. 4), Provincial Bank of Ireland (Fig. 5), and the Ulster Bank (Fig 5b). Although the Belfast Banking Company and Northern Bank issued 30 Shilling notes in their early days, there is no record of either of these banks having ever issued a £3 denomination.

Agricultural & Commercial Bank of Ireland £3, 1838

Fig 2. Agricultural & Commercial Bank of Ireland £3, 1838. The bank failed in 1839

Bank of Ireland 3 Pounds, 1912

Fig 3. Bank of Ireland £3, 1912

National Bank Three Pounds, 1891

Fig 4. National Bank £3, 1891

Provincial Bank of Ireland 3 Pounds, 1905

Fig 5. Provincial Bank of Ireland £3, 1905

Ulster Bank 3 Pound note, 1845

Fig 5b. Ulster Bank £3, 1845, half note

It is interesting to note that the three banks with headquarters in Belfast chose not to make use of the £3 denomination, other than for a brief issue by the Ulster Bank. The other Irish banks, with headquarters in Dublin, may have followed the lead of the Bank of Ireland in their usage of the £3 denomination.

The three largest banks, Bank of Ireland, Provincial Bank of Ireland, and the National Bank, made extensive use of the £3 denomination throughout the lifespan of their all-Ireland banknote issues. Because so few earlier notes have survived, it is difficult to effectively compare the issues of the three banks prior to 1900. Information is available from observation and from some records which have survived.

Interestingly, only two Bank of Ireland £3 notes have been recorded in private hands over the past forty years, and they both surfaced together from the same source in Belfast in the 1970s.

Recorded notes for the Provincial Bank of Ireland from 1870–1902 indicate that approximately 250,000 £3 notes were produced, compared to 600,000 £5 notes and 150,000 £10 notes in the same period.

The Burnt Notes Record of the National Bank, a record of burned notes of each issue of the National Bank up to 1929, held in the Royal Bank of Scotland Archive, indicates that by 20 November 1896 the following total numbers of notes of the bank’s first General Issue (1870–1881) had been burned: £3 notes, 418,323; £5 notes, 547,961; £10 notes, 209,135. Further, by 18 March 1910 the total number of notes burned of the bank’s Second General Issue (1882–1899) were: £3 notes, 331,866; £5 notes, 707,683; £10 notes, 280,661. These data suggest that the bank’s usage of the £3 denomination relative to other denominations was gradually declining over time.

Early £3 Note Issues, 1835 - 1899, Surviving Examples

Examples of early single branch £3 notes (Fig. 6) are very rare for some of the banks. Prior to its failing in 1839, the Agricultural and Commercial Bank of Ireland issued 30 Shilling and £3 denominations. Little is known about its £3 notes, with only one note recorded, dated 15 Nov 1838 (see Fig 2). At least six surviving 30 Shilling notes are recorded for this bank.

One early £3 note from the Bank of Ireland is recorded, dated 2 Apr 1846, a cancelled note in the Bank’s own archive. By contrast, multiple examples of 30 Shilling notes of the Bank of Ireland have been recorded from the same era (almost all of these are in the bank’s archive), with only three examples in collector hands.

This suggests that the £3 denomination was likely to have been used in significantly smaller numbers than £1 or 30 Shilling notes. Only two Ulster Bank £3 notes are recorded, both with dates in 1845.

Examples of cancelled Provincial Bank £3 notes are relatively common, as are proof £3 notes of both Provincial Bank and National Bank. Two issued uncancelled National notes (1871 and 1891), and one Provincial note (3 Jan 1894) are known.

Irish 3 Pound notes

Fig 6. Early single branch £3 notes of the joint stock banks

Circulation of Three Pound Notes in the 1800s

National Bank

All the known surviving examples of issued National £3 notes are from the National Bank of Ireland Series B 1870-1919 General Issue large size notes with all bank branches listed on each note.

The two known issued National Bank Three Pound notes dated in the 1800s give a good insight into the usage of £3 notes in the late 1800s. The notes are dated 3 April 1871 (number A 6049), Series B Type B; and 3 Dec 1891 (number B 30461), Series B Type C. This suggests a printage of at least 130,000 notes over 20 years.

Note, the 1871 banknote (Type B) is from the National Bank First General Issue, and the 1891 banknote (Type C) is from the National Bank Second General Issue. For this reason prefix A might not have been completed prior to the commencement of Prefix B, which would affect the estimate of the number of notes issued.

