Not so Superior Counterfeiters

A paper quarter issued by the City of Superior, Wisconsin on August 18, 1933. Reduced cash
flow during the Great Depression caused Superior to issue scrip from 1933 to 1939.

The City of Superior issued Depression Scrip for the longest period of any issuing authority in Wisconsin. The city issued its first scrip in August 1933 and last in April 1939. During that time, over $2,000,000.00 in scrip was issued in denominations from $.25 to $10.00.

Like many municipalities around the country, the city´s finances were crippled by two effects of the Great Depression: a dramatic increase in defaults on property taxes and the city´s money being tied up in banks that were closed. The city´s cash position was also hurt by the fact that it was required to accept scrip issued by Douglas County but could not pay it back out.

Receipt for $19.50 for the redemption of Superior scrip by the City Treasurer. The scrip was redeemable when cash was available or was receivable by the city for taxes or other debts.

In October 1934 the Superior City Clerk noticed something peculiar about certain scrip that was being turned in for redemption. Some of the notes bore serial numbers that had already been redeemed. Since the city cancelled redeemed notes and did not re-issue them, the Clerk knew there was a problem.

Upon closer inspection, some of the $5.00 notes with duplicate serial numbers had a spelling error. Someone had counterfeited the city’s scrip.

$5.00 Superior scrip from the May 15, 1934 issue. It is likely that this was the type counterfeited by the Lurye brothers.

The Superior police investigated the matter and they quickly focused their attention on Ed Lurye, a Superior liquor salesman. He confessed to paying $700.00 in cash for $2,000.00 in bogus scrip to his brother Albert Lurye, a Minneapolis furniture salesman.

Albert Lurye was the mastermind of the operation who employed the assistance of two employees of a print shop in Duluth to make the copies with supplies acquired by Albert Lurye in the Twin Cities.

The Superior scrip had no security devices making it easier to duplicate. Although the scrip was printed on safety paper, the paper was commercially available.

$10.00 Superior scrip from the June 1, 1934 issue. The red text in the background indicates the scrip will not be honored if it were discounted in commercial channels. How the City would have known this is a mystery.

The printers made $30,000.00 in counterfeit $5.00 and $10.00 scrip. The first printing consisted of $10,000.00 of each denomination. A spelling error was noticed and a second printing of $5,000.00 of each denomination was made. They intended to destroy the notes with the error but $3,000.00 in $5.00 notes with the error remained. They reportedly circulated only $2,000.00 in the counterfeit notes before being caught.

Headline in the February 4, 1936 Oshkosh Northwestern relating to the Wisconsin Supreme Court´s decision to uphold the counterfeiting convictions of Albert and Edward Lurye of Superior.

The conspirators were charged with counterfeiting and found guilty after a jury trial. They appealed the conviction. The appeal alleged that the city of Superior did not have authority to issue the scrip as money and that since it was not money, they could not be convicted of counterfeiting. The Wisconsin Supreme Court did not think much of the argument and the conviction was upheld. They were each sentenced to a year in prison.

No examples of the counterfeit scrip have been observed.

The Coin Shortage

One cent scrip issued by Click grocery stores of Cleveland, OH during the 1974 penny shortage.

Apparently there is a shortage of coins in the United States. At least there is a shortage of circulating coinage. I am not even certain coins really circulate any more. It seems to me that the use of coins in everyday commerce is one way. Those consumers who still use cash receive coins in change which then get thrown into a jar, desk drawer, coffee can, automobile console, couch cushions, etc. It has been a long time since I have seen someone digging through their pocket or coin purse for change for a purchase.

The current coin shortage can be traced to two effects of the corona virus pandemic. First, social distancing rules slowed down production of coins at the U.S. Mint. Secondly, the number of people turning their change jars into banks has dramatically decreased also.

One cent token made for use during the WWI cent shortage by the Economy Stores of Savannah, GA.

Coin shortages have happened before but most of those events were limited to shortages of a single type of coin – the cent. This time, the shortage affects all denominations of coins.

One cent scrip issued by the People’s Banking Co. of Lewisburg, OH as a result of the WWI cent shortage. Waldo Moore was the driving force behind this issue. Moore also issued scrip during the 1933 Bank Holiday.

