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  • Writer's pictureDeborah Yaffe

Still missing

In the annals of news-that-isn’t-exactly-new, the year 1975 holds a special place.

That fall, the Spanish dictator Francisco Franco lapsed into a coma. For nearly three weeks, the evening newscasts featured stories about Franco’s lingering, along the lines of “Francisco Franco is still clinging to life,” before he finally died on November 20 at the age of eighty-two.

Then Saturday Night Live got into the act: For weeks afterwards -- months? Years? -- its parody newscast would often include an anchor reporting, “In other news, Francisco Franco is still dead.”

In that spirit, I note that earlier this month, a newspaper in Leicestershire, England, helpfully pointed out that the last Jane Austen Golden Fiver has still not been found.

You remember the Golden Fivers. Back in December 2016, a famous micro-engraver named Graham Short decorated four UK £5 notes with a teeny-tiny portrait of Jane Austen encircled by a teeny-tiny quote from one of her novels. Then he secretly spent the notes in England, Scotland, Wales, and Northern Ireland and waited for them to turn up in the pockets of unsuspecting consumers.

Newspapers breathlessly reported that, based on pricing of other works by Short, who is known for mind-blowing feats like engraving the Lord’s Prayer on the head of a pin, each fiver could be worth as much as £50,000 (about $67,000).

In the following year, these things happened: People found the Scottish, Welsh, and Northern Irish notes. Two of the finders decided to keep their notes as souvenirs, but the third returned hers to the art gallery that had planned this Charlie and the Chocolate Factory-type stunt, asking that it be sold and the proceeds used to help children. When the note was auctioned to benefit BBC Children in Need, the charitable arm of the venerable broadcaster, it fetched £5,000 (about $6,700) -- which is either a heck of a lot for a piece of currency with a face value of under $7, or a bitter disappointment, depending on how credulously you swallowed that £50,000 estimate.

But as the Leicester Mercury notes, here’s what didn’t happen: No one found the English note, which Short says he spent at Ye Olde Pork Pie Shoppe in the Leicestershire town of Melton Mowbray. By now, the last Golden Fiver could be anywhere, from Melton Mowbray to Edinburgh, from the piggy bank of a child in Cornwall to the saved-for-my-next-UK-trip stash of a tourist in Hong Kong. It could turn up tomorrow! Next Christmas! Or never!

And Francisco Franco is still dead.


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