Australia $10 - 1988     Click to enlarge
Commemorative Ten Dollars - The First Issue.

History was made in the world of banknotes on 27th January, 1988 when the first polymer note, a $10, was released into general circulation. This note is the brainchild of Note Printing Australia (NPA), Australia's leading security printer and the Commonwealth Scientific and Industrial Research Organisation (CSIRO), the Federal Government research institution.

It is the product of almost twenty years of research to "build a better banknote". Shortly after the decimalisation of Australia's currency in February, 1966, the Reserve Bank of Australia (RBA) became alarmed with the extent of the counterfeiting of its workhorse note, the $10. It approached the CSIRO for assistance and it together with NPA {which at the time was known as the Note Printing Branch (NPB) - of the RBA} embarked on what proved to be a ground breaking project.

Development of the polymer note was not without its difficulties. Suffice to say many obstacles were overcome such that today over 20 countries have embraced this technology.

Much secrecy surrounded the development of the note and this first issue has the RBA code name "C $10", for commemorative $10.

January 26 is Australia's national day (a public holiday) and in 1988 200 years of European settlement were celebrated. It is understood that the note was actually available on that day from RBA which especially opened sales offices.

(Of course, Australia's indigenous people do not place the same importance on this date having arrived some 40,000 years earlier. In 1988 one of their number an actor, Burnum Burnum, travelled to Britain and staked a claim on British territory at Folkestone on behalf of the Australian Aboriginal people. Presumbly this was tongue in cheek.)

However, befitting the occasion, this commemorative note depicts scenes of European settlement and the general development of a multi - cultural nation on one side and on the other side Australia's aboriginal heritage.

A sophisticated Optically Variable Device (OVD) as a key security feature developed by NPB is introduced with this note in the RBA's campaign against the counterfeiters. The OVD is a NPA development and this is its first appearance. Inquisitive and irreverent members of the public attempted to scratch off this OVD with a coin, much the same way as one "opens" a scratch lottery ticket. Australia's Federal Government was also very keen that this note be issued to coincide with the commencement of the bicentennial celebrations and it is understood that production was fast tracked to meet this goal. This may have contributed to some production faults.

Alarmed with the extent of public interference with the OVD, the RBA suspended issue, effectively recalling the note through the banking system. When notes were deposited with commercial banks, they were not re-issued and presumably returned to the RBA and destroyed.

On 24th October, 1988 the note was re- released after a completely new printing. This release was without the previous problems; seemingly the public's curiosity had been satisfied. A significant difference between the two is that the first issue has a thin smooth varnish over the OVD whereas the second issue has a thick mottled varnish. As a commemorative, it was not intended to replace the current paper notes but was to circulate in tandem with them for about one year and to act as a test for a future generation of polymer notes.

All circulation notes, including the recalled issue have the prefix AB followed by two numbers. A six digit number then follows. Those notes which were withdrawn have 93, 94 or 96 as the first two digits of the six digit number. These numbers are excluded from the second issue.

Mr Robert Johnston, Governor of RBA, was reported in the Sydney Morning Herald of 29th January, 1988 as saying "that 54 million notes are expected to enter circulation". Actual numbers fell well short of this figure no doubt because of the reprinting and the later re-issue date.

Packaged notes in a folder and envelope have an AA prefix. These notes carry the commemorative date, "26 JANUARY 1988". Notes are also available in a base uncut sheet of 24 and smaller sheets of 12 (half sheet) and strips and blocks of 4. Only the packaged and uncut notes are dated. Whilst the AB note is not dated there are sufficient design elements (including micro-printing) to enable it to qualify as a commemorative. A perspex encased note was also released in limited quantities.

The folder note became available on 8th July, 1988 and the uncut sheets in January, 1989.

Understandably, the authorities were keen for this technology to be successful having invested some 20 years and $20million into its development. Whilst the note was intended as a one year issue, in 1989 intensive field testing was undertaken in the Newcastle area (some 170 km north of Sydney an area traditionally used for market research because of its location and demographics). Market research was also done to measure public and professional (bank tellers, check-out operators and other high volume cash handlers) reaction to the note. These findings assisted the RBA / NPA in determining the characteristics of future polymer notes for Australia and for other countries.