Provincial Bank of Ireland

There is a broad range of dates and corresponding serial numbers of £3 notes available for study from the large number of cancelled Provincial Bank notes extant from the Provincial Bank of Ireland Series B 1871-1919 General Issue.

Three sample notes from the period 1879–1894, dated 3 Mar 1879 (number A 40449); 3 Sept 1883 (number A 92658); 3 Jan 1894 (number B 47536) suggest a printage of somewhat over 110,000 notes in this 14 year period. This is slightly less than the printage of £10 notes produced by the bank in the same period.

The £3 note printage of the National and Provincial banks appear to have been broadly similar in this period. It can be seen that the two banks issued £3 notes in significant quantities. Both also made extensive use of the 30 Shilling note denomination before it was prohibited by the Bankers (Ireland) Act, 1845, which prohibited the issue of fractional denominations.

Bank of Ireland

The only early single branch Bank of Ireland £3 note known is a cancelled note dated 2 Apr 1846 in the bank’s archives (Fig 6). This note is of Bank of Ireland Series D and uses the letter over letter prefix system, with prefix S over D.

With just this note, it is not possible to make any estimate of the issue volumes, although the sub-prefix letter D suggests that there were at least 400,000 notes (four sub-prefixes), assuming it started with S over A. The series might have started with a base letter earlier than S, as both £1 and 30 Shilling notes started with prefixes of base letter A over another letter—base letter R would be a possibility for the £3 notes as this letter is used for the denomination on notes dated 1912–1914. However, a £10 note with prefix V over X (8 June 1861) has been recorded. It is unlikely that £10 notes started with an earlier base letter, and the bank’s pattern on prefix use was to use later letters on higher denominations than £1 notes.

There is no record of any Bank of Ireland usage of the £3 denomination prior to the commencement of Series D in 1838.

Ulster Banking Company

There is not enough data to draw any conclusions about the quantities of £3 notes produced by the Ulster Bank. Only two half notes have been seen, both from the Ulster Bank Series A 1836 Single Branch Issue. The only conclusion that can be drawn, from a lack of surviving notes, is that the bank was likely the smallest issuer of the denomination and may have discontinued the denomination much earlier than the other banks did.

A Comparison of the Issues of Three Banks from 1901

Bank of Ireland, National Bank and Provincial Bank of Ireland are known to have issued notes into the early 1900s.

There is sufficient information available about issues in from 1901 to 1915 to make a more detailed comparison of the £3 note issues of the three banks in this period even though the recorded number of surviving notes from each of the banks is very low.

Only two Bank of Ireland £3 notes (out of a known issue of 200,000) have been recorded. Six National Bank notes out of a known 90,000 have been recorded, and three Provincial Bank notes out of a known 23,539.

It is reasonable to conclude that the Bank of Ireland £3 denomination is far rarer than it should be, and that it is therefore plausible that the bank may have started to withdraw the denomination before the other banks. It is also possible that the National Bank may have continued to issue £3 notes for a few years longer than the other two banks up to around 1920, when its multibranch General Issue ended as a result of the Banknotes (Ireland) Act, 1920 (which provided for the removal of branch listings on banknotes).

Of these three banks overall, issued banknotes of the National Bank are by far the scarcest, though its £3 notes are the least rare of any of the banks.

Bank of Ireland £3 Notes ca1881 - 1914

Bank of Ireland was the biggest bank by far, with a note issue larger than that of all the other joint stock banks combined [Coin News, July 2017, p.86], and it also had by far the largest printage of £3 notes. However, the bank’s £3 notes are very rare, as mentioned previously. An estimate of annual usage for the bank’s £3 notes in the Twentieth Century can be made using prefix data from the two recorded notes and known information, from observation, about how the bank numbered its notes.

Both known notes are from the Bank of Ireland General Issue 1864-1918 Series E, Type D with five lines of bank branches listed

The highest recorded prefix on a Bank of Ireland £3 note is R/25, on a note dated 10 Oct 1914. The bank always used a different date for each prefix on its note issues, and printed 100,000 notes per prefix for notes in this era. This indicates that the likely total issue of the denomination ran to 15 dates over approximately 33 years, since the commencement of the letter over number prefixing system in ca.1881 when the issue would have started with prefix R/10. This points to a usage of around 50,000 notes per year. (From general observation, it has been observed that the bank commenced all of its fractional number prefixes with a letter over 10, this is therefore a reasonable supposition in the case of the £3 denomination of this era).

A banknote with Prefix R/24, dated 17 Sep 1912 is also known, showing a gap of over two years between successive dates of issue.

