Private Issues – The Antarctica Issues and the NORFED Issues

Peter Symes

Have you ever thought of issuing your own banknotes? Many people have not only thought of issuing their own currency, many people have done it. History is littered with cases of individuals and companies that have issued their own forms of currencies. These issues were largely due to necessity, such as a shortage of coin, but there have been other motives.

            In some countries, such as Scotland, for many years it was a common law right for a person to issue banknotes. All that an individual had to do was to print the notes and then get people to accept them. This was the difficult part of the exercise. Issuing a banknote is very much like writing a cheque and, just as it can sometimes be difficult to get a stranger to accept a cheque, it can also be difficult to get a person to accept a banknote backed by an individual of whom they have never heard.

            The right to issue banknotes in Scotland was tightened in the early nineteenth century, when all banknotes had to have a revenue stamp affixed to them. This meant that an individual had to pay the government before they could issue their own notes. The increased regulation of banking around that time and the necessity for the revenue stamps meant that very few people considered issuing their own notes after this time. There is one notable exception, which was James Alexander Stewart Mackenzie. He issued his own notes from Stornoway on the Island of Lewis & Harris. His issue was not a great success and the issue was quite limited.

            In the modern era, there have been numerous attempts by people to issue their own banknotes. However, as the governments of most countries regulate the issue of currency within their borders, such issues are quite limited. Some modern issues by private individuals and companies will be discussed here and in subsequent articles, highlighting the entities concerned, their notes and how successful the issues have been. As will be seen, very few of these issues pretend to challenge the circulation of other currencies, as they are usually promotional activities.

            Throughout these studies the various note issues are referred to as ‘private’ issues. There is a temptation to call them ‘fantasy’ issues, but this would be a little unkind to some of the issues, as most purport to be real money at their time of issue. They are certainly not ‘fantasy’ notes in the sense of notes sold as gimmicks, such as million-dollar notes, or notes with celebrities or politicians on them. For their issuers, the notes discussed here and in future artilces had (or have) a value which could be redeemed at some time. The issues are referred to as ‘private’ issues because they have all been issued by individuals or organizations who have no recognized authority to issue their own notes, apart from their own belief that they can do so.

Antarctic Notes

The Antarctica Overseas Exchange Office was established with the aim of issuing banknotes as a fund-raising exercise for projects in Antarctica. Founded by D. J. Hamilton, the Exchange’s address is recorded on its banknotes as a post office box in Custer, Washington, in the United States. According to their web-site (, 20% of all revenue from the sale of the notes will be used to defray the costs of the Exchange, while the remaining 80% will be available to organizations seeking to undertake research and humanitarian projects in the Antarctic region.

            The web site promises to make known the full value of the fund established for donations through the sale of their first series, which could no longer be exchanged after 31 December 2001. (By the time this article is published the details of the fund may be available on their web site.) There have been three series of notes issued by the Exchange, with the series known as the 1996, 1999 and 2001 series.

            There were six denominations in the 1996 series, issued in 1-, 5-, 10-, 20-, 50- and 100-Antarctican Dollars. The notes were sold in various ‘series’ and in a number of collector packs. All denominations are the same size and quite large, measuring approximately 182 x 93 mm. The notes were issued by the Exchange on 2 March 1996, although they are dated 1 March 1996, and signed by D. John Hamilton as the Comptroller and A.D.J. Carman as Assistant Comptroller.

            Printed by the British American Banknote Company (Quebecor Financial Printing) on wove paper, the notes use very bright colours and are printed with four colour lithography. The principal security feature is a foil stamp in the top left-hand corner on the back of the note. The foil contains an iridescent mosaic pattern that reflects light in different colours. According to the web site, the paper carries a watermark, but it has not been possible for this researcher to identify any watermark. If a watermark does exist, it is made difficult to identify, due to the full-colour printing.

            Other security features include micro-printed text and scrambled indicia. The micro-printing consists of a line created by the repetition of ‘Antarctica’ along the top on the front of the notes. Scrambled indicia is used on the back of the notes in the panel at the far right. Scrambled indicia is a patented anti-counterfeiting device provided by Graphic Security Systems Corporation. The process allows a digitally prepared image or pattern to be printed, which only becomes apparent when a decoder or lens is laid over the image. (Not having a decoder available, it is uncertain what pattern appears on these notes when it is decoded, but it is thought to be a repetition of ‘Antarctica Overseas Exchange Office’.)

            The front of the 1-dollar note has a view of mountainous Peterman Island with several penguins in the foreground and on its back it has an illustration of Adelie Penguins on Paulet Island. The 5-dollar note has Antarctic scenes on its front and an albatross and killer whales depicted on its back. The 10-dollar note honours Robert Falcon Scott with his portrait on the front of the note and a map of Antarctica on the back. The 20-dollar note depicts Roald Amundsen and celebrates his achievement as the leader of the first expedition to reach the South Pole. The 50-dollar note carries an illustration of the McMurdo scientific base in Antarctica, while the back of the note celebrates the International Antarctic Treaty. The front and back of the 100-dollar note record details of the hole in the ozone layer over Antarctica. There has obviously been a lot of thought put into these notes, with many of the design features having much significance, particularly in the higher denomination notes celebrating the Antarctic Treaty and drawing attention to the hole in the ozone.

