Just when you thought everyone had forgotten about the final Jane Austen Mystery Fiver – the still-missing British £5 note engraved with a tiny portrait of Our Jane – comes word that a copycat engraver may be out there muddying the waters.
You will recall that, late last year, Graham Short, an artist specializing in tiny engravings, embellished four £5 notes with Austen portraits and quotes and then secretly released the notes into the vast sea of British currency. By now, three of the four have been found, but one is still out there somewhere. The press speculates, based on the prices of Short’s past work, that the Austen notes in this Regency Roald Dahl story could be worth as much as £50,000.
Given the hysterical excitement that greeted this stunt, perhaps it was inevitable that a prankster would decide to mess with our collective heads. And so it was that last week, a businesswoman in the Leicestershire town where the missing fiver was originally spent happened across what she thought was the elusive quarry.
Winston Churchill £5 note? Check. Tiny portrait of Austen right there next to Big Ben? Check. Quote from Pride and Prejudice? Um – nope. Instead of Elizabeth Bennet’s immortal words “I hope I never ridicule what is wise or good,” a rather more prosaic sentiment encircled Tiny Jane: “Look for serial number AL22171910.”
What this means is anyone’s guess. Is this the serial number of a different bill destined to play a role in some new literary scavenger hunt? Is it a strangely opaque advertising ploy? Is it even a real serial number? It’s all starting to look less like a novel by Jane Austen and more like one by Agatha Christie.