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A Collectors Perspective on World Banknotes


This is the fourth interview that I have had the privilege of doing over the past few weeks. With most of the country being asked to shelter in place, it has afforded me the opportunity to connect with some collectors and dealers who are excited to talk about numismatics. I personally collect world banknotes featuring elephants and am always looking to acquire new specimens. During my pursuit, I have had the privilege of getting to know other individuals who have a great passion for world banknotes; this individual is no different. His love and knowledge of world banknotes is infectious and has prompted me to take a fresh look at my own collection. I hope you enjoy it!

When did you first get into numismatics?

My curiosity in numismatics started around 1996 when I was eight or nine years old. My father is an electrical engineer who worked for Siemens during the 1990s, and he was traveling to Europe throughout my childhood. He would bring home coins from countries like Germany and Austria, and I became fascinated with them. When both of my grandfathers found out I was interested in coins, they started to pull out various pieces they had collected in their past. In one small group, there was a 1942 Mercury Dime that I discovered to be a 1942/1 overdate. When I found a $250 coin as an eight-year-old, I was hooked.

I know that you are currently a full-time dealer. Had you always planned on getting into this industry, or was there something else you had considered?

Fairly early on in my numismatic career, I can remember wanting to have my own business in numismatics. It was always a dream of mine growing up. When I was attending college at the Georgia Institute of Technology, I took classes for Business Management so I could possibly pursue a career in marketing. I had an interview with the marketing department of an Atlanta-based apparel company before I graduated, and when they asked me about my three jobs in the coin business on my résumé, they quickly realized that my true passion was in numismatics. It was clear to them that I would not be at a company outside of my passion for very long. Needless to say, I didn’t get a second interview.

I understand that you have begun collecting world banknotes. What is it about this facet of the hobby that has you excited?

I became interested in world banknotes in 2013 when I was offered a sizable group from an old-time collection that I was buying U.S. coins from. At the time, world banknotes were outside my usual scope of numismatic items that I traded or collected, so I took the opportunity to purchase them and get out of my numismatic comfort zone. That was one of the best things I ever did. I love world banknotes because there are beautiful designs and colors, unbelievable technical proficiency in production, many ways to collect them, and you can buy landmark rarity notes from many countries for less than $10,000. Probably my biggest excitement about world banknotes though, is that my two oldest daughters, ages 10 and seven, have also started to collect them.

Are there specific countries that you collect?

I primarily collect any banknotes printed by the French, so it ranges about 40 different countries from Algeria to the West African States. Some of my more sophisticated holdings are for Algeria, Comoros, Djibouti, French Afars & Issas, French Somaliland, and Madagascar.

What was the process that you went through to decide which countries to focus on?

When I started to collect world banknotes, I fell in love with countries that had notes printed by Banque de France. Compared to the United States or British printers, the French notes used thinner paper, had more ink color saturation and, in many cases, high attrition rates based on where they were issued. Banque de France has printed notes for over 40 different countries since the end of the 19th century, most of which was by necessity for France’s colonial holdings. As time went on, the artistic talents of Banque de France were commissioned for special one-off or commemorative note issuances, so it seems clear to me that their “art form” of banknote production has been regarded on an international scale as superior for nearly a century.

Are there any of your notes that are your “favorites?”

Some of my absolute favorite notes I own are the ones that appear to be somewhat common in price guides, yet much rarer than you think when you go to search for them. I collect banknotes in uncirculated condition as much as possible, and the pricing guides can be very misleading in terms of value and implied availability. Just because there is a price listed for uncirculated does not mean that the notes are available or even known in that condition. If I had to pick favorite notes in my collection based on these reasons, it would be one of my French Afars & Issas 5,000 Francs from 1969 (Pick 30) or 1975 (Pick 35) in uncirculated condition.

Is there a “holy grail,” so to speak, that you would love to acquire?

1905 5 Rupien, German East Africa, PCGS Choice VF 35. Click image to enlarge.

For as long as I can remember collecting world banknotes, I have always wanted to own an issued Equatorial African States P-7 10,000 Francs note in high grade. The note is absolutely over-the-top ostentatious with two massive diamonds at the top and President Bokassa in a full military uniform dripping with medals, and since it was a high-denomination, large-format note, very few issued examples survived in high grade. I’ll be searching for a while.

How do you see the future of world bank notes in respect to value?

In terms of overall interest and value, I believe the world banknote market is a numismatic powder keg poised to explode. If you look at the comparative values of world banknotes to other more commonly traded areas of numismatics, world paper money across the board is absurdly undervalued when considering its age, low survival rates, beauty, and broad appeal to non-numismatic people. If you had 10% of U.S. coin collectors also start collecting world banknotes, $200 notes would become $1,000 notes overnight because you wouldn’t be able to find them. Because of how expansive world paper money is as a field of numismatics, there is also still plenty of opportunity to discover previously unknown notes, issuance dates, new signature combinations, and specimen format notes that were previously unknown. I collect notes using Owen Linzmayer’s The Banknote Book numbers, and I had the thrill of being able to first report certain notes that were previously unknown in numismatics. How great is that?

You mentioned that your two oldest daughters have started to collect them, too. What has that experience been like?

It’s been one of my favorite experiences and bonding moments so far in their childhoods. We made an outing to a local coin show where I was thrilled to see a world banknote dealer with an extensive inventory. I started looking for notes to fill in holes of my collection, and my two oldest daughters started to look at the notes with me because they loved the colors and designs from other countries. My oldest daughter is now collecting notes from Egypt, and my second oldest is collecting notes from Sri Lanka. I’ve had the opportunity to teach them about being selective buyers with limited funds, how to spot imperfections, looking for sharp corners and good registration, and maintaining a listing of your collection.

What advice would you give to anyone looking to collect world banknotes?

Think about your method of how you want to collect, and then stick to that approach. I went nuts when I started initially collecting and tried to collect too much at one time, and I found as my collecting methods matured that I got so much more satisfaction by collecting fewer countries, but more in depth with signatures and date varieties.

You do not have to spend a retirement fund to have an impressive, high-quality collection with a satisfying and exciting experience. There are certain countries that you can collect the entire issuance of type notes for the last 40 years for less than $2,000 in uncirculated condition. When you complete that set (or get bored and want to move to something else), there is another country waiting for you to start, too.

There are so many methods of collecting world banknotes that I am confident that I can collect literally the rest of my life and will not run out of notes to buy. I can say that, hands down, I have had more fun collecting world banknotes than any other thing in my 25 years of numismatics.

Read past installations of “A Collector’s Perspective”: