Rembrandt, Picasso and How NOT to Bid at Auction

I recently came across an interesting note in an auction in Europe, it featured the notation “NOTE PRINTING AUSTRALIA” across the top, and featured a portrait of the Dutch artist Rembrandt across the front.

NPA Test Note Rembrandt Picasso

It obviously wasn’t an actual Australian currency note, however it was clearly official - my question was, just what was it printed and used for? I had no idea why Rembrandt was chosen for the design, however it sure seemed interesting.

I bid on the note and was able to secure it, once it arrived safe here in old Fremantle town I set to finding out more about it.

In hindsight, this is something I should have done BEFORE I bid on the note, as it turns out there are a few of them around, and they are less rare than I first expected!

After trawling through the internet for a few hours, buying a book and registering in a collector’s group or two, I’ve since learned that there is a whole market for “test” notes.


The 3 Different Categories of Test Note

It turns out that bank note printers and cash management companies show their expertise by printing currency samples, and that these are broadly referred to in numismatic circles as currency test notes or promotional currency notes.

1. Promotional Currency Notes: The most common category of currency test notes are printed to showcase printing technology and anti-counterfeiting measures, and are generally distributed at international currency trade shows to potential printing customers.

2. ATM Test Notes: A second category of currency test notes are printed to test acceptance of a new series of notes by ATMs and currency counting machines; as well as to enable banks and cash handling firms to practice handling new types of note.

3. Durability Test Notes: The rarest category of test notes are those printed by banknote printers to test the printing and durability of different substrates, inks and security devices.

In the absence of any information to the contrary, I believed this note had a shot at being in the third category, mainly because the reverse of the note had only been partially printed.

NPA Test Note Rembrandt Picasso

If you look down the bottom of the note, you’ll see Picasso’s name...

My father and his father before him were both tradesmen (fitters and turners the both of them), and as they’ve both now passed away, some of my most prized possessions are the tools they used in their working lives. It’s cool holding something that was used in putting a particular project they put time, effort and grey matter into. (It’s probably not cool not knowing what some of those same tools are, let alone not knowing how to use them, but that’s a whole other story!) In the same way, note collectors can find owning specimen and test notes interesting - they’re both important in the production of the notes we use.

I couldn’t see Note Printing Australia handing out partially-printed notes to potential customers as samples - surely they would’ve waited until the intaglio phase (the raised black lines showing the main design) was run across the reverse of the note if that’s what they were using them for?

My hunch that these test notes were printed to test the durability of the clear (blue) window was heightened by the fact there were 3 different types, each with a different intaglio print on the clear window.

1. Painter’s palette;

2. Round dot; and

3. Portrait of Rembrandt.

In my internet tootling I’ve since counted up a total of about 10 different examples of the test notes, a mix of the different clear window types.

That makes them slightly more readily available than I would’ve expected, and given the fact they’re all still in mint condition, without information from people that were directly involved in their production, it’s hard to determine whether they were in fact printed for to test the durability of the different clear windows, or whether they were simply printed as promotional notes.

Either way, they’re scarce and definitely of interest to note collectors down under.


How NOT to Bid at Auction

If I’d clarified all this BEFORE bidding on the notes, I would’ve definitely bid less than I had. Fortunately, even though I got the items for less than my maximum bid, and even though the prices I paid for the notes weren’t massive, I was flying blind to a degree, and that isn’t a good habit for a collector, much less a dealer to have.

So, how not to bid at auction is to just get really excited about something, then throw a whole lot of cash at it without knowing at all what the damn thing is actually worth!

I knew full well when I submitted my bids to the auction that there was a chance I’d end up with something that was worth less than I’d paid for it, however little did I know that a bit of time invested in some research, as well as a few dollars in a book that covered the subject, would have saved me hundreds of dollars.

So there we have it - I picked up a few interesting items I’ve never seen before, and reminded myself to make sure I do as much homework as I can before bidding on something at auction.

So - have you bid blind for something at auction? How did you end up? Are you a fly by the seat of your pants collector or do you only bid on something when you know EXACTLY what it’s worth?