Deborah Yaffe

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And another one bites the dust

By Deborah Yaffe, Feb 23 2017 02:00PM

I clearly don’t have much of a future as a soothsayer.


Back in December, I predicted that it could take many, many months for lucky Brits to find the four probably-quite-valuable £5 notes specially engraved with a tiny, hidden portrait of Jane Austen.


The first one, which engraver Graham Short had put into circulation in Wales, turned up the day after I made that confident prediction. The second was discovered in Scotland a couple of weeks later. And we learned this week that the third has now been located in Northern Ireland. So I’m officially out of the forecasting business. When will someone discover the final note, probably circulating somewhere in England? Don’t ask me. Really, don’t.


This Regency-themed version of Roald Dahl’s Golden Tickets, you’ll recall, began last December, when a Scottish art gallery commissioned Short to embellish a handful of the new Winston Churchill £5 notes with an Austen portrait encircled by an Austen quote. The stunt/art project commemorates this year’s bicentenary of Austen’s death, a few months ahead of the planned release of Austen’s more official currency portrait, as the face of the new £10 note.


Short’s painstaking work – he once engraved the Lord’s Prayer on the head of a pin – sells for tens of thousands of pounds, and so the British press has decided, based purely on speculative extrapolation, that each of the special fivers is worth £50,000.


The record so far suggests that your average Brit is less avaricious than, basically, any other human being on the planet. The finder of one of the Austen notes decided to frame it and keep it as artwork. A second passed it on to her granddaughter. And the latest mailed it back to the Scottish gallery. “I don’t need it at my time of life,” the anonymous finder wrote in an accompanying note. “Please use it to help young people.” (Plans are to auction the fiver to benefit a children’s charity.)


Given these precedents, if the finder of the last note sells it on eBay and blows the proceeds on a fabulous vacation, he or she might look a bit. . . shallow, don’t you think? Talk about pressure.


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