Deborah Yaffe

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Oompa-Loompa

By Deborah Yaffe, Dec 5 2016 02:00PM

Someday very soon, a lucky Brit will turn a crisp new £5 note to the light, just so, and something unexpected will appear: A tiny engraving of Jane Austen’s face, framed by its familiar cap and encircled by a line from one of Austen's novels.


Months before the release of the new £10 note, which features a much larger and easier-to-spot portrait of Austen, a Scottish art gallery commissioned a famous engraver to put the nearly invisible mini-Jane on five newly released £5 notes, which officially bear the portrait of Winston Churchill. Four of the Austen-embellished notes were put into circulation over the weekend; the fifth was donated to the UK Jane Austen Society.


In an interview with the Daily Record, a Scottish tabloid, the canny gallery owner behind this publicity stunt evoked the beloved memory of Roald Dahl’s Charlie and the Chocolate Factory, wherein, you will recall, five coveted Golden Tickets to a behind-the-scenes tour of Willy Wonka’s candy-making operation were concealed inside random chocolate bars.


It’s not clear whether the Jane Austen fivers will be worth more than, well, £5. The Daily Record's breathless headline values them at £50,000, or more than $63,000, but this stratospheric estimate appears to be based on the prices for other works by the same miniatures artist, Graham Short, who once engraved the Lord’s Prayer on the head of a pin. (According to Short’s website, he has only completed forty-eight of these painstaking masterworks in his entire seventy-year lifetime, so perhaps the estimate isn’t quite as over the top as it sounds. If you want one of these Jane Austen fivers, keep one hand on your checkbook and one eye on eBay.)


Meanwhile, I’m diverting myself by imagining what non-monetary prize a finder of the Jane Austen £5 Golden Ticket might appropriately receive. A tour of the factory where Janeite Oompa-Loompas turn out a vast array of identical Pride and Prejudice sequels? The chance to sample a pill containing an entire high tea, from cucumber sandwiches to scones? A thrilling ride on a river of turgid literary-critical jargon? I’m seeing movie possibilities here, people. . .


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