Banknote collecting guide: Planes, airports and pilots on banknotes


05 October 2018
Banknote and stamp collector Brian Asquith gives a brief history of planes, airports and pilots illustrated on the world's banknotes

My interest in aviation started at about four years old when my mother popped me into the cockpit of a biplane which had made an unscheduled landing on the moor near to where we lived at Morley in Yorkshire. During National Service I was fortunate enough to fly as an Air Signaller during which time I flew on one of the last Lancaster bombers in service with the RAF, on Coastal Command, out of St Mawgan in Cornwall.

Having been more-or-less a life-time collector of all things philatelic (stamps and postal history), I have formed various aviation-related collections including Concorde and Chinese Air Mails.

On retirement from a career in banking, I put together a collection of aviation on banknotes.

Having bought one or two I went through Pick, the World Paper Money catalogue, and listed all the banknotes which had a reference to aviation, aircraft, airports, pilots, parachutes and so on. Unfortunately Pick doesn't always mention such things, particularly if they are only a minor part of the design, or if they are on the back of the note (which most of them are) so there were others to find by looking through dealers' stocks and, of course, new issues.

Banknotes showing early aviation experiments


Lawrence Hargrave, who lived from 1850-1915, was born in Greenwich, England but in his teens emigrated to Australia with his family. Starting as an engineer-draughtsman he was appointed as an assistant to the astronomer at Sydney Observatory in 1877, but early in the 1880s he received a legacy which made him independent and allowed him to pursue his interest in flight.

He conducted numerous experiments with rubber-motored flying models, built the first rotary aircraft engine in 1889 and is remembered as the inventor of the box-kite in 1893. His findings were published in Australia, Europe and America. The Commonwealth of Australia, Reserve Bank issued a $20 note between 1966 and 1972 which depicts Hargrave and some of his aeronautical devices on the back.

On the front is Captain Charles Kingsford Smith who, with CTP Ulm was the first to fly across the Pacific in a Fokker F.VIIB Southern Cross, from San Francisco to Brisbane in 1928. Different signatories can be found on this note and a reserve banknote in the same design was produced from 1974 onwards.

Alberto Santos-Dumont was a rich Brazilian living in Paris at the time of his first involvement in aeronautics in 1898.

On October 19, 1901 he made a 30-minute flight in his Airship VI from St Cloud, flying around the Eiffel Tower before returning to his starting point, winning the Deutsch prize of 100,000 gold francs for his achievement. A generous 75,000 of this was given to the poor of Paris and the rest to the men who built the airship.

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Santos-Dumont needed to keep accurate time checks whilst in the air and found his fob-watch difficult to use as he was so involved in the manipulation of the various controls of his airship. With the aid of the French jeweller Cartier he solved this problem by inventing the wrist watch.

It was he who made the first heavier-than-air flight in Europe at Bagatelle in his 14-Bis, on September 13, 1906, which is depicted on the reverse of a Brazilian 10,000 cruzeiros note issued in 1966. The note illustrated is the 10 cruzeiros overprint issued in 1967. A portrait of Santos-Dumont wearing his distinctive hat is shown on the front.

South Atlantic adventure
The Portuguese pilots Gago Coutinho and Sacadura Cabral set off in a British-built Fairey IIIC Lusitania from Lisbon, in Portugal, on March 13, 1922. Unfortunately this aircraft crashed on the island of St Paul and the journey to Rio de Janeiro, Brazil was completed, on June 16, 1922, in another Fairey IIID 'Santa Cruz'.

This was the first crossing of the South Atlantic and was commemorated in 1978 with a 20 escudo note showing Admiral Coutinho on the front and a Fairey IIID on the back. The actual aircraft is in the Maritime Museum at Belem, near Lisbon and a full scale, metal model, is outside on the promenade nearby. Mozambique also issued notes commemorating this event.

The scarcest of the aviation banknotes is the high value, 500 franc note issued by French Guyana in 1940-42 showing the Boeing 314 Clipper. Only six of these were built for Pan Am, the first one being flown on June 7, 1938. Transatlantic Clipper air mail services, using the 314, were started on May 20, 1939 between the USA and Great Britain. A further six, designated 314A with improved range and performance were then built for Pan Am, with the first flight on March 20, 1941. Three of these were eventually sold to British Overseas Airways Corporation (BOAC).

The Gibraltar £50 note, issued in 1995, shows Spitfires at the North Front, in 1942 and there is the added bonus of a fine engraving of Winston Churchill. The magnificent Martin-Baker MB5 fighter, with contra-rotating propellers, which first flew in May 1944 but never went into service, can be found on the Northern Bank £100 note along with Sir James Martin and the Martin-Baker Ejector Seat, which went into service in jet fighter aircraft around the world. 

Over the years a number of countries have issued notes showing their airports including Angola in 1956 where a 50 escudos shows Craveiro Lopez Airport, Luanda; a 1977 Saudi Arabia 1 riyal note and a Lockheed L-1011 Tristar over Dhahran Airport; a 1980 Kenya 50 shilling note with an MD80 flying over Jomo Kenyatta Airport, Nairobi and an Indonesian 1993 50,000 rupiah depicting a Boeing 747 taking off from Bandara Udara Airport. There are other examples to look out for.

British Airways leased Concorde to Singapore Airlines for flights to and from Singapore and one of the supersonic aircraft, Concorde 210, G-BOAD, was painted on one side in the Singapore Airlines Livery (Nov. 1977) with British Airways on the other. Unfortunately it was on the opposite side to that illustrated on the back of the Singapore $20 issued in 1979.

The theme of flight isn't just limited to our own planet. The 5c, 10c and 50c American Military Payment Certificates, issued between 1969 and 1970 and used by US forces in their service canteens around the world, have a spaceman orbiting high above the earth. Another banknote demonstrating man's attempts to conquer space is an Indian 2 rupee, issued in 1984, showing an Orbiting Satellite.

Not too many banknote collectors collect by theme, but with aviation the sky's the limit!