During WWI, Congress instituted a number of small taxes on goods. For example, there was a four cent tax on the wholesale price of a case of chewing gum. These taxes resulted in purchases that were no longer in increments of five cents and required more one cent coins to be paid out by merchants to customers. Communities and merchants around the country produced their own one cent scrip pieces to combat the shortages.

One cent scrip issued in Boise, Idaho during WWII.

There was only one reported cent shortage during WWII. That was in Boise, Idaho. The shortage was so acute that the Boise Retail Merchant’s Bureau had cardboard one cent pieces printed. They went so far as to obtain the opinion of the local United States Attorney as to the legality of the scrip.

One cent scrip issued by Lucky Stores for the 1974 cent shortage.

The last cent shortage occurred in 1974. Rising copper prices led speculators to hoard one cent coins who were banking on the value of the copper in a one cent coin exceeding it face value. The situation was serious enough that the US Mint experimented with alternate metal composition for the one cent coin. It would eventually change in 1982. Once again, merchants issued one cent scrip pieces to alleviate the cent shortage.

Will the current shortage result in similar scrip or tokens? It seems unlikely. The shortage appears to be affecting only banks and the retailers who routinely order large amounts of coins. While the shortage should seemingly trickle down to the consumer, electronic payment options that were not available during any of the previous coin shortages should allow most consumers to avoid the problem. Despite this, Tenino, WA, a small community with a rich tradition of issuing wooden scrip has already issued tokens in 2020.

Der Rattenfänger von Hameln

This 50 pfennig kleingeldschein (small change note) from Hameln from 1918 depicts the legend of the pied piper. In the version depicted on this note, 130 children disappear in the Copper Mountains.

June 26, 1284, is the traditional date given for the events that we have come to know as the tale of the Pied Piper of Hamelin. The basic story is well-known.

There is a rat infestation in the German town of Hamelin (Hameln in German). A mysterious piper appears who offers to use his magical pipe to lure the rats from the city where they drown in a nearby river. He does so but the town burghers refuse to pay him the agreed upon fee. While the adults are at church for the religious festival of John and Paul Day, the piper returns and leads the town’s children away.

The Hameln rat infestation is depicted on this 50 pfennig serienschein (series note) from 1921. There are six different notes in this series that tell the tale.

There are two different versions of what happens next. In the more macabre version, the children meet the same fate as the rats and drown in the river. Another version has the piper returning the children after the town pays his fee. And yet another has no resolution and the children remain missing.

As with many oral traditions, there is some semblance of truth to the tale but it has been enhanced over the years. The Hameln town records begin with an entry in 1384 remarking that it has been 100 years since the town’s children left. A stained glass window marking the event was installed in the town church around 1300. It was destroyed in the 1600s but there are references to the window in written accounts from the 14th and 15th Centuries.

This 50 pfennig note depicts the pied piper leading the rats from the town.

Historians have posited various theories as to what really occurred. One theory is that the children died as a result of a plague or other illness. Another theory for which there is significant evidence suggests either a voluntary or involuntary migration to either the Baltic or Transylvania.

This 50 pfennig serienschein shows the town burghers turning their backs on the pied piper after he has filled his sack with the rats. There are six notes in this series also.

The historical accounts only account for the disappearance of the children. The rats and the pied piper are embellishments that are traced to the 16th Century. It is not clear as to whether these elements were added centuries after the event to explain why the children disappeared because the true cause was forgotten or suppressed. It is also possible that the rats and the pied piper were part of a separate event that was later merged into the earlier account of the missing children.

This final 50 pfennig note depicts the pied piper leading the children of Hameln out of the town and into the mountains.

Like many German traditions, the story of the pied piper is memorialized in notgeld from Hameln. It appears on a kleingeldschein issue from 1918. There are two different serienscheine versions of the story. Portions of these are illustrated here.

Investing in World Peace

The National Council for Prevention of War was founded in September 1921 as the National Council for Limitation of Armaments. The Council acted as a clearing house for peace organizations in the United States. Frederick J. Libby was appointed Executive Secretary. Libby was a Congregationalist Minister whose experiences doing relief work with the American Friends Service Committee during WWI convinced him to dedicate his life to the pursuit of world peace.

In late 1922, the organization changed its name to the National Council for Prevention of War. It had three primary goals: (1) progressive world organization, (2) reduction of armaments by international agreement, and (3) and worldwide education for peace.

