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Behind the Bank Note with Barnaby Faull

This month I have invited Spink Head of Banknotes Barnaby Faull to share some of his thoughts on consigning, purchasing and the community of bank note enthusiasts.

SPECIMEN 50 FILS, LAW OF 1931 (1944)

Q. What inspired you to become a professional in the bank note field?

A. I started collecting coins when I was young, my father was a coin collector. I bought my coins at Spink as did my father. I did some holiday work there and then started work (about 45 years ago) in the Ancient coin department under the tutelage of George Muller. Basically, I was following my hobby.

Q. What path did you follow to become Spink Head of Banknotes?

A. The bank note department was a fluke. My predecessor was offered a job by Stanley Gibbons, at that time the leading bank note house in the world. The directors at Spink gave me the position even though I knew nothing about notes. Bank notes was a very small market at the time and very much the poor relation to coins

Q. Have you ever had a personal bank note collection? If so, what started your interest?

A. I have never collected bank notes (I wish I had!), I was a coin man and it’s like choosing your football team, you can’t change horses in mid-stream! If I won the lottery I would collect the 12 Caesars in gold and silver. I remember seeing a set at Spink a long time ago, beautiful and real tangible history

Q. What is the most interesting bank note you have encountered as a consignment?

A. What is the most interesting note? An impossible question, I have handled so many ‘specials’ it is hard to pick any single one out. A complete set of issued Zanzibar up to the 500 rupees (we have an issued 100 rupees at Spink now). A brown Bermuda £5 with serial number 1, a million-pound note, a Saudi Hejaz note, an Iraqi 50 and 100 dinars of Faisal II that never ‘existed’. Palestine essay £100’s and a specimen book of Palestine with all notes found in a small provincial auction. Every year something special turns up, a good reason I don’t collect, too much temptation.

Q. What is the most memorable or noteworthy acquisition in your personal collection?

A. No personal collection sorry to say

Q. What inspires you the most about the collecting community with which you interact?

A. Probably meeting collectors, many of whom are friends I have known for 30-40 years. Travelling the world, we were the first bank note auction house in Singapore and Hong Kong to auction notes. The thrill of the chase, I love finding something beautiful and rare and I still hate losing out on a note to a rival. Every email and phone call could be the one I have been waiting for all my professional life. I have also been lucky in dealing with several archives and central Banks and handling notes that are at the zenith of the bank note collecting world. It’s a very personal profession and I feel very fortunate to have spent my entire working life with a subject I enjoy and with the company I started collecting with as a young boy.

Q. In your opinion, how has the COVID-19 pandemic impacted the concept of a cashless society?

A. COVID has had a major impact, I believe in face to face business and getting to know our clients, this is not an impersonal business. Travel has stopped, and everything is online. The actual business is good, collectors are at home with nothing to do and nothing to spend money on but their hobbies. I think the financial impact on the hobby is minimal, but the human interaction is largely gone. My major pleasure is meeting with friends in Dubai, Lebanon, Singapore etc., that has all gone and we can only hope we will restart this year. Online is a poor substitute in our hobby

Q. What advantages exist for buyers and sellers via online auctions?

A. Online auctions have opened up the globe to collectors wherever they may be, and this has to be a good thing in expanding the hobby but having grown up with handwritten descriptions and a gavel in my hand I feel something is missing now but then I am from a generation that did business by letters and telexes!

Q. If you were able to give advice on collecting bank notes via auction to a new collector, what would you want them to be aware of?

A. My advice to new collectors is to buy what you like and to try and learn something about the area you have chosen to collect. Try for quality, one good note not 10 average notes, I have seen so many collections with 100’s of ordinary notes when 10 good notes would have been so much better in the long run but that’s a personal view. Collect because you enjoy it. I would have collected ancient coins as I love history and I still find it extraordinary that you can buy a large silver coin of Alexander the Great for less than a very average bank note.

Q. How can a seller navigate the decision of whether or not to consign a note to auction? Is there an era or area of bank note issues that is currently realizing elevated interest?

A. If you decide to sell I always advise auction as in a good auction you should achieve the correct exposure and market price and competition drives the market and I have seen remarkable prices in auction, again this is my personal opinion, not everybody is a fan of the auction business. If you have a dealer you trust, then take advice from them. I always talk through the process with clients, they are much more likely to consign if they feel comfortable with the process.

Q. Is there an era or area of bank note issues that is currently realizing elevated interest?

A. Markets ebb and flow, at the moment the Southeast Asian market is resurgent, the Middle East market, so long ignored, is very active. Polymer is a new market. It is hard to single out any special area, the bank note market is in rude health generally and is growing rapidly. When I started, bank notes were the Mickey Mouse hobby, coin dealers looked down on us and the idea of putting bank notes in a Spink auction was never contemplated. I remember a group of 12 Deutsch-Asiatische bank notes that I was grudgingly allowed to add to the end of a coin sale back in the early 80’s, I wish I had them again. Bank notes can now hold their heads up high and I hope that in a small way I have helped to elevate the hobby to a higher level.

Q. What do you most want people to understand and appreciate about bank notes?

A. I always use the argument that a stamp is small, not especially attractive or intricately printed whereas a bank note has to be printed to the highest specifications, has a large format and is colorful and quite often very attractive. The stamp market is vast, but bank notes are making inroads. There is so much to like about bank notes and I think now it is a matter of educating the collecting fraternity as to the merits of bank notes. You get a lot more bang for your buck with bank notes (I think that is the expression). Global auctions are increasing in our hobby as are prices and slowly but surely the message is reaching a wider audience.