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Homage to Harrison

New printing works were commissioned in 1924 at Victoria Parade, Fitzroy, Melbourne to replace the King's Warehouse premises, where the first series had been printed. The change reflected the transfer of responsibility for the banknotes' issuance to the Commonwealth Bank's board of directors. Larger and more secure than the previous premises, the printing operations remained at this address until 1981 when they were moved to Craigieburn, Victoria.

The second series of banknotes was printed between 1923 and 1925 with the intention of improving their security and preventing the counterfeiting that had occurred with the first series. The second series became known as the Harrison Series as a tribute to the Australian Note Printer, Thomas Harrison.

Thomas Harrison at his desk, Punch (Melbourne Weekly).

Reproduced courtesy of News Ltd.

King George V.

Reserve Bank of Australia Archives, NP-003093.

The banknotes reproduced most of the images from the first series, but differed from it in a number of ways. As the general public rarely used banknotes higher than £10, the second series was limited to four denominations: 10 shillings, £1, £5 and £10. The new banknotes were smaller in size, allowing six rather than four banknotes to be printed per sheet, thereby increasing efficiency. Strong colour contrasts between the denominations assisted in distinguishing between them.

Additional measures were introduced to improve the new series' resistance to counterfeiting. The banknotes were printed on watermarked paper of high quality, and the choice of colours, their intricate backgrounds and patterns were especially difficult to reproduce by photography. The portrait of the British monarch King George V was included on each denomination, possibly to enhance the banknotes' security as it was thought that portraits were more difficult to counterfeit.1

Like the first series, the new banknotes attracted criticism related to their durability and questionable hygiene, especially following the influenza pandemic of 1918. The artist Louis McCubbin publicly criticised the definition of the banknotes' printing. At this time he was designing dioramas of First World War battles for the Australian War Memorial, and he recommended reproducing sculptural images on the banknotes to improve their clarity.2 The suggestion was realised with the design of the 1930s and 1950s banknotes, the subject of the second guide in this series.


1. The printers for British India had conducted an inquiry into banknote printing that found portraiture increased the difficulty for counterfeiting. Reserve Bank of Australia Archives, Note Board Papers, N-N-3

2. G.C.Dixon, Ugly Stamps Criticised by Artists ‘Disgrace to Australia’, The Herald (Melbourne), 4 October 1923, p. 12.

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