The caption on this picture is incorrect. Jeanette Rankin sold the first Peace Bond to Senator Gerald Nye of North Dakota. Nye chaired a committee examining the munitions industry in the United States. Nebraska State Journal, October 5, 1935.

The Council opened offices around the country. Over the years it added a speakers bureau, motion picture division and a youth initiative. Its magazine, Peace Action, had a circulation of 25,000.

As World War II approached, the Council advocated American neutrality and proposed a war referendum. One of the tools the Council used to fund and promote its initiatives was a Peace Bond Campaign that commenced in 1935.

The Capitol Times (Madison, WI), September 24, 1935.

The Peace Bonds were not so much bonds as they were donation receipts. The goal of campaign was to raise $1,000,000.00. The bonds were available in amounts of $1.00, $5.00, $10.00, $25.00 and $100.00.

The Council appointed sales representatives in every state and assigned a quota for each. Newspaper articles promoted the sales.

A $5.00 Peace Bond produced by the National Council for Prevention of War.

There were three coupons attached to the bonds. The first coupon was used to designate 40% of the donation to one of the organizations that were served by the Council. The second coupon was good for a subscription to Peace Action, the Council’s monthly newsletter. The third coupon was a ballot to express the giver’s opinion on a number of peace initiatives.

The Peace Bond initiative was successful in raising money for the Council and raising its public profile around the country. Unfortunately, its efforts were overwhelmed by world events. It remained active until F.J Libby’s retirement in 1954. Its corporate existence ceased in 1971.

The records of the National Council for Prevention of War are in the Peace Collection at Swarthmore College.

The Idle Tire Program

I need new tires on my car. The dealership told me last fall they needed to be replaced. I hoped the winter would not be too bad and that I could wait until spring. Our winter in northeast Wisconsin was fairly mild that went well. But the time has come. Needing tires reminded me of one of the more unusual numismatic souvenirs from WWII when not only could tires not be bought, but the government compelled Americans to sell their tires for the war effort.

When Ebay was in its infancy I came across a United States Treasury check from the Reconstruction Finance Corporation for $.20. I researched what I could (it was sometime around 1999 so internet resources were limited) but could not find anything that helped to identify what it was for. The only significant information on the check was a notation that read: D.S.C. Idle Tires. I thought this might be a business name.

Defense Supplies Corporation ad detailing the Idle Tire Program in the November 15, 1942, McAllen, TX, Valley Evening Monitor.

I knew the RFC was involved in assisting state chartered banks during the Great Depression and assumed that the check had something to do with that.

Over the years I ran across similar checks from the RFC that referenced D.S.C. Idle Tires. One thing that struck me as odd is that they were all written for amounts that were multiples of $.20.

Excerpt from the D.S.C. ad explaining the process for turning in excess tires.

The riddle was finally solved a few years ago when I came across a check for $.80 that was accompanied by a document from the Defense Supplies Corporation. It prompted me to re-new my research into the RFC.

During WWII, the RFC had many roles. One of these was procuring materials for the war effort that had previously been supplied from areas now controlled by the Axis. The Defense Supplies Corporation was the RFC subsidiary charged with this task. The most notable commodities that were now in short supply were rubber and tin. Both materials came from parts of Asia that had been taken over by Japan.

Ceiling prices paid by D.S.C. for excess tires. Scrap tires sold for $.20.

The D.S.C Idle Tire Program required individuals to sell their excess tires to the government. One spare could be kept in addition to the tires on a vehicle. All other tires had to be sold. There were significant penalties for having more tires than authorized. Non-compliance also prevented a person from receiving gas ration coupons.

The Office of Price Administration (OPA) was in charge of rationing in United States. OPA also established ceiling prices for commodities to prevent price gouging. One of the items under rationing and price control by OPA was automobile tires. The ceiling prices established by OPA were the same prices that D.S.C. paid for idle tires. The prices are detailed in the chart above. Scrap tires were purchased for $.20 per tire.

Application, appraiser’s certificate and check for $.80 to E. A. Schafer of Tonica, IL for four tires. Mr. Schafer stated the tires were in the lowest grade of used tires (5). The appraiser agreed and the tires were sold as scrap.

The Railway Express Company assisted the government in collecting tires. They established 23,000 collection points around the country. Individuals brought in their tires and filled out a form with their particulars. The tires were shipped by Railway Express to D.S.C. depots. The tires were then examined and appraised. Compensation was forwarded by mail. The seller could be paid by check or receive war savings stamps or war bonds.