Such was the birth of the first polymer note.

$10 Bicentenary issue - Front - Mc173
$10 Bicentenary issue - Front
$10 Bicentenary issue - Back
$10 Bicentenary issue - Back

Harry Williamson, assisted by NPB staff, designed this note. The front (the signature and "legal tender" side, also known as the "Supply" side) has the settlement theme in its design. HMS Supply and ten other ships, to become known as the "First Fleet," left Portsmouth, England, on 13th May, 1787. The fleet arrived in Botany Bay (as named by Captain Cook on his visit in 1770) on 20 January, 1788 but this location was deemed unsuitable as a permanent settlement. Six days later a settlement was established at Sydney Cove.

Hence HMS Supply features prominently on the note. There is also a medley of people serving to illustrate the diverse backgrounds of the nation. It comprises reading from left to right, an early colonial officer and his wife, convict woman, surveyor, village woman, gold digger, pioneer woman, bushranger, urban woman, urban child, shearer, Chinese worker, kanaka (island worker), camel driver, Boer War soldier, aviatrix, depression swaggy, World War II sailor, World War II female factory worker, migrant family, Asian female worker and construction worker. Thus these diverse backgrounds are depicted in a general chronological order and gender equality is observed.

To the left is a representation of Sydney Cove. It is based on an engraving by Edward Dayes of a sketch by John Hunter and was first published in 1793. Hunter was a senior officer in the First Fleet, became the second Governor of the colony of New South Wales. His name is closely associated with Newcastle, the "Hunter Region" where the C$10 was field tested in 1989 (see above).

The signatures of the Secretary to the Treasury and the Governor of the Reserve Bank of Australia are on this side. As a continuation of the practise established in 1984 with the paper $100, that of the Secretary precedes the Governor, going from top to bottom. (This is counter to pre 1984 practice where the signatures in horizontal format read Governor / Secretary from left to right. This order of signatures becomes significant in latter years.)

In keeping with the 1984 paper $100, the serial numbers are on the back or the "Aboriginal" side. An Aboriginal youth wearing body paint is the prominent feature supported by a Morning Star Pole and rock paintings. The Morning Star Pole depicted is a reproduction of a pole created by the Aboriginal artist, Yumbulul. Such poles are used by the Aboriginal people of North - East Arnhem Land (Northern Territory), on some ceremonial occasions. At the left shoulder of the youth is a rock painting of a woman found in Deaf Adder Gorge (also in Arnhem Land). Hand prints or stencils common to many ancient rock drawings found across the country form a background pattern on the left side of the note.

A number of Aboriginal artists, including Paddy Carroll Tjungurrayi, George Milpurrurru and Banduk Marika were commissioned by RBA to assist in the design of the note. Some of their works are included in the background patterns using colours associated with the "Outback".

Security Features:

Those discrete to this note include:
(a) An OVD with the image of Captain Cook which can be viewed from both sides of the note is the key security feature. Because of a diffraction effect, the OVD when angled to the light produces a rainbow pattern. A very thin aluminium coating forms the reflective surface.
(b) The OVD is surrounded by a clear see through area.
(c) A wave pattern is seen when the note is held to the light at the right front immediately below the denominational numeral "10" and at the top left again below the denomination numeral on the back. This pattern is created early in the production process being incorporated in the base polymer substrate which is subsequently covered with layers of ink and acts much like a watermark.
(d) Another first for an Australian note is the diamond shaped perfect registration device located at top left (front) and top right (back).
(e) Micro-printing of "BICENTENARY" between curved lines is seen some 25 times in whole or in part in the green background between the sails of HMS Supply.
(f) The two horizontal serial numbers (on the back of the note) are printed in a different colours and fonts. Modern Extended is used at upper left and Butsch Grotesque at lower right.
(g) Intricate fine line drawings.
(h) When exposed to ultra-violet light, the serial number at bottom right fluoresces; that at top left does not. There is no profound difference between the dated AA variety and first and second AB releases. Fluorescence in the first AB release does not seem to be as dramatic (for those observed) as in the second release. Thus, there may have been a change in the production process causing this effect.

