The Chatham Islands Notes

Peter Symes

The Chatham Islands are a small group of islands which belong to New Zealand and they remained wrapped in obscurity until the fever of the new millennium gripped the world. At that time it was realized the peak of Mount Hakepa on Pitt Island, which is part of the Chatham Islands, would be the first piece of land to catch the rays of the sun on the first morning of the new millennium.

            This fact did not evade the notice of certain entrepreneurs, who decided to promote the unique position of the Islands. The ‘Chatham Islands Note Corporation’ (CINC)[1] was formed and the Corporation prepared an issue of notes to celebrate the occasion. Although the banknotes are a promotional issue, there was a degree of thought and effort put into this issue, which is referred to by the CINC as the ‘2000 Issue’ because, as will be discussed later, there has been a second issue prepared.

            The 2000 issue consists of four denominations – 2, 3, 10 and 15 dollars – with the denominations probably chosen for their novelty appeal. The most noticeable feature of the notes is they are printed on plastic, although it is not the same polymer being used by numerous issuing authorities around the world for modern banknotes, which was developed by Note Printing Australia. The design of the Chatham Island notes was undertaken by Fort Augustus Marketing and Timely Marketing & Promotions Limited of Christchurch, New Zealand. According to the former web site of the CINC, the design of the notes is based on elements of ‘the US bill layout and the old sterling 5 pound New Zealand Note.’ This mixture of designs was intended to ‘portray the shift in New Zealand culture from a European imperial British position to one now more closely aligned with that of the United States way of life’. The notes were manufactured with paper (plastic) from Australia and printed in Singapore for $65,000.

            The notes have a common format, with the head of a Chatham Island Taiko, or Magenta Petrel (Pterodroma magentae), dominating the front of each note (Figure 1). A multi-coloured guilloche is in the centre of the note and to the left of the guilloche is a map of the Chatham Islands. At the far left is a round, incised foil stamp and below the stamp is the text ‘3rd’, which denotes the beginning of the third millennium of the Christian era. (Let’s not argue that the third millennium actually started a year later!) The notes are signed by Clint McInnes as ‘Director of the Corporation’ and John Day as ‘Secretary of the Treasury’.

            The back of each denomination celebrates aspects of the Islands. The themes for each note are ‘The Sea’ on the 2-dollar note (Figure 2), ‘The Community’ on the three-dollar note (Figure 3), ‘The History’ on the ten-dollar note (Figure 4), and the fifteen-dollar note celebrates ‘The Land’ (Figure 5). Common to the back of each note is a rendition of the Black Robin, or Chatham Island Robin (Petroica traversi), which emulates a watermark. The Black Robin was facing extinction until the efforts of the New Zealand Wildlife Service and the Chatham Islanders rescued the species.

            There are two varieties of notes prepared for the 2000 issue, with the only differences being the foil stamps on each variety and the serial numbers. The first variety has a gold ‘Millennium First’ foil stamp, containing a globe of the world, the characters ‘1st’ and the words ‘World First’ repeated many times. The use of the characters ‘1st’ refers to the fact the Chatham Islands is the first place in the world to see the sun each day and, by default, the first piece of land to see the sun in the new millennium. According to the CINC the following numbers of notes of the first variety with the gold foil stamp were printed: $2.00 – 22,600, $3.00 – 22,500, $10.00 – 21,600, and $15.00 – 21,500.

            The second variety of notes was limited to 2000 sets, which were sold in a presentation folder and had matching serial numbers, with the last four digits of the serial number also printed on the folder. These notes have a round, silver foil stamp on each denomination (Figure 12), with the characters ‘1st’ printed on it and, for most denominations, the stamp contains the number ‘2000’ repeated horizontally and vertically in various sizes of text; but for the 15-dollar note the number ‘2000’ is repeated on a 45-degree angle.

Figure 12 – The four types of incised foil stamps, or holograms, are shown here. From the left they are: 1) The stamp used on the standard notes of the first issue, 2) The stamp used on the 2-, 3- and 10-dollar notes of the presentation set, 3) The stamp used on the 15-dollar note of the presentation set, and 4) The stamp used on the second series of notes.

            In May 2000, Mr Day (‘Secretary of the Treasury’ for the CINC) stated all but one of the 28 businesses on the islands were using the notes and details of the notes had been approved by the Reserve Bank of New Zealand.[2] The notes were negotiable tender on the islands – people had the option of accepting the notes or the equivalent value in New Zealand currency. On each note the following clause appears: ‘This note is negotiable tender on the Chatham Islands for the millennium year 2000’. The clause is almost meaningless, as any instrument can be regarded as ‘negotiable tender’ as long as the individuals tendering and receiving the instrument agree to its value. However, it appears the island population took a liking to the notes, which became a popular promotion for tourists.

            The Chatham Island notes were openly admitted to being a money-making exercise by the group of New Zealanders who formed the CINC. Six shareholders[3] had banded together to promote the scheme and it appeared their efforts were being rewarded. By May 2000, four hundred sets had been sold to a dealer selling into the Australian market and more sales were expected. Interest in the idea had been shown from other communities in New Zealand and it was hoped a future series for 2001 and for ensuing years might be printed. Even a 5-dollar coin was being investigated. The promoter of the notes was a New Zealand company and their name appears as an imprint in the bottom margin on the back of each note: Timely Marketing & Promotions Limited, Christchurch & Dunedin, New Zealand.