Well, George, We Knocked the Bastard Off.

The southern side of Mount Everest on a five rupee note from Nepal.

With those words, Sir Edmund Hillary announced that he and Tenzing Norgay had summited Mount Everest on May 29, 1953.

Everest was named for Sir George Everest who had been Surveyor General of India. The name was proposed by his successor, Sir Andrew Waugh. As the story goes, Waugh proposed the name for the peak since there was no local consensus as to what it was called. Everest himself was opposed to it indicating that it was not a name the locals would be able to pronounce.

The northern view of Mount Everest on the back of a Chinese ten yuan note.

Everest has been depicted on banknotes of both Nepal and China. In Nepal, the mountain replaced the image of the king on the face of its notes after the last monarch was deposed. In China, it appeared on the back of the ten yuan note issued in 1980.

Sir Edmund Hillary on the face of the New Zealand $5.00 note.

Sir Edmund Hillary is depicted on the face of the current $5.00 note from New Zealand. When the note was first introduced in 1992, it was one of the few notes to depict a then-living person other than a monarch or political leader. The mountain shown on the note is Mount Cook, New Zealand’s highest point, which was also scaled by Hillary.

“You Don’t Hate Anyone.”

Bronze Star, Asia-Pacific Campaign Medal and WWII Victory Medal awarded to Cpl. William Edward Downey

I remember hearing those words from my dad as a child. I was about ten or so. I was chasing one or another of the myriad of neighborhood kids who came to play at our house. We were in the basement and their must have been some sort of kerfuffle between us that did not work to my advantage. He ran up the stairs and I was in hot pursuit. On my ascent I shouted, “I hate you!”

I was met at the top of the stairs by my dad and he uttered those words in his usual, matter-of-fact tone. There wasn’t any anger in his voice and he didn’t raise his voice to say it. It seemed more like a piece of advice than a scolding. My dad was a man of few words. When he said something it was usually meaningful and you paid attention to it. It would be some years before I learned the story behind those four words.

It is Memorial Day weekend 2020. It has been seventy-five years since the end of World War II. And seventy-five years since the death of my uncle, Cpl. William Edward Downey, USMC, on a godforsaken piece of volcanic hell known as Iwo Jima.

1943 Bill and Gerald
My dad, Gerald Downey, and his brother, William Downey, in LaCrosse, WI in 1943.

Bill was a farm boy born in Ferryville, Wisconsin and raised in the Coulee Region of the state. He followed his older sister, Mary, to school one day. And then the next. They let him keep coming to school even though he was not old enough. Because of this he graduated from high school in the spring of 1941 having just turned seventeen. He enlisted in the Marine Corps in January 1942 three months before his eighteenth birthday.

He completed training and was assigned as a rifleman to the Ninth Marine Regiment, Third Marine Division. They kicked around the South Pacific. He spent time on Bougainville and he participated in some mopping up operations on Guam. Somewhere along the way, he contracted malaria.

William E Downey WWII South Pacific
William Downey somewhere in the Pacific.

In late 1944, he was on orders to the Fleet Hospital to convalesce from the malaria. The regiment was preparing for what they knew was going to be a big operation. By this time, Bill had been advanced to Corporal and was a team leader in charge of handful of other Marines. Instead of heading off for easy street at the Fleet Hospital, Bill and another malaria patient in the unit stowed away with their comrades on the vessel that would take them to their objective — Iwo Jima.

USMC Casualty Card for Cpl. William Edward Downey.

On February 27, 1945, Bill’s platoon was engaged in active operations against the Japanese defenders of the island. They had lost communications with their company and Bill volunteered to accompany their platoon leader to try to re-connect. They worked their way back towards their higher echelon, moving from fighting position to fighting position. At an inopportune moment, they were joined in a foxhole by an artillery shell. Three of the men were killed instantly. Bill was evacuated to a medical facility in the rear but by that afternoon he succumbed to his wounds.

Purple Heart to Cpl. William Edward Downey.

The family did not get confirmation of his death until late in the Spring of 1945. Upon receiving the telegram from the Department of the Navy, my grandfather brought the family together. One of the things he told them was this: “People are going to say things to you about the Japanese. Remember, you don’t hate anyone.”

