Serial Numbering Methods Used on Australian Banknotes

The general public today is quite used to seeing our notes printed with uniform serial numbers - nearly all Australian notes issued since 1988 feature a four-digit prefix and a six-digit serial number. Australians in the early 1900s had no such luxury, as there were 10 different varieties of the ten-shilling note alone in Australia's first decade of a national paper currency.

1918 Ten Shilling Cerutty/Collins

The Commonwealth Treasury initially underestimated the economic demand for Australia's currency notes, and the level of their underestimation can be seen in the numerous changes to the serial numbering format of Australia's first notes. Mick Vort-Ronald is undoubtedly Australia's pre-eminent author on banknotes, and on page 46 in his definitive work “Australian Banknotes”, he observes that Australia's ten-shilling notes were numbered in six quite distinct ways:

Serial Numbering Method

Date Range Used

Single letter used as a prefix to serial number

January 1915 to November 1915

Same single letter used both as a prefix and a suffix

February 1916 to September 1916

Same single letter used both as a prefix and a suffix

September 1916 to September 1923

Different single letters in prefixes and suffixes

September 1916 to September 1923

Single letter & two digits used as a prefix to the serial number

September 1923 to June 1954

Two letters & two digits used as a prefix to the serial number

June 1954 to February 1966

As we can see, each of these changes were introduced within the first 18 months of Australia's national notes being introduced. One may well ask why the Treasury was not immediately able to arrive at a serial numbering system that was workable over the long term, the answer may lie in the scope of the tasks it had to deal with at the time.

Although today the Commonwealth Treasury focuses primarily on economic policy, during World War I it was concerned with a range of issues – pooling the production of primary goods and imposing price controls on household items were just two it was engaged with in addition to regulating the legal tender circulating Australia's monetary system.

In this context then, it is hardly surprising that frequent adjustments were made to Australia's circulating currency in it's early years of use.