First and Last Prefixes:

In recent years first and last prefixes for a signature or date range have become a popular way to collect Australia's paper and polymer issues. Some of these prefixes fetch a very substantial premium. For this note the appropriate prefixes are:

Issued Version (First release):AB10 (first) and AB33 (last).
Issued Version (Second release):AB10 (first) and AB57 (last).
Packaged Version:AA00 (first) and AA23 (last).
Serial numbers of the AA dated notes ran from 000001 to 300000.
Plate Identification Letters:

In his book, "Australian Decimal Banknotes - Paper Issues" Second Edition, Mick Vort- Ronald states " Plate identification letters (PILs) were very small letters placed within the designs on paper notes to indicate which printing plate printed which note. This enabled the intaglio plate to be located in the event of notes being printed with faults caused by an imperfection on any particular plate."

For the C$10 "the PILs were located in the foliage under the top of the third tree from the left on the front of the notes. Notes were printed in sheets of 24 (4 across by 6 down). The PILs were used on all issues in Johnston - Fraser from the (dated) series AA 00 to AA 23, to the general circulating AB series, AB 10 to AB 57."

For example on the plate for the dated version, the PIL "D" represented AA 00 and "V" represented AA 23. The letters "I" and "W" letters were not used.

Catalogue No: Issued Note - SCWPM P49b,
Mc173 (First release) and Mc174 (Second release).R310a (First release) and R310b (Second release).
Packaged Note - SCWPM P49a. McGF$10 1.
Precise Date of Issue: Issued Note - First Release - 27th January 1988.
Second Release - 24th October 1988.
Packaged Note:8th July 1988.
Uncut Sheets:January, 1989.
Numbers Issued: Issued Note - Approximately 17,000,000.
Packaged Note - It is understood that in excess of 3,000,000 packaged notes were produced . However take- up was far short of expectations and only about 800,000 were sold.
Sheets:Equivalent of 1,500 full sheets of 24 notes each.
Signature:Governor of the Reserve Bank of Australia -
Robert Johnston, 14th August 1983 to 18th July 1989.
Secretary to the Treasury -
Bernie Fraser, 19 September, 1984 to 18 September,1989.
(He was appointed Governor of RBA on 19th September 1989.)
Colour: Blue, green, grey and deep orange.
Language: English.
Dimensions: 155mm x 77.5mm.
These were the dimensions of the paper $10 note in use at the time.
Printer: Note Printing Australia on polymer substrate produced locally under contract.
Specimens: Yes. As well as Bank specimens several hundred specimens were presented to individuals who were involved in the development and production of this note.
Replacements: No. Australia ceased to use replacement notes in 1972.
Country Ranking: Australia is the first country to issue a NPA polymer note.
Printing Method: Intaglio.
Sheet size: 24 notes per sheet.
Product: Folder: AA dated notes in a folder and enclosed in an envelope. Mc$10GF 1( AA01 to AA22). Mc$10 GF 2 and 3 are AA01 and AA23 respectively.
Staff Presentation Folders: 499 by 2 note folder were presented to RBA and NPB Staff. Low numbers AA 00 0 - - - - -. Mc$10GF 4.
10 Years of Polymer Notes: In 1998 a two note set incorporating the Bicentenary AA prefix and the current issue $10 note was released in a folder.
Premium with red serials (1998 note): 1,000 issued. McGF 5.
Deluxe with black serials(1998 note): 1,500 issued. MCGF 6.
(Note: The current issue $10 note has blue serials.)
The folders were produced by Sprintpak.
Uncut Sheets: Equivalent of 1,500 sheets of dated AA notes each of 24 notes divided as follows:
  • 500 whole sheets of 24 notes.
  • 1,000 half sheets of 12 notes.
  • 3,000 strips or blocks of 4 notes divided
    (1,370 blocks and 1,630 strips.)
These sheets represented 36,000 notes. 20% were set aside for purchase by RBA (incl NPB) staff and 80% were offered by a tender to dealers which was won by M.R. Roberts of Sydney.
Perspex Encased: MC PX 1-1 /2/3. 950 notes were encased in perspex slabs. There were three types, one without NPA in title and two with NPA in title but of varying height.