And a numismatic note. Uncle Bill apparently developed into quite a poker player while he was overseas. He mailed my dad a $5.00 Hawaii overprint note which was part of his poker winnings. My dad folded it neatly and hid it in the nose of a model airplane that was in his room. Unfortunately, at some point, grandma threw the plane away and that $5.00 note went with it.

How Many Jills In a Jeep?

Publicity still from Four Jills in a Jeep with Martha Raye, Phil Silvers, Kaye Francis, Carole Landis and Mitzi Mayfair,

On March 17, 1944, 20th Century Fox released the film Four Jills in a Jeep starring Martha Raye, Kaye Francis, Carole Landis and Mitzi Mayfair as themselves in the title roles. Betty Grable, Phil Silvers, Jimmy Dorsey and Carmen Miranda also appear in the film (all but Silvers as themselves). The film is a fictionalized account of the four women’s USO tour of the UK and North Africa.

Billing themselves as the Feminine Theatrical Task Force, the women left the United States in October 1942 and spent three months doing Camp Shows in England and Northern Ireland. They then spent three weeks in North Africa, the first USO troupe to perform there.

Carole Landis serialized their adventures in the Saturday Evening Post. Studio execs thought their story would make a great film. Hollywood did what Hollywood does and softened the rough edges of their adventures. They turned what could have been an exciting adventure tale (they experienced air raids in England and were shot at in North Africa) into a sappy romance with too many song and dance numbers. The reviews were not good.

This short snorter was signed by the four actresses. The underlying note is an Algerian 20 franc note from 1941 that would have been in circulation while the performers were on tour. Although they undoubtedly signed short snorters while in North Africa, this one could not have been signed there. Carole Landis signed her married name, Carole Landis Wallace, on the note. She met her husband while the troupe was in England and married him after the tour was over.

AMC Marks

Placard in English and German identifying Allied Military Marks as legal tender in Germany.

May 8, 2020 marks the 75th anniversary of V-E Day, the end of World War II in Europe. It also marks the beginning of the occupation of Germany.

International law recognizes the right of an invading country to determine what will pass as legal tender in conquered territory. The domestic currency may remain valid, the currency of the invader may be made valid, the invader may introduce an entirely new currency system or a combination of these may occur. The choice will depend on what the invader’s goals are.

The primary purpose of an occupation currency is to compel the conquered territory to pay for the expense of the occupation. The occupier uses occupation currency to pay for items it requisitions and to pay its occupying troops. The occupier creates this money out of thin air and compels its acceptance. The occupier essentially gets everything for free while maintaining the pretense of paying for it.

German occupation note for 50 reichsmarks issued by the Reichskreditkassen (Government Credit Office). The RKK notes were used by the Germans from France to the Balkans. They were worthless in Germany.

Both sides made extensive use of occupation currency in WWII. Japan was the first to use an occupation currency when it introduced military yen in China. The first Allied use of occupation currency was in North Africa where yellow seal US dollars and British Military Authority notes were used with the Operation Torch landings in late 1942.

The occupation of Germany presented a number of challenges when it came to an occupation currency. The western Allies had been able to cooperate with one another on currency matters (although General DeGaulle was difficult when it came to issuing supplemental francs). Money in Germany would have to be coordinated with the Soviet Union.

Russian printed 50 pfennig note (left) and a US printed replacement. The notes are identical for the Forbes “f” in the scrollwork in the lower right corner on the US printed note (see below).

It was agreed at the Yalta Conference that there would be a single, uniform occupation currency for Germany. While the Soviets were in agreement with this, they refused to accept a US proposal for the US to print all the military marks and supply the finished money to the Soviets. They insisted on printing their own notes for their own needs. When the US insisted on being the sole printer, the Soviets threatened to print their own so the designs would not be uniform.

The US relented. The Soviets requested plates for printing notes from the US. The Treasury Department objected to the President that it was not advisable to provide this to the Soviets. Instead, they were given glass positives of the notes along with a supply of ink and paper. With these they were able to duplicate the design of the notes printed in the US — almost. More on that later.

US printed ten mark note. The Forbes mark is at the bottom of the scrollwork in the upper right corner.

