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grading + new collectors guide

Grading + New Banknote Collectors Guide


Notaphily Today

Collecting Banknotes, Notaphily as it is known, is a most enjoyable hobby. Unlike coins and stamps where collectors number millions, far fewer individuals collect banknotes. There are an estimated 8,000 notaphilists worldwide.

Globally, with changes in governments, emerging states, variety in denominations, inflation, deflation, etc., millions of banknotes are printed each day. The variety, sheer volumes issued, quality and types can satisfy the casual to the most serious collector.

As collectors we keep the financial history of the world safe for future generations.

Collecting Banknotes

What is collecting banknotes all about? It is a hobby that gives you pleasure. It is about finding something that you like or adding to those that you already own, or it is making a discovery (even if someone else has made the same discovery). You can, however, be assured that when you make your first purchase, you will be impressed with the beauty and quality of printing and will wish to carry on. There may be a specific subject that appeals to you - birds, reptiles, waterfalls, transport, military, errors. Doctors may collect medicine, etc. You may have visited a country and been impressed by the notes you brought home with you; been given them by friends or relatives; seen an odd one for sale somewhere. You may start collecting English notes, Isle of Man, Jersey, Guernsey, Irish or Scottish because you use them and remember how they looked long ago, or military notes because you are an ex-soldier or perhaps you are interested in a particular period in history, ultimately you will join a hobby that is flourishing and spreading day by day.

Storing Your Collection

Whatever area of the hobby interests you, you must look after your notes. Paper can be very volatile and certainly easy to make dirty, mark, fade, etc. Just handling a note can leave a greasy mark that is not necessarily detectable by the naked eye. Place your notes in an album, stock book, wallet, storage box facility and you will be creating the right environment to continue safely adding to your collection. If you put them in individual archival wallets first, you will be able to view, move and handle them as many times as you like without any damaging consequences.

Within  the modern Bank of England series there are many ways in which to start a collection English Banknotes, such as :-

One denomination (10s, £1, £5, etc), Signature types, Error banknotes, Special numbers, Replacements, White banknotes, Treasury banknotes, Trial banknotes, Specimen banknotes, Bernhard forgeries, etc etc


  • Series A -1928-1962 - The English Britannia period with 5 signatures and a minimum of 14 x 10s and 14 x £1's. There are also varieties to collect such as Thread / No Thread banknotes, Replacements banknotes and Sub Series.


  • Series B - 1957-1967 - (only one note) A short lived series incorporating, in my opinion, the most artistic £5 designed by Stephen Gooden R.A. Although officially called Helmeted Britannia, the note is often referred to as the Lion and Key banknote (B277 / B280). 


  • Series C - 1960-1979 - The English Portrait period with 4 signatories, 3 x 10s, 4 x £1, 3 x £5 and 3 x £10 to collect. These were the first banknotes the Queen consented for her portrait to appear. 


  • Series D - 1970-1994 - The English Pictorial period began with a £20 banknote signed by Fforde,quite scarce. The first time this denomination had appeared since the early 1940's. This series includes 4 signatories, 2 x £1, 3 x £5, 4 x £10, 4 x £20 and 3 x £50. There are a great many varieties to collect.


  • Series E - 1990 - 1999 - The English Historical period includes, 3 x £5, 2 x £10, 3 x £20 and 2 x £50 covering 4 signature varieties. The current Chief Cashier is Andrew Bailey.  The £20 featured Sir Edward Elgar. The £10 banknote features Charles Darwin. In May 2002 a new £5 banknote featuring Elizabeth Fry was introduced. The first prefix of HA01 with Merlyn Lowther's signature, continuing into the Bailey signature, however, due to production problems these notes were recalled then re-issued in August 2002. The £10 banknote featuring Dickens will not be deemed legal tender as of November 21st 2003. The £50 Bailey banknote began with prefix M01.  The £50 banknote is well overdue for a change.


  • Series F - 2007- ongoing - The New Historical English Banknotes design commenced with a £20 featuring the Scottish Economist, Adam Smith. New denominations are expected in 2009.   



