Deborah Yaffe

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By Deborah Yaffe, Oct 9 2017 01:00PM

When is $13 worth $9,410? When it’s embodied in a low-serial-number Jane Austen banknote, apparently.


Last week, the Bank of England auctioned off eighty-seven of its new Jane Austen £10 notes as a charity fundraiser, offering speculators and collectors a shot at owning notes with serial numbers beginning AA01.


The very lowest-numbered note – AA01 000001 – wasn’t available: That one is given to the queen, the only person whose portrait appears on every piece of British currency. The next eight notes in the series also went to VIPs, and the AA01 001817 was donated to Winchester Cathedral, where Austen was buried in – yes -- 1817.


But the tenth-lowest serial numbered note -- AA01 000010 -- was up for grabs, and the lucky bidder forked over a whopping £7,200, more than double the top pre-auction estimate of £3,000. Notes with slightly higher serial numbers went for less, but they also sold for far more than their face value, helping the auction raise £263,200 (about $344,000) for health-care charities.


It’s possible many of these notes will soon be starring in an eBay auction near you, though I will not be bidding. Personally, I’d be more interested in the other £10 note serial-number series expected to generate some excitement: the series whose numbers start with “JA.”


By Deborah Yaffe, Sep 14 2017 01:00PM

It’s official: Starting today, Brits will be able to buy their tea, their scones -- even their books -- with a fistful of Jane Austen £10 notes.


More than four years after announcing plans to put Austen on the currency, and two months after unveiling the first notes during a ceremony at Winchester Cathedral on the bicentenary of Austen’s death, the Bank of England is putting the Austen tenner into circulation.


Despite Janeite joy at this honor for our beloved author, it’s been a rocky road. First came the feminist campaign to put a woman on the currency, after the bank announced that Winston Churchill would replace prison reformer Elizabeth Fry on the £5 note. (Fry wasn’t the first woman on the currency, besides the queen: Florence Nightingale held that title, from 1975-94.)


Even as the bank swiftly decided to maintain a non-royal female presence on the currency by subbing Austen in for Charles Darwin on the tenner, Internet trolls harassed and threatened the leader of the feminist campaign.


Then Janeites pointed out that the Austen quote selected for the note – “I declare after all there is no enjoyment like reading,” from Pride and Prejudice – is spoken by the execrable Caroline Bingley, moments before she tosses aside the book she has picked up only to impress the eligible Mr. Darcy.


Others noted that the picture of Austen is a prettified version of a sketch that may not even look much like her. Still others pointed out that Austen never lived permanently at Godmersham House, the stately home pictured in the background, although she did visit her brother’s family there.


These people! They’re never satisfied!


Still, it’s a great day for Janeites: Our author takes her place among a select pantheon of artists, scientists, politicians, and social reformers deemed important enough to represent the British nation. What would this country clergyman’s daughter have thought of it all?



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