            During the promotion of the Chatham Islands notes, the terms ‘negotiable tender’ and ‘legal tender’ were evidently used interchangeably. At this stage the Reserve Bank of New Zealand stepped in to curb the promotion of the notes in any manner which suggested they were ‘legal tender’ or they had the support of the Reserve Bank as a currency. Murray Sherwin, Deputy Governor of the Reserve Bank of New Zealand stated the notes could be used for transactions in the same way as ‘monopoly play money, sea shells or bottles of beer’ as long the seller was willing to accept them. The notes were harmless as a promotional gimmick and as a bit of fun, but only the Reserve Bank was legally entitled to issue bank notes. However the status of the currency was obviously confusing, as Alliance Member of Parliament John Wright hailed the initiative as a powerful tool for communities to control their money; perhaps not realizing the notes had no legal status.[4]

            The CINC claimed on their web site their notes ‘have been approved by the Reserve Bank of New Zealand as not replicating any existing banknote and meeting the requirements of the Reserve Bank Act 1989’. A second statement on their web site suggested the Reserve Bank of New Zealand had made specific recommendations about the ‘Negotiable Tender’ clause. The statement read: ‘All future CINC Note issues will be to this basic design, including wording on the Notes and their use for transactions, that has also been approved by the Reserve Bank of New Zealand as meeting the requirements of the Reserve Bank Act 1989.’

            The use of the notes on the Chatham Islands appears to have continued for some months, but the differences between the CINC and the Reserve Bank appear not to have been suitably settled in favour of the CINC. The corporation’s web site was for some time modified so that only the home page was accessible and it presented the following statement: ‘This site is under reconstruction & discussion with the Reserve Bank of New Zealand. We apologize for any inconvenience this may cause. This site will be fully operational by the end September 2001’. However, many months after the due date, the web site was finally closed down.

            The success of the notes, both on the islands and in the collector market, saw a new set of Chatham Island notes manufactured with great anticipation for further success. Despite challenges placed before them by the Reserve Bank, during 2001 the CINC worked towards this second issue of notes. According to their former web site, the 2001-2002 issue was to be a significant improvement on their first issue of notes. After many production delays the notes of the second issue were ready for release and they were definitely superior to the earlier issues. Some people might even suggest they are superior to a number of banknotes issued by certain national authorities.

            The notes of the second series are printed by Chan Wanich Security Printing Company Limited of Thailand on a type of plastic, which is very similar to Tyvek in its look and feel. Included on the notes is a ‘Gold Compass Rose hologram’ prepared by Applied Optical Securities of the UK (Figure 12). According to the former CINC web site the security features of the notes include a polymer substrate, intaglio printing, latent images, and other unspecified security features. The ‘unspecified security features’ include two fluorescent features. One is the serial number, which fluoresces red when the note is submitted to ultra-violet light. The second device is the denomination of the note, which is invisible in normal light but which appears as a green fluorescent device at the centre left of the notes when submitted to ultra-violet light.

            The notes of this series have been issued in five denominations – 3, 5, 8, 10 and 15 dollars (see Figures 6 to 11). The notes are very similar in design to their predecessors, but have numerous changes. An albatross has been included in the design, replacing the map of the Chatham Islands which appeared in the first series. On the backs of the notes there are numerous images of sculptures by Woytek, a Polish-born sculptor living in Germany. The sculptures are located on Mt. Hakepa on Pitt Island and are part of a theme and a message that are perpetuated on the notes. The message is ‘Caring for each other and our world’.

            Apart from the addition of the albatross and the change in the hologram on the front of the notes, there are several other subtle changes to the notes of this series. The most noticeable difference is the year used on the note, which is ‘2001’. The year is also used as a latent image in the bottom left of the notes and the ‘promissory’ clause now states: ‘This note is negotiable tender on the Chatham Islands for the millennium years 2001 & 2002’. The signatures are of an unidentified ‘Director of the Corporation’ (possibly Valentine Croon) and of John Day ‘Secretary of the Treasury’.

            The back of each denomination is designed along a theme, each having a picture and an imitation watermark. Details for each denomination are (see Figures 6 to 11):

            In early 2002 Val Croon, a director of CINC and a local businessman on the Chatham Islands, asked the Reserve Bank if it would approve the promotion of the new notes on the Chatham Islands. Instead of giving permission, on 18 March 2002 the Reserve Bank sought and was granted an interim injunction from the New Zealand High Court, which prevented the printing, promotion, supply and sale of the Chatham Islands collector notes. The Reserve Bank believed the notes were too much like real banknotes, having serial numbers, ultra-violet features, and face values in dollars. Brian Lang, head of currency at the Reserve Bank, stated:

The Reserve Bank obtained this injunction to stop the release to the public of look-a-like bank notes that so closely resembled a working currency that members of the public had been deceived.
The Reserve Bank has a statutory responsibility to protect the integrity of New Zealand’s currency, which includes making sure that the public is not misled by imitation money.

After noting there was evidence the first batch of notes had been used as currency and promoted as complying with the Reserve Bank Act, Mr Lang added:

The Reserve Bank advised the company that the notes, and the way they were sold and used, were illegal and without the Reserve Bank’s consent. Despite this, earlier this year the corporation told the Reserve Bank that it intended to sell the notes to Chatham Islands locals and officials, and to advertise and promote the notes on an Internet site. At that point the injunction was sought and obtained.

The Reserve Bank had also asked the CINC to modify existing notes, including overprinting these notes with the words ‘Not Legal Tender’ or ‘Not Money’. Mr. Lang stated:

These modifications would ensure that the notes could not be readily mistaken for legal tender or genuine currency, thereby eliminating the possibility that anybody could be deceived.[5]

            Thus the end of the Chatham Islands notes came about. An exercise which started as a promotion for the new millennium ended in confusion; although the notes of the Chatham Islands Note Corporation can still be found for sale on the collector market.

Foot Notes

This article was completed in February 2014
© Peter Symes