           Treasury Banknote T 1  Bradbury  1914


Replacement Banknotes
        When the uncut sheets of notes are being checked, faulty sheets are removed.  To maintain the
numeracy of the stack these are replaced with perfect sheet of notes.  These replacement sheets are
numbered separately, usually with an M prefix (LL prefix in modern times), in earlier years the prefix A,
S--S, T--D, etc, were used.  The top left corner note of the first normal sheet would be numbered eg.,
BC42 000001 the second note would be BC43 000001, etc., the sheet below would be numbered
BC42 000002, the second note being BC43 000002, so when a stack of 100 sheets is guillotined,
each bundle of 100 notes is numbered down the bundle 1 to 100.  If a sheet has been removed, it
would have been replaced with an M or LL sheet, thus maintaining the numeracy of the stack.


Column Sort Banknotes
        De la Rue, the Bank of England printers, like everyone else, is trying to save money.  So, when
part faulty sheets are removed from the stack, they are set aside.  The errors on the sheets would
have been marked with a yellow / orange phosphorescent pen.  The sheets would then be guillotined
into columns, the good  columns sorted out for individual guillotining and numbering. Hence the
prefix / serials on column sorts are usually in a higher range. i.e., regular note A35 000001 to
A35 800000.  Column Sorts  A35 900001 to A35 999999.


Treasury Control Banknotes

        Control banknotes are found at the bottom right hand corner of the sheet and were probably

used for accounting purposes, though, this has yet to be confirmed.  They always carry the prefix Z. 
The rest of the sheet being a regular prefix.


Break Numbers
        Sometimes a signature change occurs in the middle of a prefix run. For example in Isle of Man,
Stallard £5 B prefix ends B 600000.  Dawson signature begins B 600001.
                                 The Break Number is 600000.

Within each series, some changes will have occurred, mainly security / economy related. Our banknotes have become smaller over time more colourful etc


Serial types you can collect

British banknotes usually have a 6 digit serial. World banknotes can have up to 9 digits.

Solid             888888     111111    333333  etc

Ladder         123456      876543  

Radar           379973

Leopard 3       ---555

Double Leopard   222777

Lion 4             --3333

Tiger 5           -99999

Elephant 6     --666666

Dinosaur 7     -2222222

Kylin  8            55555555

Step Set         -----7   ----77    ---777   --7777    -77777

Rising Set      000002   000020    000200    002000    020000    200000


Serial Meanings

Asians will not buy banknotes with a 4 at the end,

or have a phone number  or credit card with a 4 at the end

But will pay a premium for a banknote with 8's at the end

8    Wealth

3    life

9    Forever

7    Misery

4    Death



I use English Paper Money by Vincent Duggleby and recommend it as the most useful for Treasury and Bank of England banknotes. For the Isle of Man banknotes I list by Pick & Quarmby's Banks and Banknotes in the Isle of Man.  A profusely illustrated book including Internment Camp, Local issues and IOM banks. For Jersey and Guernsey banknotes, I tend to use the Pick Catalogues.

Scottish banknotes, as with the Irish banknotes, I give as much detail as possible. The two Scottish catalogues by James Douglas are out of print - they give details up to 1984 and 1986 respectively. A third volume covers the Clydesdale Bank banknotes and its issues and is a refreshing opportunity to obtain information about this interesting bank and its banknotes. Otherwise I use the Pick Catalogues. The site uses Pick numbers as reference as Pick and the Site is used world wide.

I can empathise with any collector of Banknotes - the banknotes are lovely, and the pockets not so deep. If, like me, you tend to see more than you can afford at present, call me and discuss my layaway facilities. Peter and I are always at your disposal to discuss your requirements - all letters / Emails are responded to. Once you have purchased from the list you will automatically be added to the list / Email Database. Lists covering a specialised subject sent by post in the UK. £5 annually to non buyers.

International Bank Note Society Grading Standard

Grading is the most controversial component of paper money collecting today. Small differences in grade can mean significant differences in value. The process of grading is so subjective and dependent on external influences such as lighting, that even a very experienced individual may well grade the same note differently (half a grade) on separate occasions.

To facilitate communication between sellers and buyers, it is essential that grading terms and their meanings be standardised and as widely used as possible. This standardisation should reflect common usage as much as practicable. One difficulty with grading is that even the actual grades themselves are not used every place and by everyone. For example, in Europe the grade About Uncirculated (AUNC or AU) is not in general use, yet in North America it is widespread. The European term Good VF may roughly correspond to what individuals in North America would call EF.