The decision to allow the Soviets to print their own military marks had long lasting effects. They had no intention of allowing Germany to have a quick economic recovery and controlling the currency was one way to do this. While the western Allies looked to have the Reichsbank resume printing notes for its own use, the Soviets refused to allow this to happen. The Soviets printed hundreds of millions of military mark notes and used them to pay their own troops several months of back pay.

Black marketing was rampant as free-spending Russian troops flooded the German economy with military marks and were willing to pay exorbitant prices for consumer goods and cigarettes. Western Allied soldiers got in on the racket by making goods available to their Russian counterparts and converting the military marks to their own currencies at the official exchange rate of ten reichsmarks to a dollar. It took the United States almost two years to come up with a method to get currency matters under control when Military Payment Certificates were issued in September 1946.

Military marks were printed in denominations of 50 pfennig, 1, 5, 10, 20, 50, 100 and 1,000 marks. The western Allies did not issue the 1,000 mark note but the Soviets did. In the US, the notes were printed by the Forbes Lithograph Company of Boston. They are not engraved or intaglio printed but were lithographed. There are no security features in the printing or paper.

Russian printed 50 mark note. The US Treasury Department bragged that the notes would be almost impossible to counterfeit despite the lack of security features due to the intricacies of the many layers. While counterfeiting was not widespread, the largest counterfeiting operation in Germany was in a UN Displaced Persons Camp

The Soviet printed notes were identical except for two small differences. The Forbes printed notes have a small, stylized letter “f” for Forbes hidden in the design that does not appear on the Soviet notes. The serial numbers for the Soviet printed notes are eight digits long preceded by a dash. They included the dash because the examples they were provided by the US were replacement notes that included the dash. Regular US printed notes had nine digit serial numbers without the dash.

When the serial numbers of the Soviet notes exceeded 99999999, they dropped the dash and added a ninth digit. Nine digit Soviet notes can be distinguished from the US printed nine digit notes by the lack of the Forbes “f”. Another diagnostic of the Soviet printed notes is a gap that appears between the third and fourth places in the serial number on many notes. The Soviets did not have numbering wheels that could accommodate nine digits so they used two wheels for each number, one with three digits and one with six.

Russian printed 100 mark note. Note the gap in the serial number between the numbers 6 and 7.
The Forbes “f” on the larger notes is on the bottom of the scrollwork in the upper right corner.

Of the sixteen different types printed (eight denominations printed each by the US and Soviets), the Soviet 50 pfennig note had the smallest print run of approximately 5,000,000 notes. The Soviets apparently did not have much need for a half mark note. By comparison, Forbes printed over 75,000,000 50 pfennig notes.

Despite repeated requests, the Soviets refused to provide data on the number of notes printed or the amount issued.

Russian printed 1000 mark note used as a short snorter. When this note was signed in February 1946, it had an official exchange value of US$100.00. By this time, currency control regulations prohibited converting marks to dollars at military finance cages.

While military mark notes were intended to be used exclusively by the occupation forces, the inability of the Reichsbank to print its own notes led to it being supplied with military marks for its use. This was possible since the military mark and the reichsmark were at par and neither the Allied Military Government nor any of the Allied governments were responsible for redeeming military marks.

Military marks remained in circulation in Germany until the Currency Reform of 1948 when the reichsmark and the military mark were replaced by the Deutsche mark.

Dropping £sd Down Under

One and two remain the same,

The only difference is the name,

Three to nine lose one it’s true,

And for the rest you take off two.

Australian Decimal Currency Board

On February 14, 1966, Australians awoke to a whole new world. On that date, the cumbersome £sd system Australians inherited from their colonial founders gave way to the modern and hip dollar and cent.

Training check made for tellers at the Bank of New South Wales. It is dated on C-day. The £sd amount has been crossed out and the decimal equivalent written below.

Australia was not the first nation in modern times to decimalise her currency. That distinction went to South Africa when it introduced the rand as its unit of currency in 1961. New Zealand followed her neighbour in 1967 along with Samoa and Tonga. Fiji switched in 1969. The UK and Ireland finally fell in line in 1971, the last major countries to do so.

The last 10 shilling and one pound notes issued in Australia. Decimalisation replaced the pound with the dollar in 1966.

The £sd system took its name from the Latin names for the units of currency — Libra (pound), solidi (shilling) and denarii (pence). The system originated in the Roman Empire and was re-introduced to Europe by the Emperor Charlemagne. The pound was divided into twenty shillings of twelve pence each making 240 pence to the pound. The numerical notation of the currency was divided by strokes or dashes — 2/16/8 or 2-16-8 which were read as two pounds, sixteen and eight.

