How to Tell When an Australian Paper Banknote Was Printed

Australian paper decimal banknotes were first introduced in Febuary 1966. From 1988 - 1996 they were gradually replaced by their polymer cousins.

Determining the year Australian polymer banknotes were printed is simple. The year is included in the serial number prefix. Australian paper banknotes on the other hand are much more complex.

Complex… But Not Impossible

Australian paper banknote serial numbers aren’t helpful to you in easily determining when the note was printed. But there is something else on the face of the banknote that can help you to narrow down a timeframe.

The First Paper $1 Note From 1966
The First Paper $1 Note From 1966

Each paper banknote contains two signatures on the front of the note. These are the Governor of the Reserve Bank of Australia (RBA) and the Secretary to the Treasury. With some sleuthing of the dates the signatories on your banknote were in office, you will know the window of time in which your banknote was printed.

It also helps to understand the timeline of when different paper banknotes were introduced into circulation. The $1, $2, $10 and $20 banknotes were all introduced in 1966, followed by the $5 banknote a year later in 1967. The $50 denomination wasn’t introduced until 1973 and the $100 in 1984. 1984 was also the year the $1 banknote was discontinued. The $2 banknote was ceased four years later in 1988.

Interesting Signatories

Herbert Cole (Nugget) Coombs
Herbert Cole (Nugget) Coombs
National Archives of Australia

The history of the signatories on Australian paper banknotes is actually quite fascinating and each combination goes into a deeper story of what was happening in the RBA and with the printing and circulation of notes at the time.

The standing Governor of the RBA when decimal currency - and paper banknotes - was introduced was Herbert Cole (Nugget) Coombs. He served as the Governor of the RBA for 8 years along with 11 years as the Governor of the Commonwealth Bank of Australia. The Secretary to the Treasury at the time we switched to decimal currency was Ronald Wilson. Mr Wilson is the longest serving Secretary to the Treasury in Australia’s history.

If you have a paper decimal note that has the signature of both Herbert Cole Coombs and Ronald Wilson, you can be sure that it was printed in 1966. Ronald Wilson was replaced by Richard Randall in October 1966.

Bernie Fraser is the only signatory who has held both the position of Secretary to the Treasury (September 1984 - September 1989) as well as Governor of the RBA (September 1989 - September 1996). As such, his is the only signature in the history of Australian paper banknotes to appear in both signature positions at different times.

Adding Australian Paper Banknotes to Your Collection

If you are keen to start collecting Australian banknotes, it’s worth mentioning that regardless of when a banknote was printed, it will always be more valuable if it is in mint condition. An rare banknote that is uncirculated will always be worth more than the same rare banknote showing signs of wear and tear.

The most valuable collectors items are first and last prefix banknotes. The prefix is the first 2-3 letters of the serial number that indicates where in the print run the notes were printed. First, and particularly last prefix banknotes, in mint condition are highly sought after and will make a wonderful addition to any collection.

First Prefix $1
First Prefix AAA $1

Last Prefix DSP $1
Last Prefix DSP $1










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Comments (1)

First time collector

By: on 31 October 2023
Hi . Just starting out in collecting Australian currency. I'm wanting to know where does the R number come from on a note. As in R205: Sir Joseph Banks ( 1743- 1820 ) NLT 220093. Any information on the subject would be most appreciated. Thanks

Sterling and Currency Response
G'Day Keith, The R# quoted for Australian banknotes is a reference number taken from the Rennik's Guide to Australian Coin and Banknote Values:

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