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Irish World War 2 banknote issues

Started by Elak, November 15, 2021, 01:58:05 AM

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A few countries produced special or modified issues of banknotes during world War 2.

The wartime banknote issue of Ireland was very extensive. The notes are colloquially referred to as the war code notes, and exist under both Currency Commission Ireland and Central Bank of Ireland issuing authority headings.

In 1939, the Irish issuing authority Currency Commission Ireland altered its Legal Tender Note issues to contain a special marking on each banknote to track the production of the notes from printing in England to delivery in Ireland. These special markings took the form of two instances of a coloured letter in a circle on each note, and were printed on the lower five denominations, 10 Shillings, £1, £5, £10, £20 of notes with dates in 1940-1944.

Each denomination in a print run was assigned a unique code letter. The idea was that all notes with a particular code could be cancelled if they were lost due to enemy activity.

The full background story on the Irish World War 2 banknote issues became known a few years back when the Central Bank of Ireland archives were opened to public access. Prior to this, all knowledge on the banknotes was from observation of the notes themselves.

Illustrated are examples of a pre-war note, the two main versions of the war code note, and a post war note with the code discontinued.


That the code letters are an interesting way to secure the notes. Though not a collector of the wartime issues, I've seen some examples but never took note of the letters before. Do you know if any were ever lost and had to be cancelled, Elak?

Always Faithful


From memory, the first Kriegsmarine Enigma with 8 rotors was captured from a submarine that had stranded in the Irish sea, enabling Bletchley Park to study the wiring and come up with a method to decode these messages also. Point being that nazi submarines did operate where the freighters would have passed.

An unidentified coin is a piece of metal. An identified coin is a piece of history.


Quote from: brandm24 on November 15, 2021, 10:12:01 AMDo you know if any were ever lost and had to be cancelled, Elak?
There is no indication or records that any were lost in transit.

The printed notes were shipped by train, and then by steamer across the Irish Sea.


The earliest dates for the war code notes was in 1940, the first print run consisted of 10 Shilling and £5 notes.

Although the earliest date on a war code note is 30.7.40 (illustrated), Central Bank of Ireland records show that the £5 note was the first to enter circulation, most likely in March 1942.

There are 53 Ten Shilling; 52 One Pound; 41 Five Pound; 24 Ten Pound; and 11 Twenty Pound note dates with war codes, making 180 dates in total. Lots for the date collector to chase!


There were twelve codes used on the Currency Commission Ireland war code notes from 1940 to 1942.

Approximately three million notes were printed with each code of Ten Shilling notes and One Pound notes. An exception to this was the first printage of 10 Shilling notes, with approximately six million notes with code H being printed.

Below is a table of the codes used for each denomination.


Did the central bank and the currency commission issue notes simultaneously? If so, why the complication?

An unidentified coin is a piece of metal. An identified coin is a piece of history.


Quote from: Figleaf on November 18, 2021, 10:36:46 AM
Did the central bank and the currency commission issue notes simultaneously?

No, one replaced the other.
The Central Bank of Ireland was created to replace the Currency Commission Ireland by the Central Bank Act 1942.

This lead to a redesign of the Irish Legal Tender Notes with a change of issuing authority title to 'Central Bank of Ireland' from 'Currency Commission Ireland' on all banknotes from 1943 onwards.


After the creation of the Central Bank of Ireland in place of the Currency Commission, banknotes continued to be printed and issued with the war codes.

There were sixteen codes used on the Central Bank of Ireland war code notes from 1943 to 1944.
This included a small printage of £20 notes, produced in one print run, with code A in blue as a special marking.
The £20 is the only war code denomination which is rare.

Banknotes were back-dated when they were printed, and the last of the 1944-dated notes were printed in early 1945.
Usage of the codes in the printing process was promptly discontinued after VE Day.


The Currency Commission issued £1 notes and £5 notes with war marks on them with dates in 1941 and 1942.


I am still pondering those war marks. My understanding is that they were added in case a shipment was lost at sea and that the notes were produced in England, presumably by the usual suspect.

Ireland being neutral, the ships would still have been a legitimate target, as they were part of trading with a country that was clearly an enemy of the nazis. A far more obvious solution would have been to require from the printers that they set up a plant in Ireland or at least split the printing process, e.g. print the note in England but the serial number in Ireland.

Also, the number of war marks known seems too few. If they were connected to transport risk, they should have been linked to transport occurrences. In order for the marks to work optimally, you would require a mark for each shipment. If a ship were lost, cancellation of the mark would not cancel any legit banknotes already in circulation. But it's worse. You can't expect the public to distinguish between a brown and an orange E in circle, though they occur on different denominations, let alone a light blue and a dark blue H in circle on the same denomination. The obvious and much simpler solution would have been a register of the serial numbers of the notes on board each shipment, or, if the 'crats insisted, extension of the war mark with a ship number or mark.

An unidentified coin is a piece of metal. An identified coin is a piece of history.


The Currency Commission was intent on keeping costs to a minimum, and had enquired if the cost would have been less with fewer letters on each note! Setting up a printing operation would have involved higher cost than modifying the printing process.

The solution to the problem of tracking the notes need to be arrived at quickly. No time for setting up new plants.

The war marks were linked to transport occurrences. Each print run of a denomination was sent in one shipment. Some shipments consisted of more than one denomination.

I think that if a shipment did need to be cancelled, the public would be very astute in refusing to accept notes with a particular mark on them.

An amusing fact that I noticed from the Central Bank records on these, is that no one was informed of the war codes being added to the design, as there is record of the Currency Commission having received an enquiry from a bank as to their nature. The Bank of England was informed in 1943, months after the notes had entered circulation, a significant omission considering that the Irish Pound was linked to Sterling at par.


First date of issue for the Central Bank of Ireland war code notes.

Only the title of the Issuing Authority was changed in the design of the notes, all other details including signatories remained the same.


One of the scarcer dates for the 10 Shilling notes,


In view of the preoccupation with losses at sea, I expected a negative correlation between shipments and perceived danger (actual danger with a time lag for dissemination of information) from submarines. The attached graph shows how that second factor would have been judged in official quarters (source: Triumph in the Atlantic, by Chester Nimitz et al., ISBN 9781787200104).

Your scarce note is dated September 1943, when actual danger was low, but the last time it had been high was in June. Either there was no such correlation (e.g. because actual need for notes, not submarine danger was the leading driver) or the time lag was three months or more. This is of course only one data point. With shipment data you could get more data points.

An unidentified coin is a piece of metal. An identified coin is a piece of history.