            However, there is nothing quite like an error to draw attention to a note and there is an error on these notes that will be immediately apparent to people living in the southern hemisphere. On the back of each note, in the top right-hand corner, is the constellation of the Southern Cross. Appearing on the flags of several nations in the southern half of the globe, such as Australia, New Zealand and New Guinea, this stellar formation can only be seen south of the equator. The problem with the depiction of the Southern Cross on the notes issued by the Antarctica Overseas Exchange is that it is a mirror image of the constellation as viewed from the Earth. The smallest star, Epsilon, should be positioned towards the top of the image rather than the bottom. (Check the Australian flag to see the correct formation.)

            The Antarctica Overseas Exchange is quite open in declaring their intentions with the Antarctican Dollars. The notes are redeemable up to 31 December 2001 (for this, the 1996 series), after which they become simple mementoes of the fund-raising efforts of the Exchange. The Exchange is tapping into two areas for their marketing – afficionados of Antarctica, who will ultimately view the notes as receipts for their donation to the cause, and banknote collectors, who will view the notes as examples of a private banknote issue. As the Comptroller of the Exchange is both a banknote collector and an individual interested in the frozen continent, he has been able to use his knowledge of both areas to build a strong and successful promotional tool.

            Having been successful in producing and marketing the first series of notes, the Exchange has launched into the production of a second series. This series was issued from 1999 to 2001. The 1999 series consists of just two notes, a 1-dollar and a 2-dollar note. The 1-dollar note was released on 22 April 1999, which happened to be Earth Day and this is printed on the notes. The Exchange acknowledges that there has been far greater sales of the low denomination notes and the early release of this 1-dollar note reflects the demand on this denomination.

            The design of the 1-dollar note of the 1999 series is very similar to the 1-dollar issue of 1996, but there have been subtle changes. Most noticeable is the reduced size, with the note measuring approximately 161 x 81 mm, and the introduction of a purple margin, as opposed to the white margin on the earlier issues. The reduction in size is definitely an improvement, as the large size of the notes in the 1996 issue detracted from their perception as banknotes. The principal design changes on the new note are a perfect registration device in the lower centre, the single signature of D. John Hamilton (as opposed to the two signatures of the earlier series), a foil-stamped denomination on the back of the note, and the appellation of ‘Dollar’ rather than ‘Antarctican Dollar’ on the notes.

            The 2-dollar note was issued on 28 November 1999 and is a new denomination to the issues of the Exchange. The introduction of this denomination is probably due to the greater sales of low denomination notes and the desire of the Exchange to capitalize on the sales of the cheaper notes. On the front of the 2-dollar note is a picture of two penguins (mother and child), set in very inhospitable, rocky surroundings. The back of the note is dominated by a flag, above which is shown Mt. Erebus. The flag is not an internationally recognized flag, but appears to be a creation of the Antarctica Overseas Exchange Office. The flag includes the Southern Cross, but once again the layout of the constellation is faulty. According to the web-site for the Exchange, there is ‘a light suggestion of facial outline in the design of the flag’. Mt. Erebus is famous for the crash of Air New Zealand flight 901 on 28 November 1979. The plane was on a scenic flight to Antarctica and crashed, killing all passengers and crew – over 200 people.

            It will not go unnoticed that the date on the banknote is the twentieth anniversary of the tragedy at Mt. Erebus. This makes the note a commemorative issue, and thus a target for collectors of commemorative notes. The 2-dollar note continues the use of the perfect registration device, the single signature, foil-stamped denomination, and the appellation of ‘Dollars’ introduced on the 1-dollar note.

            The notes of the 2001 issue are dated 1 January 2001 and carry the slogan ‘The New Millennium’ below the date. The issue consists of the denominations 5, 10, 20, 50 and 100 dollars. While very similar to their predecessors, there have been some dramatic changes to some of the notes. The 5-dollar note is one denomination that has been completely changed. The design on the front of the previous 20-dollar note, with the profile of Roald Amundsen, is now used for the front of the 5-dollar note. The back of the note shows an albatross standing on land with its wings outstretched and head pointed heavenwards. The 20-dollar note also has entirely new designs on its front and back. The front carries a picture of seals on ice floes while the back shows various avifauna of the Antarctica, set against a dramatic rock formation. The back of this note is unique in that it is designed in portrait rather than landscape format. The 10-, 50- and 100-dollar notes of this series are largely unchanged from the previous series.

