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‘Royal’ marks Australia note development

By Kerry Rodgers

In May Australia’s Universal Coin Co. announced the impending sale of graphic art works from three different artists who have contributed to the development of Australia’s paper currency over some 35 years. The artists are Bruce Stewart, Max Robinson and Bruce Weatherhead.

Bruce Stewart’s proposed design for a five royal, c. 1963, features Pietro Annigoni’s 1956 romantic portrayal of the young Queen Elizabeth II. The original hangs currently in London’s Fishmongers Hall.

Bruce Stewart’s proposed design for a five royal, c. 1963, features Pietro Annigoni’s 1956 romantic portrayal of the young Queen Elizabeth II. The original hangs currently in London’s Fishmongers Hall.

If you are unaware of these gents, Bruce Stewart was chief designer with Note Printing Australia. He is responsible for the current Queen Elizabeth II/Parliament Houses $5 note (P-51, -57) as well as the current Nellie Melba/John Monash $100 (P-55, -61). Max Robinson gave Australia its present Banjo Paterson/Mary Gilmore $10 (P-52, -58).

Original engraving of Dame Mary Gilmour used on 2001 federation $5 commemorative note (P-56).

Original engraving of Dame Mary Gilmour used on 2001 federation $5 commemorative note (P-56).

For his part the late Bruce Weatherhead designed 58 stamps for Australia and the Cocos (Keeling) Islands between 1973 and 1990.

Over the past 10 years Universal has been working to bring together the 75 pieces of graphic art now on offer. All are related to the country’s recent decimal note designs. They include rough drafts, conceptual drawings in various stages of development, engravings, die proofs, final designs as presented to the Reserve Bank of Australia, partial printed trials, and a couple of cut and paste collages.

The collection begins in the 1960s with Stewart’s proposal for a planned five royals. The republicans among us may be surprised to learn that the royal was to be the name of Australia’s new decimal currency—for about three months in 1963. It was announced in June that year by Treasurer Holt with the backing of Prime Minster Menzies.

The republican ethos runs strong Down Under. There was a swift, savage, and strident outcry. Public rage reached a pitch where death threats were directed against Holt—and his wife. One Sept. 19 the government announced a back down. And that is why Australia has the dollar today.

But before that back down the RBA had worked up several royal options. Inhouse and freelance designers had submitted a variety of suggestions. Many were based around the then existing pound notes. Themes included royalty, explorers, wildlife, indigenous art and sheep. One of the near completed designs was Bruce Stewart’s five royals offered as part of the current sale. It is a piece of Dinkum Aussie history. It is the only example of a royal to become available to collectors in more than 20 years.

Bruce Weatherhead’s sixth version of his Sir Paweł Strzelecki and Lady Jane Franklin $50. The artist was striving for something distinctly Australian. He wished to illustrate both people full figure and not as “death masks.” He saw no reason to “emulate the cliché of overseas banknotes.” In this he failed to appreciate the unity the Note Committee was attempting to achieve within the entire new bank note series.

Bruce Weatherhead’s sixth version of his Sir Paweł Strzelecki and Lady Jane Franklin $50. The artist was striving for something distinctly Australian. He wished to illustrate both people full figure and not as “death masks.” He saw no reason to “emulate the cliché of overseas banknotes.” In this he failed to appreciate the unity the Note Committee was attempting to achieve within the entire new bank note series.

Most of the remaining items are associated with possible designs for the second series of RBA decimal notes that appeared in the 1990s. Work for these commenced in November 1984 when the RBA convened a meeting of interested parties at the Craigieburn Note Printing Branch. Four designers were present: Max Robinson, Gary Emery, Brian Sadgrove and Bruce Weatherhead.

In the course of the meeting the relative role of the four was thrashed out and a family of related designs adopted. The four were given very specific directions as to the proposals each was to produce for four notes: $5 (Robinson), $10 (Emery), $20 (Sadgrove) and $50 (Weatherhead).

Weatherhead’s $50 was intended to portray Polish explorer Sir Paweł Strzelecki and Lady Jane Franklin. In the event, his series of proposed concepts did nothing for the notes committee and he resigned his commission.

Bruce Stewart’s 2001 Federation Commemorative $10 concept that would eventually transmute into a $5.

Bruce Stewart’s 2001 Federation Commemorative $10 concept that would eventually transmute into a $5.

A reallocation of design roles now took place with Bruce Stewart taking over the $5, Robinson the $10, Emery $20 and Sadgrove the $50. Some of their early concepts can be found among items in the current sale.

About 10 years ago Weatherhead sold his $50 design concepts to Allan Flint of Universal Coin. At the time Flint needed the funds, “to assist his ex-wife who had developed terminal cancer.” It is that package of progressive design concepts that are part of the present Universal sale.

Also included are Stewart’s initial designs for the 1996 $100 polymer note and the 2001 federation $5 note (P-56)—that started out life as a $10.

For good measure Universal are also offering some visually striking pieces from an early Max Robinson $100 note that was to be part of a proposed Wildlife and Explorer series that never was.

The sale by Universal Coin commences on mid-July when full details will be posted at www.universalcoinco.com.au.

This article was originally printed in Bank Note Reporter.
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