In many cases the date on a banknote would only very approximately correlate with the actual date of issue of the note, and there is evidence of notes being printed several years after their date of issue. £20 notes dated 10 Nov 1915 are an example of this, where the evidence indicates that they were probably printed in at least three batches up to 1919 [Coin News, August 2017, p.78]. Thus, the £3 notes dated 10 Oct 1914 could have been printed in more than one batch, and up to several years later than the date they bear. The date is likely to correspond with the commencement of the printing of prefix R/25. Because prefix R/24 predates R/25 by around two years, it can be inferred that around 100,000 notes was sufficient supply for two years’ usage in that era. As such, the Bank of Ireland £3 notes were probably in regular use for several years after 1914. This points to the denomination falling out of usage towards the end of World War 1.

Despite being a significant issue in terms of volume compared to other banks, the number of £3 notes issued by Bank of Ireland from 1881 up to 1914 is far less than its issue of £1 notes (many millions) or £5 notes (approximately ten million), and two thirds that of its issue of £10 notes, which reached prefix U/33 by 1914, corresponding to 2,300,000 notes.

Bank of Ireland £3 notes might have been a more common denomination than £5 or £10 notes in the 1800s, but by the early Twentieth Century they were a relatively scarce denomination. Available data suggests that the Three Pound note was the scarcest lower denomination note of the bank post-1870, which is not what would be expected from a low denomination note that was maintained in use for fifty years.

By comparison, in the period 1901–1915, the National Bank’s £3 note printage was approximately 100,000, its £10 note printage in the same period was higher at almost 200,000 notes, and that of £5 notes was much higher at approximately 300,000 notes. The Provincial Bank of Ireland’s £10 note printage in the 1901–1918 period was around 200,000 notes, and that of £5 notes was approximately 400,000. Its known £3 note printage was something in the region of 30,000 notes, though could reasonably have been up to twice that number.

Provincial Bank of Ireland Issued £3 Notes 1903 - 1918

As with Bank of Ireland, the only data available on the production quantities of Provincial Bank of Ireland £3 notes is from observation of serial numbers. Given that the earliest recorded date for Provincial Bank of Ireland Series B Type C is 3 May 1905, it could be inferred that there was a sufficient supply of notes of Type B to last up until ca1905.

The lowest number seen is 10069, on a note dated 3 May 1905, and the highest number seen is 23539 on a note dated 3 Oct 1905. This suggests a printage of 15,000–20,000 notes per date, and a minimum printage of 25,000 per anum. The next date recorded is 3 Sep 1906, for which an image or number is not available. There could also be other dates as yet unrecorded.

National Bank of Ireland Issued £3 Notes 1901 - 1915

The National Bank issued £3 notes from around 1835 up to 1915. Nothing is known about early National Bank £3 notes, with only proofs and specimens recorded. Later proofs and specimens of Series B multibranch notes bear dates which may or may not have been used on issued notes. However, the total quantities of notes destroyed is recorded in the National Bank’s burned notes record. An analysis of these data reveals some broad information about the numbers of notes printed and put into circulation.

An estimation of the National Bank’s £3 note issue per date and per year in the early Twentieth Century is very straightforward from recorded dates of National Bank General Issue Series B Type D (four notes recorded with a fifth reported), as a note dated 3 Jan 1901 (number 2997) has been recorded, and also several notes dated 3 Oct 1913 (highest number recorded 88792, see Fig. 7). The next date recorded is of National Bank General Issue Series B Type E, dated 3 December 1915 (one note known, number 4056, pictured in Fig. 8).

Series B Type E National Bank notes were a new issue (the bank’s Fourth General Issue) and numbering was restarted on all denominations. These data indicate a likely usage rate of 6,500-7,000 notes per year in the period 1901–1915. This volume of notes is significantly less than the bank’s production of other lower value denominations in the same period, and is much less than of the number of £3 notes that the Bank of Ireland was producing in the same period (estimated at around 50,000 notes per year).

1913 National Bank 3 Pound note

Fig 7. The highest recorded number for a 1913 National Bank £3 note, Series B Type D

National Bank 3 Pounds, dated 3 Dec. 1915

Fig 8. Series B, Type E, the last issue of the National Bank £3 note, dated 3 Dec. 1915. This is also the latest date recorded on an Irish £3 note

The figures for the total numbers of National Bank £3 notes burned up to May 1929 are 69,058 Type E notes (1901–1914) and 8,564 Type F notes (1915)[Royal Bank of Scotland Archive, Burnt note record for National Bank of ireland]. As mentioned previously, the highest number recorded on a Type E note is 88792, and the only Type F note seen is number 4056.