The grades and definitions as set out here cannot reconcile all the various systems and grading terminology variants. Rather, an attempt is made here to try and diminish the controversy with some common sense grades and definitions that aim to give more precise meaning to the grading language of paper money.


In order to ascertain the grade of a note, it is essential to examine it out of a holder and under a good light. Move the note around so that the light bounces off at different angles. Try holding it up obliquely so that the note is almost even with your eye as you look up at the light. Hard-to-see folds or slight creases will show up under such examination. Do look at the reverse of the note too. Some individuals also lightly feel along the surface of the note to detect creasing.


Cleaning, washing or pressing paper money is generally harmful and reduces both the grade and the value of a note. At the very least, a washed or pressed note may lose its original sheen and its surface may become lifeless and dull. The defects a note had, such as folds and creases, may not necessarily be completely eliminated and their telltale marks can be detected under a good light. Carelessly washed notes may have white streaks where the folds or creases were (still are).

Processing of a note will automatically reduce it at least one full grade devaluing it.

Glue, tape, or pencil marks may sometimes be successfully removed. While such removal will enhance the appearance of the note, under a light it can be seen. Under such circumstances, the grade of the note may be improved. It would be advisable to use a professional crafts person or ask for advise.

The words pinholes, staple holes, trimmed, writing on face, ink annotation, tape marks, etc. should always be added to the description of a note. It is realized that certain countries routinely staple their notes together in groups before issue. In such cases, the description can include a comment such as usual staple holes or something similar. After all, not everyone knows that such-and-such a note cannot be found otherwise.

One cannot lower the overall grade of a note with staple holes simply because of the defects. The price will reflect the lowered worth of a defective note, but the description must always include the specific defects. The word Uncirculated: is used in this grading guide only as a qualitative measurement of the appearance of a note. It has nothing at all to do with whether or not an issuer has actually released the note to circulation. Thus the term About Uncirculated is justified and acceptable because so many notes that have never seen hand-to-hand use have been mishandled at the printers. So that they are available in, at best, AUNC condition. Either a note is uncirculated in condition or it not; there can be no degree of uncirculated. Highlights or defects in colour, centering and the like may be included in the description but the fact that a note is or is not in uncirculated condition should not be a disputable point.

GRADING GUIDE - Definition of Terms

UNCIRCULATED - UNC:  A perfectly preserved note, never mishandled by the issuing authority, a bank teller, the public or a collector. Paper is clean and firm, without discoloration. Corners are sharp and square, without any evidence of rounding. (Rounded corners are often telltale sign of a cleaned or “doctored” note.)

An uncirculated note will have its original natural sheen.  Not matt.

NOTE: Some note issues are most often available with slight evidence of counting folds (creases). Also, French-printed notes usually have a sight ripple in the paper. Many collectors and dealers often refer to such a note as AU-UNC or AUNC. In the UK some notes can be found with a small ‘dink’ (moon) caused when pressure from the guillotine/cutpak machine forces the paper down at the thread area, causing an indentation or small ‘dink’ (moon).

Earlier large Scottish notes more often than not have two folds approximately a third in, often referred to as Scottish Unc but are in fact EF.  All Scottish banks used small drawers to store their notes. Folding them to get them in. 

ABOUT UNCIRCULATED - AUNC:  A virtually perfect note, with some minor handling. May show evidence of bank counting folds at a corner or one light fold/roll fold through the centre, but not both. An AU note cannot be creased, a crease being a hard fold which has usually “broken” the surface of a note. Paper is clean and bright with original sheen. Corners are not rounded.

NOTE: Europeans will refer to an About Uncirculated (AUNC or AU) note as EF-UNC or as just EF. The extremely fine note described below will often be referred to as GVF or Good Very Fine.

EXTREMELY FINE - EF (or XF USA):  A very attractive note, with light handling. May have a maximum of three light folds or one strong crease. Paper is clean and bright with original sheen. Corners may show only the slightest evidence of rounding. There may also be the slightest sign of wear where a fold meets the edge.

