Deborah Yaffe


By Deborah Yaffe, Dec 16 2016 05:06PM

Just yesterday, I was expressing skepticism about whether the famous, allegedly valuable Jane Austen £5 notes would turn up any time soon.

And then today -- Jane Austen's birthday, no less! -- comes word that one of the four fivers specially engraved with a miniature portrait of Austen has indeed turned up. But no juicy details of the discovery, at least so far: the finder is described only as a senior citizen who plans to give it to her granddaughter.

It's delightful to learn, however, that the first note to be discovered is the one on which the Austen portrait by noted miniatures engraver Graham Short is encircled by Mary Crawford's apt line from Mansfield Park, “A large income is the best recipe for happiness I ever heard of.”

Apparently, this is the note that was put into circulation at a cafe in Wales -- the notes spent in Scotland, England and Northern Ireland remain at large. Happy hunting. . .

By Deborah Yaffe, Dec 15 2016 02:00PM

It’s been nearly two weeks already, but the British press cannot get enough of the Jane-Austen-meets-Roald-Dahl story of the specially engraved £5 notes.

You will recall that earlier this month, the owner of a Scottish art gallery announced that he was secretly circulating four £5 notes embellished with a hidden miniature portrait of Jane Austen by Graham Short, an artist who specializes in teeny-tiny engravings.

Short’s creations, which take months of painstaking work, have sold for tens of thousands of pounds, and so the reporters covering this story have decided, on the basis of little more than wishful thinking, that the Austen fivers could net similarly vast sums for anyone lucky enough to find one.

So far, we’ve learned that one of the magic fivers was spent on a sausage-and-egg sandwich from the Square Café in the southern Welsh town of Blackwood, another paid for two pies from Granny Jean’s Home Bakery in the Scottish town of Kelso, and a third purchased a snack at Ye Olde Pork Pie Shoppe in the Leicestershire town of Melton. No word yet, as far as I can tell, on where the Northern Irish note was dropped.

In case you want a leg up on the competition, however, a web site called AngleNews has helpfully supplied instructions for checking whether your fiver includes one of the hidden portraits, plus a list of the serial numbers of the four bills, each of which includes the Austen portrait encircled by one of four Austen quotes. (I’m delighted to see that one of them is Mary Crawford’s immortal – and, in this context, highly appropriate -- witticism, “A large income is the best recipe for happiness I ever heard of.”)

It’s hard to believe that the current atmosphere of breathless interest will be sustained much longer, unless one or two of the bills turns up quickly. And although we’re all hoping for a heartwarming finale – Priceless Fiver Pays for Blind Girl’s Eye Operation in Vienna; “It’s a Miracle!” Joyful Mum Shouts -- there’s no particular reason to think that will happen.

Unlike the Golden Tickets in Dahl’s Charlie and the Chocolate Factory, which were packaged with an easily identifiable food item produced in relatively small quantities, the Austen fivers are swimming in a vast sea of currency. They could spend months sitting unnoticed in a piggy bank, a trouser pocket or a bank teller’s drawer. We could be in for a long haul.

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