Wallet card showing the £sd to decimal conversion rates.

The main reason for conversion was convenience. Aside from tradition, the only real merit to a system based on twelve is that it is equally divisible by 2, 3, 4 and 6. But this was outweighed by the complexity of the system compared to one based on ten.

Decimalisation in Australia was first raised in 1902 when a committee of the first Federal Parliament recommended it. It received further Parliamentary support in 1904 but the government was reluctant to make such a change without a similar move in the UK.

Educational poster for conversion to the new decimal currency.

The first official action on decimalization was taken in Australia in 1959 with the appointment of the Decimal Currency Committee. It was charged with investigating the positives and negatives of converting to a decimal currency system. The Committee reported favourably in 1960 and recommended a unit based on ten shillings divided into one hundred smaller units.

It was estimated that the conversion would cost approximately £30,000,000. It was also estimated that £11,000,000 was lost because of the complexity of the £sd system. The Committee concluded that conversion would pay for itself.

Prince Phillip speaking at a lectern with Holt and Menzies seated. Other dignitaries and their wives are also present. Behind them is the main door of the Mint.
Opening of the Royal Australian Mint in February 1965.

The single largest expenditure for the conversion was the construction of a new mint. Approximately one billion new coins were minted for the conversion. Subsidies were provided to merchants, financial institutions and others that needed to convert equipment to the new system.

It was not until 1963 that the Currency Act was approved to implement decimalisation. It accepted the earlier recommendation of a new unit based on ten shillings or the equivalent of a half pound. It also established February 14, 1966 as the conversion date. The Decimal Currency Board was charged with overseeing the conversion. It was headed by Sir Walter Scott.

Specimen 10 royal note.
Image from the Reserve Bank of Australia.

The Currency Act of 1963 did not name the new unit of currency. The government took suggestions from the public. Over a thousand different names were proposed. The government initially chose the “royal”. Public support was underwhelming. After further consideration, the dollar was adopted.

Film describing the new decimal Australian coinage.
Video from the National Film and Sound Archive of Australia.

New coins and banknotes would be required. The new coinage kept the monarch on the obverse and featured different animals unique to Australia on the reverse. The existing 10 shilling, £1, £5 and £10 notes were replaced by notes of $1.00, $2.00, $10.00 and $20.00 with new designs but maintaining the same colour scheme.

The designs of the first $1.00 and $2.00 notes for Australia. The signatures on these two notes indicate they are not from the first issue. The $1.00 note was replaced by a coin in 1984 and the $2.00 note was replaced in 1988.

Consistency was necessary because the old and the new were to circulate side by side for two years after conversion. £sd coins and notes could be accepted in commerce but change was to be given only in dollars and cents.

Instructional film featuring Dollar Bill made by the Decimal Currency Board.
Video link is from the National Film and Sound Archive of Australia.

The government launched a public relations campaign that played on television and radio daily for the two years prior to C-Day. An animated character named Dollar Bill was created as the face of the conversion campaign. The poem that led off this article was written as a way to remember how to convert small amounts.

Plastic versions of the decimal coins made by Esso along with a conversion chart.

While large amounts could be converted easily, amounts less than a shilling would not. Since there were 120 pence in 10 shillings but only 100 cents to a dollar, each cent was equal to 1.2 pence. The poem expressed how these small amounts were converted. One and two pence were equivalent to one and two cents. Three pence through nine pence drop one number so three pence was also converted as two cents, four pence as three cents, etc. Ten pence converted as eight cents and eleven pence as nine cents.

Commercially made decimal play money. Although the color scheme is correct, the notes are incorrectly one size.

During the two year run up to C-day training materials were provided to the public. The Decimal Currency Board created pamphlets and brochures explaining the conversion. Private industry created play money and games to help people get familiar with the new notes and coins and converting prices from the old system tot he new.

Set of decimal notes produced for the Teller Training Kit for the Bank of New South Wales.

C-day went off smoothly. Banks closed February 10, 1966 to revamp their processes and equipment. Long lines were anticipated at banks but the crowds were not much larger than the holiday rush according to one banker. The ease with which such a large logistical exercise was carried out is a testament to the years of planning and forethought that went into the conversion.