VERY FINE - VF:  An attractive note, but with more evidence of handling and wear. May have a number of folds both vertically and horizontally. Paper may have minimal dirt, or possible colour smudging. Paper itself is still relatively crisp and not floppy. There are no tears into the border area, although the edges do show slight wear. Corners also show wear but not full rounding.

FINE - F:  A note which shows considerable circulation with many folds, creases and wrinkling. Paper is not excessively dirty, but may have some softness. Edges may show much handling with minor tears in the border area. Tears may not extend into the design. There will be no centre hole because of folding. Colours are clear but not bright. A staple hole or two would not be considered unusual wear in a Fine note.

VERY GOOD - VG:  A well used note, abused but still intact. Corners may have much wear and rounding, tiny nicks, tears may extend into the design, some discoloration may be present, staining may have occurred, and a small hole may be seen at centre from excessive folding. Staple and pinholes are usually present, and the note itself is quite limp but NO pieces of the note can be missing. A note in VG condition may still have an overall not unattractive appearance.

GOOD - G:  A well worn and heavily used note. Normal damage from prolonged circulation will include strong multiple folds and creases, stains, pinholes, and/or staple holes, dirt, discoloration, edge tears, centre hole, rounded corners and an overall unattractive appearance. No large pieces of the note may be missing. Graffiti is commonly seen on notes in Good condition.

:  A totally limp, dirty and very well used note. Larger pieces may be half torn off or missing, beside the defects mentioned under the Good category. Tears will be larger, obscured portions of the note will be bigger.

POOR - P:  A rag with severe damage because of wear, staining, pieces missing, graffiti, larger holes. May have tape holding pieces of the note together. Trimming may have taken place to remove rough edges. A Poor note is desirable only as a filler or when such note is the only one known of that particular issue.



Abbreviation  UNC  –  AUNC  –  EF (or XF USA)  –  VF  –  F  –  VG  –  G  –  Fair  –  P



Third Party Grading / Slabbing:  Approximate number given in brackets


  • UNC      Uncirculated.  Mint condition  100%   (66 67)

  • AUNC    About Uncirculated.  Has a count bounce mark / machine count mark  (65)

  • EF         Extremely Fine.  Has one harsh crease or three light folds   (55)

  • VF         Very Fine.  Shows more signs of handling and wear, may have several folds   (40)

  • F           Fine.  Shows considerable circulation, lots of folds / wrinkles   (35)

  • VG         Very Good.  A well used note, will have damage, but complete    (12)  

  • G           Good.  A well worn and damaged note from being well circulated     (6)

  • P           Poor.  A rag 

Within the perimeters of the above, if any of our banknotes have ink annotations, pin holes, these will be listed separately.

On the reverse of a slab.

 Other Abreviations Used

  • p/h     pin hole
  • p/hs    pin holes
  • ano     annotation
  • ink      ink writing or smudge
  • ph      punch hole
  • phs     punch holes



         B383  Replacement  LL-- prefix  

There are many useful banknote catalogues that can help a collector.

This is a list of those I recommend :-

             English Paper Money  9th Ed   by  Pam West & V. Duggleby  

Covers :-  Treasury Banknotes, White Banknotes, included Branch White banknotes, Firsts & Lasts, etc etc etc


  • Paper Money of Ireland  Ed 2  The definitive book on Irish notes    by Jonathan Callaway

  • Pick Vol. 1   Covers Specialised banknote issues - those banks that no longer issue notes, world wide 

  • Pick Vol. II    Covers General  banknote issues 1650 to 1960 - the banks that currently issue notes

  • Pick Vol. III   Covers Modern banknote  issues from 1961 to 2011 - all issuing banks

  •  Paper Money of Scotland  Vol 1    by J Callaway & D Murphy

  • Paper Money of Scotland  Vol 2    by J Callaway & D Murphy

  • Isle of Man Paper Money  by  Pam West & Alan Kelly 2015  Covers All Isle of Man banknotes 1809 to date

  • Currencies of the Anglo-Norman Isles  by  A.L.T. McCammon  1984  Covers Jersey banknotes, Guernsey banknote

  • Banknote Yearbook  Covers England Ireland Scotland Channel Islands Isle of Man guide to collecting





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