The burned note data and observed notes suggest a printage of 90,000–100,000 notes of Type E, and 10,000 notes of Type F.

Circulation of £3 Bank Notes in Ireland

It is known that National Bank £3 notes dated 3 March 1910 were in circulation alongside those dated 3 December 1915, as an example of each of these dates turned up in a group of notes, all with similar patterns of foxing damage, along with a Provincial Bank £1 note dated 1 Jan 1916, also with the same rust foxing pattern.

Although the latest dates seen on £3 notes are 1914 (Bank of Ireland) and 1915 (National Bank), there is evidence from the records of the National Bank to suggest that the denomination remained in use by the Bank up to 1921 when it was not replaced in the Bank’s Fifth General Issue (Series D 1921–1927). These records show that a large quantity of £3 notes of Series B, Type F were still extant in 1928 as they were burned shortly thereafter.

Because of the difference in the sizes of the National Bank notes between Series B, Type F (1915–1918, large size notes with colour underprint) and Series C (1918–1920, small size notes of a similar design), these two designs are regarded as different by collectors, though the The National Bank regarded the two designs as both being part of the same series, its Fourth General Issue [Coin News, November 2017, p.77]. Specimen and issued notes were produced of the £3 denomination Series B, Type F. Specimens have only been seen for small size Series C £1, £5, and £10 notes, strongly suggesting that there were sufficient quantities for usage of the earlier large size notes of £3, £20, £50, and £100 denominations up to 1920 when the Fourth General Issue came to an end.

There is currently no information available on the circulation of Provincial Bank of ireland £3 notes.

Availability to Collectors and Rarity of £3 Notes

Issued Three Pound Notes

Issued uncancelled Three Pound notes are among the rarest and most sought after denomination of all Irish note issues. They are very seldom offered.

There are two pre-1900 issued National Bank £3 notes recorded: 3 April 1871 (a cut and rejoined note which appears not to have been cancelled), and 3 Dec 1891 (an intact note). Thus, the total recorded number of issued National Bank £3 notes (at Oct 2021) is eight.

There are just two recorded Bank of Ireland £3 notes, plus one cancelled note in the bank’s archives, and there are three issued Provincial Bank £3 notes recorded, and several cut cancelled notes.

Undoubtedly, other examples of the denomination exist.

All known issued uncancelled Irish Three Pound notes are recorded in the Irish Rare Notes Census will be illustrated here along with images of the notes referred to in this study.

Unissued and proof examples of Three Pound Notes

There are a lot of partially printed proof or scrappage notes of multibranch National Bank notes extant (1870–1914), including many examples of £3 notes. Most have the bottom portion of the note cut away. Proofs of earlier single branch notes tend to be found intact. Thus, a basic example of both main designs is easily obtained, though they are scarce relative to similar £1 and £5 proof or scrappage notes of the bank.

Provincial Bank of Ireland single branch notes are quite common in proof form, and cut cancelled single branch (pre-1870) and multibranch (post-1870) notes are also quite common. As such examples of either cancelled or proof £3 notes are relatively easily obtained, though they are scarce relative to similar £1 and £5 notes.

Bank of Ireland proofs and cancelled notes are very rarely encountered, leaving just the issued notes available to collectors. One example of a Bank of Ireland £3 proof has been seen.

Thus, as well as being one of the most sought-after denominations, the Bank of Ireland £3 note is one of the great rarities among Irish banknote issues. It is intriguing that a large issue denomination from the biggest bank could ultimately become such a rare note.


Bank of Ireland Archives, Dublin.
Blake, R., Callaway, J. (2009). Paper Money of Ireland, 1st Ed.
Central Bank of Ireland Archives, Dublin.
Mac Devitt, M. (2005). Irish Banknotes. Irish Paper Money 1783–2001, 3rd Ed.
Mac Devitt, M. (2017). 'The Partition of Irish currencies Irish banknotes 1928–1930' Coin News, July 2017, p.85.
Mac Devitt, M. (2017). 'Joint stock Banks in the early Irish Free State: Bank of Ireland issues 1918–1921' Coin News, August 2017, p.77.
The Banknotes (Ireland) Act, 1920, Last accessed 19.09.2021.
The Bankers (Ireland) Act, 1845, Last accessed 19.09.2021.
Royal Bank of Scotland Archives, Edinburgh, for all National Bank of Ireland references

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