1860 Hong Kong $5 note brings nearly $280K at auction

A historic Hong Kong banknote nearly tripled its pre-sale estimate to hammer down for £130,000 (about $227,000 Cdn.) at a U.K. auction last month.

Offered as Lot 503, Hong Kong’s “earliest known fully issued banknote of any denomination” served as the centerpiece of Dix Noonan Webb’s Aug. 26 sale, according to auctioneers. The Oriental Bank Corp.’s June 1, 1860-dated $5 bill illuminates the numismatic history of China’s special administrative region, which is now home to more than seven million people.

Until 1858, the Oriental Bank Corp. was the only bank to issue notes in the rapidly growing Hong Kong, which was then a British colony with a tiny fraction of its current population.

“Dix Noonan Webb was honored to offer this banknote, which rewrites the history of Hong Kong numismatics,” said Andrew Pattison, who heads the firm’s banknote department.

According to a statement from Paper Money Guaranty (PMG), which certified the early rarity as Fine-12, the note’s condition “made it difficult to determine the date written by hand on the front.” PMG’s graders used “special equipment” to confirm the note was genuine with a handwritten date of June 1, 1860, making it the earliest known “fully issued banknote” to have survived from Hong Kong’s formative years.

“PMG was excited to certify another important discovery in the paper money world,” said PMG grading finalizer Chad Hawk. “Over half the notes that PMG has graded are from China, and the flourishing community that collects these banknotes trusts our expertise.”

STRONG BIDDING

The back of the note (shown) features the bank’s name and denomination.

The note drew spirited bidding, resulting in a realization well beyond its pre-sale estimate of £30,000-£50,000 (about $52,000 to $87,000 Cdn.).

It’s now one of the most expensive Chinese banknotes sold at auction, the PMG statement added.

The winning bid came from a collector in Hong Kong, according to auctioneers.

The Oriental Bank Corp. was a global banking power based in London, England, with another large office in Edinburgh, Scotland. The bank went out of business in the late 1800s.

Auctioneers suggested the note, which represented a considerable amount of money, was likely brought from Hong Kong by someone returning to the United Kingdom before it was subsequently forgotten.

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