Most expensive banknote sold at a UK auction

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31 August 2021
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A remarkable and recently discovered ‘Hong Kong 1860’ Five Dollar Banknote - the earliest known fully issued banknote of any denomination for Hong Kong – sold for £161,200 at Dix Noonan Webb recently.

Bought by a in Hong Kong, the note was issued by the Oriental Bank Corporation - the first bank to open a branch in Hong Kong - the note is dated 1 June 1860, and has the serial number 20465.

It bears the signature of the Manager, John McDouall, at right and the Accountant, James Webster, at left, with a Royal Coat of Arms at upper centre. The only other issued notes from the Oriental Bank Corporation to have survived are dated 1866 and 1879, three of which are in private collections, and several others in institutions.


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Scottish connection

It is interesting to note that throughout its history, the Bank had its head office in London and a sizeable branch in Edinburgh. The majority of its Court of Directors were Scottish, along with a great many of its senior overseas staff.

Andrew Pattison, Head of Banknote Department at Dix Noonan Webb, said:

“We are delighted with the superb result achieved for this incredibly important banknote. This is the highest price ever achieved at auction for a Hong Kong banknote and the fact that it is returning to its country of origin is particularly gratifying. One can only imagine what John McDouall and James Webster, the two men who signed the note in 1860, would make of this!”

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The Oriental Bank

The Oriental Bank was an evolution of an earlier institution, the Bank of Western India, which was founded in 1842.

It expanded quickly, opening branches all over India and Southeast Asia, and was renamed The Oriental Bank.

Following the acquisition of the Bank of Ceylon in 1850, the bank was granted a Royal Charter and was renamed the Oriental Bank Corporation in 1851. By the mid 1850s the bank had over 20 branches, with some as far afield as New Zealand, California, and Mauritius, most of which were issuing banknotes.


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Banknote printers

This note was printed by Batho & Bingley, a relatively small London printer that operated from the early 1830’s through to the late 1850’s.

All notes issued by the Oriental Bank (and the Oriental Bank Corporation) in Hong Kong from 1846 until 1865 were printed by Batho & Bingley, after which the contract was taken over by Perkins Bacon. Batho & Bingley also printed notes for the Oriental Bank in Singapore, Ceylon, Australia, India and probably their other branches as well.

As the bank gradually ran out of Batho & Bingley notes in each of these branches, all new printing contracts were instead awarded to Perkins Bacon. It is also interesting to note that a Batho & Bingley design for a Glasgow Bank note, produced in the mid 1840s, is almost identical to this note in all respects.

This is another Scottish connection, and may explain why such an obscure printing company was chosen to provide notes for a major overseas bank.