Pride and Prejudice on Polymer

Posted on 6/19/2018

One of the new polymer banknotes released by the Bank of England in 2017 included a £10 note featuring Jane Austen.

While England has produced a number of iconic female authors, few come to mind quicker than Jane Austen. For centuries, Austen’s novels have served as a guide for women navigating the dating scene, especially during a time when the subtleties could make or break a relationship.

Hopelessly romantic and entirely beautiful, Austen’s "Pride and Prejudice" is an ever-popular novel that continues to have an impact on society worldwide. This is probably one of the many reasons why the Bank of England chose to feature both the heroine of that novel and the author herself on the back of their newest £10 banknote.

Announced in July 2017, the new £10 polymer banknote is the second in a line of polymer notes that the Bank of England will be releasing over the next decade. The new £5 note, which proceeded the £10, features Winston Churchill, making Austen’s appearance that much more impressive and emphasizing her importance in the British collective memory.

The polymer notes are loaded with security devices and are said to be more environmentally friendly due to their longer lifespan. The note features a metallic image of Winchester Cathedral over a clear window with a color-shifting quill just to the right and a small portrait of Queen Elizabeth II to the left. These are only a handful of the devices to prove authenticity, not even mentioning the UV ink, holographic strip, or copper foil images. In true Bank of England fashion, the Queen is featured in a large portrait on far right side of the note.

Great Britain, Bank of England, Pick# 395, 2016 £10, front
PMG graded 69 Superb Gem Uncirculated EPQ
Click image to enlarge.

Great Britain, Bank of England, Pick# 395, 2016 £10, back
PMG graded 69 Superb Gem Uncirculated EPQ
Click image to enlarge.

The image of Austen can be found on the reverse of the note, but the portrait itself is shrouded in some speculation of the actual resemblance to the author. During the 1800s, Austen’s novels were not published under her own name, but rather just “By a Lady.” While the novels were increasingly popular in many social circles, Austen received no credit for her work and had to publish it at her own financial risk. It wasn’t until after her death in 1817, when the public became curious about the author, that the image featured on the back of the £10 note was circulated based off of existing descriptions and sketches. Because Austen did not belong to aristocratic society, she likely never sat for a proper portrait. So while the image may be a good resemblance to the actual lady, it is probably not an exact likeness.

Close-up of Jane Austen on the
back side of a 2015 £5 banknote
Click image to enlarge.

Close-up of Elizabeth Bennett on the
back side of a 2015 £5 banknote
Click image to enlarge.

Pride and Prejudice is one of Austen’s most popular novels, featuring witty and intelligent characters wrapped in a satirical commentary on the social norms for English women during the Regency period. Elizabeth Bennet, the heroine, is depicted on the back of the note to the center-left in a scene from the novel. It shows Elizabeth sitting at a desk poring over letters.

The scene is as such: while Elizabeth is traveling with her extended family, she receives terrible news from her eldest sister, Jane, who tells her of the elopement of their youngest sister, Kitty, with the less than perfect Mr. Wickham. While tragic (at the time), it is also this pivotal moment that gives the proud Mr. Darcy the chance to make amends with Elizabeth and brings the pair together. Below the scene is Godmersham Park, a (non-fictional) place where Austen was known to be a frequent visitor and possibly a location where she worked on many of her novels.

But why "Pride and Prejudice"? While certainly my personal favorite of the Austen romances, her first published novel was "Sense and Sensibility" in 1811. It wasn’t until two years later that "Pride and Prejudice" was published. Since then. the novel has seen many adaptations, both literary and cinematic. The most recent notable adaptation is the 2005 film featuring Keira Knightley as Elizabeth and Matthew Macfadyen as Mr. Darcy. The 1995 BBC television short series, while older, is still a favorite amongst many Jane Austen fans.

Beyond the direct adaptations, "Pride and Prejudice" has impacted films both Oscar-worthy and… not. "Bridget Jones’ Diary", the 2001 rom-com, is heavily inspired by the novel and makes many illusions to the characters and plots throughout. The most obvious nod, other than the overall plot, is that the wealthy and pompous love interest is named Mark Darcy. Other movies that have been pulled from Austen novels include "Clueless"( loosely inspired by Austen’s "Emma"), "Pride and Prejudice and Zombies" for a comedic twist on the classic, along with many others.

The note was announced in memory of the 200th anniversary of Austen’s death. Austen died at the young age of 41 in 1817, likely due to Addison’s disease. In honor of this, micro-artist Graham Short was commissioned by the THH Gallery to engrave four £5 Polymer Churchill notes with micro-portraits featuring Austen and four different quotes from her novels. These notes were spent in each of the four countries that make up the UK (England, Scotland, North Ireland, and Wales), at small locally-owned businesses. The notes are estimated to be with between £20,000 and £50,000 at auction, but as of mid-2017, only three of the four have been located. A fifth note was spent by the artist himself at the Jane Austen Center in Bath and the museum intends to display the note in their collection.

Check your fiver by focusing your attention on the clear window to the
right of the Big Ben foil. If you run your finger over this area from left to right,
a small portrait of Austen may appear.
Click image to enlarge.

While many collectors have pointed out that the artist is breaking the law by defacing the notes in order to make the portraits, the Bank of England will likely not pursue legal action. If you’re looking to check your fivers for a fortune, you’ll need to focus your attention on the clear window just to the right of the Big Ben foil. With a little bit of luck, if you run your finger over this area from left to right, a very small portrait of Austen may appear. The last remaining note was spent in Melton Mowbray, a small town between Leicester and Nottingham, on a Pork Pie.

The polymer £20 note featuring J.M.W. Turner is set to be launched in 2020, but no plans have been made for denominations higher than that as of yet. For more details about the features of the new polymer £5 or £10 notes, you can visit http://www.thenewten.co.uk/ or http://www.thenewfiver.co.uk/.

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