Sir E. Hilton Young

Peter Symes

Sir Edward Hilton Young (1879–1960) holds a strangely unique position as a signatory of world banknotes. He is the only man to have signed the banknotes of an issuing authority with two different names. In both instances he signed banknotes issued in Iraq, as the Chairman of the Iraq Currency Board.

            Hilton Young had an eclectic education, studying chemistry at University College, London, before completing a degree in natural sciences at Cambridge. He later studied law but, after a brief career, forsook it to study international law at the university of Freiburg. Ultimately, he developed into a journalist and writer on financial matters. After maturing his talents, Hilton Young became assistant editor of The Economist (from 1908 to 1910), followed by positions as City editor of the Morning Post and London correspondent of the New York Times financial supplement. His knowledge of financial matters was later to stand him in good stead for numerous roles.

            With war looming, in 1914 he joined the Royal Naval Volunteer Reserve. As the War proceeded he served with the Grand Fleet, with the naval Mission to the Serbian Army on the Danube, and with light cruisers on the Harwich station. For his actions at Nieuport les Bains in Belgium, where he manned naval siege guns, he was awarded the Distinguished Service Cross and the Croix de Guerre.

            In 1918 he volunteered to support the blockade of Zeebrugge. While serving aboard the Vindictive, commanding a gun turret, he had his right arm shot off. For this action he received a bar to his Distinguished Service Cross and a period of rest. Despite being handicapped, on his recovery he volunteered for service in Russia. Here he commanded an armoured train, engaging Bolsheviks. For his deeds in Russia he was awarded the Distinguished Service Order.

            After the War Hilton Young turned to politics and later married Kathleen Scott, the widow of Robert Falcon Scott. His parliamentary career had commenced when he was elected to the House of Commons in 1915, while absent fighting in Europe. Elected as a Liberal, he refused to support Lloyd George’s land policy in 1926, which he considered socialist, and he became an independent. During the general strike he became a Conservative and remained in Parliament until 1935. It was during his term in Parliament that Hilton Young began his association with Iraq and matters of currency.

            Iraq had become a League of Nations mandate, under the control of Great Britain, following the end of the Great War. The British expeditionary forces had introduced the Indian Rupee to Iraq during the War and this remained the currency of Britain’s choice for Iraq after the War. However, the Iraqis wished to have their own currency. In 1925 Hilton Young visited Iraq and put to the Iraqi government a scheme whereby a currency board, located in London, could issue currency for Iraq. The London-based currency board model was already in use by Britain in a number of its colonies and was to be introduced into more colonies in the next twenty to thirty years.

            However, the Iraqi government did not support the proposal and so the push by Iraq for their own currency foundered. Five years later, in 1930, the matter was raised again by Iraq and this time there was a willingness to proceed with the currency board. Hilton Young again visited Iraq and took the leading role in establishing the framework in which the Iraq Currency Board was to operate. He drafted the law that introduced the currency and that established the currency board. He also designed the first banknotes, which were later printed by Bradbury Wilkinson & Company of New Malden, Surrey.

            Following his success in establishing the Board, Hilton Young was asked by the Iraqi Government to become the Board’s first Chairman, a position he accepted. As Chairman of the Currency Board, Hilton Young became one of the first signatories of the banknotes issued by the Iraq Currency Board. Signing his name ‘E. Hilton Young’, his signature is written in a distinctive half-uncial script. This peculiar style of writing was developed by Hilton Young as he learned to write with his left hand, following the loss of his right arm in the War.

            In January 1932 Sir Edward Hilton Young became Minister for Health in the British Government and subsequently resigned from the Iraq Currency Board. He was succeeded by Mr. Leopold Stennett Amery MP. Mr. Amery served as Chairman of the Board until late 1939, when he was appointed Secretary of State for India. The departure of Mr. Amery saw the return of Hilton Young to the chairmanship of Currency Board. Of course, as Chairman, his signature returned to the banknotes of the Currency Board. However, this time the name ‘Kennet’ appeared in his peculiar half-uncial script.

            After Hilton Young had retired from politics in 1935, he had accepted a peerage, as Lord Kennet of the Dene. Thus, when he returned to the Currency Board he was able to supply an entirely new specimen signature for use on the banknotes.

            As well as being Chairman of the Iraq Currency Board, Hilton Young served on a number of missions and commissions. He headed a mission to Poland from 1923 to 1925, which helped to establish a stable economy and which introduced the zloty. In 1925-26 he was chairman of a royal commission on Indian finance, which (amongst other things) drew up the constitution of the Reserve Bank of India and on several occasions he was a member of the British delegation to the League of Nations. In his later life he served as director to a number of companies, one of which was the British Bank of the Middle East.

            As with many men who do well in their chosen field, Hilton Young was able to participate in, and contribute to, many important areas. While he may not have considered his signatures on the banknotes of Iraq to have been of much importance, for many collectors his unique position, of having signed two names for an issuing authority, will always make him a little outstanding.

This article was completed in January 2003
© Peter Symes