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Austen devotees react to design

The transmutation of Jane Austen. From top: the original life sketch drawn by sister Cassandra c. 1810; James Andrews’ watercolor as published in ‘A Memoir of Jane Austen’ by her nephew in 1869; and William Lizars’ 1870 engraving as it appears on the back of the new £10 BoE note. (Images Wikimedia Commons and Bank of England)

As reported in September issue of Bank Note Reporter (read more here), the Bank of England’s new polymer £10 was launched by the bank’s governor, Mark Carney, on July 18. The note’s back design features world-renowned author Jane Austen and it is this design that is being savaged by some Austen devotees.

For starters, the note’s portrait of Jane is that of a posthumous 1870 engraving by William Lizars commissioned by her family. It was based upon a posthumous James Andrews’ watercolor that, in turn, had been taken from an original life sketch drawn many years earlier by sister Cassandra Austen.

Oxford University fellow Dr. Paula Byrne was quoted by the BBC as saying the Lizars’ engraving and, hence, the portrait on the note was a “makeover” in which Jane was made to look like “a pretty doll with big doe eyes.” The word “airbrushed” featured in several commentaries.

The Jane Austen Society had been consulted by the BoE and considered the Lizars engraving a good choice. As Carney explained, “The advantage of the engraving is that it is much finer”…“That allowed us to use the image for the note, otherwise we would have had to have interpreted an image from the image, that is why the decision was made.”

Meanwhile, the Twitterati have erupted over the quotation that appears under Jane’s portrait: “I declare after all there is no enjoyment but reading!”

Jane Austen never uttered these words although on the note they are firmly attached to her image. They are a quote from a “detested” character, Caroline Bingley, in Pride and Prejudice. Caroline loathed reading and despised those who did. In the novel the line is not intended to be taken literally but is said contemptuously.

One tweet observed, “You know what’s a great idea, using a Caroline Bingley quote to celebrate Jane Austen—said no one ever.”

Once again the BoE governor had to leap to the defense of his designers: “It’s two things. It captures much of her spirit”…“You can read it straight, there is no enjoyment like reading, and we agree with that”…or…“if you know her work, you can enjoy the irony of that, it draws out some of the aspects of her social satire, it works on many levels.”

And in case anyone was wondering, the BoE refused to bow to pressure from vegans and vegetarians. The polymer substrate of the £10 note contains tallow as did the Churchillian £5 issued last year.

By the time the tallow brouhaha erupted in 2016 the bank had already printed 275 million £10 notes at a cost of £24 million. They declined to reprint partly on the grounds of cost and partly to avoid jeopardizing aspects of the new note’s security.

When the new £10 notes are released, which was slated for September, it is expected that low serial numbers within the first issues are likely to attract as much interest as did those of the Churchill £5 when it was issued last year.


This article was originally printed in Bank Note Reporter. >> Subscribe today.


 More Collecting Resources

• Keep up to date on prices for Canada, United States and Mexico coinage with the 2018 North American Coins & Prices guide.

• Order the Standard Catalog of World Paper Money, General Issues to learn about circulating paper money from 14th century China to the mid 20th century.

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