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The Changing of the Kings

On King George V's death, his eldest son ascended to the throne and became King Edward VIII in January 1936. To reflect the change in monarch, the £1 banknote was redesigned with a portrait of the new king; however, the banknote was not issued and higher denominations were not prepared. Edward's brief reign concluded in December 1936 with his abdication, owing to the prohibition on his intended marriage to Wallis Simpson, an American divorcee. The Bank's proof version is the only example of the intended banknote known to have survived.

Proof version of the unissued £1 banknote showing King Edward VIII, 1936.

Reserve Bank of Australia Archives, NP-003142.

Edward's brother, Albert, became the next heir and chose the regnal name of George VI to suggest continuity with his father. A new series of banknotes was designed and King George VI's portrait appeared on the 10 shillings and the £1, £5 and £10 banknotes. Issued between 1938 and 1940, the new series was directed again by John Ash, the Australian Note Printer.

King Edward VIII, (left) and King George VI (right), montage photograph composed of George VI's head superimposed on the torso of his brother, Prince Edward, the Duke of Windsor, pre-1938.

Reserve Bank of Australia Archives NP-003096, NP-003099.

An expedient solution was reached to devise a preliminary option for the new King's portrait on the banknotes. In fact, the image is a montage composed of two photographs: the head of George VI superimposed on the torso of his brother, Edward. As the design for the body portion had been prepared during Edward's reign, it was combined with his successor's head. Buckingham Palace advised that the grafting of the two photographs had resulted in the King wearing his brother's uniform of the Seaforth Highlanders, a regiment with which he had never been connected, and the image was disqualified from use.

The watermark profile of Edward, the Prince of Wales, which had appeared in the first Ash Series, was replaced with a portrait of Captain James Cook. The choice was influenced by the benefit of an historic identity not needing to be changed in the short term. The portrait was based on the Royal Society's commemorative medal of James Cook from 1784.

Watermark portraying Captain James Cook used for the second Ash Series, from the £5 banknote.

Reserve Bank of Australia Archives, P13/1046. NP-003720

Lewis Pingo, The Royal Society medal in commemoration of Captain James Cook 1784.

National Portrait Gallery, Australia, 2007.30.

The Possibilities of High Denominations

Banknotes for the £50 and £100 denominations were designed for both the first and second Ash Series, bearing portraits of King George V and King George VI, respectively. The banknotes were not issued owing to the possibility that high denominations may facilitate tax evasion and blackmarket activities.

The mining industry had revived strongly in the 1930s and was represented on the back of the unissued £50 banknote. The dairy industry had also developed well during the 1920s and 1930s and was selected for the vignette on the back of the unissued £100 banknote.

The backs of the unissued £50 and £100 banknotes from the Ash Series.

Reserve Bank of Australia Archives, NP-002226, NP-002265.

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