            There are a number of design changes that affect the 2001 series. As with the 1999 series, the notes now carry the appellation of ‘Dollars’ rather than ‘Antarctican Dollars’, carry only one signature, and the denomination is stamped in metallic foil on the back of every note. They do not use the registration device adopted for the 1999 issues.

            The notes of the 1999-2001 series are issued with various serial number prefixes and in a number of different packs designed for the collector, continuing the same marketing ploys of the 1996 series. The notes of the 2001 series are also available as specimen notes. The issued notes remain redeemable for the equal value of United States Dollars up to certain dates. The 1- and 2-dollar notes are redeemable until 31 December 2008, while the notes of the 2001 issue are redeemable until 31 December 2010.

            Will the 1999 and 2001 series be as successful as the 1996 series? Will the novelty of the Exchange’s issues wear thin, or has D. John Hamilton established an ongoing interest in his notes and the Antarctica? Time will tell. Certainly, for a promotional activity, his time frame is ambitious and judging by the redemption dates (2008 and 2010), there may not be another series for some time, unless the Exchange plans to issue regular series that overlap in their dates of validity.


Of all modern privately issued banknotes, the notes issued by NORFED in the United States of America behave most like banknotes, in that they are issued to circulate as currency and they are not issued specifically to become collector’s pieces. NORFED’s full title is the ‘National Organization for the Repeal of the Federal Reserve Act & the Internal Revenue Code’. Disillusioned with the policies of the Federal Government and specifically the activities of the Federal Reserve, NORFED has decided to issue their own banknotes. Their notes are fully backed by silver and gold and it is their contention that American currency should be completely backed by these metals, as opposed to the partial backing of the notes issued by the Federal Reserve. The politics of NORFED are not the subject of this discussion, as it is their notes which are of interest. It is, however, interesting to observe that these notes are negotiable and redeemable on demand, with generous time limits on their redemption. This is contrary to many ‘private’ issues, which carry a sunset clause that quickly reduces their value to a souvenir and which are issued predominantly as revenue-generating exercises.

            NORFED notes are issued in the denominations of 1, 5, 10 and 500 dollars. The principal design feature on the front of the notes is a depiction of the Statue of Liberty and the title of ‘American Liberty Currency’. The 1-, 5- and 10-dollar notes are backed respectively by one-tenth, one-half and one troy ounce of .999 fine silver and the 500-dollar note is backed by one troy ounce of .999 fine gold. The front of the notes are signed by Bernard von NotHaus, as ‘Senior Economist’, and carry details of the conditions by which the notes are issued. The 1-dollar note carries the following text:

                        ‘Silver Certificate – This is a Receipt for One (US$1.00) Dollar given in exchange for Title to One Tenth (1/10) Troy ounce of .999 Fine Silver. The acceptance and use of this One (US$1.00) Dollar Receipt is an exercise of the Bearer’s first Amendment right to petition the Government for a silver based currency as mandated by the U.S. Constitution.’

            The notes are in fact receipts for silver and gold held by ‘Shelter System Warehouses in Coeur d’Alamo, Idaho’. The back of each note carries the terms of the ‘Warehouse Receipt’, which is duly signed and dated by a ‘Warehouse Official’. It is in the wording of this receipt that we discover a ‘sunset’ clause for the notes. Part of the receipt reads:

                        ‘This warehouse receipt at the warehouse identified below shall expire unless renewed or surrendered within twenty (20) years from date of issue.’

While this is undoubtedly a declaration of limited liability, the period of guarantee is quite generous. However, the fine print then describes how the value of the notes will be eroded after a five year period. The pertinent sentences are:

                        ‘The undersigned warehouse official certifies that this silver [against which the notes are backed] is insured against fire and theft. Storage and insurance fees have been prepaid for five (5) years from date of issue. Thereafter, storage and insurance fees are one percent (1%) per year of the value of silver prorated at the time of surrender. Additional fees limited to shipping and handling may be incurred upon surrender of this warehouse receipt.’

So, while the notes are backed by silver, the value of the notes actually becomes less over a period of time. While the objective of NORFED is to issued notes backed by gold and silver, the history of the last century has shown that currencies backed by gold and silver can be subject to the vagaries of fluctuating prices of the metals. How major fluctuations in the price of gold and silver will affect the value of these notes is not known, but if the price of silver and gold was to go up, it may become wise to surrender the notes immediately and claim the precious metals!

            The NORFED notes are produced by ‘Verify First Technologies’ and some effort has been made to provide security features on the notes. The most noticeable feature is the silver foil stamp in the lower left. This has iridescent images incised into the foil, with renditions of a padlock and an ornate key being reflected by light. Micro-printing is used in abundance. The line on which the Senior Economist places his signature is in fact a line of micro-printed text, which gives the short and long names of the issuing authority, plus a little bit of a policy statement. The text reads: ‘NORFED – National Organization for the Repeal of the Federal Reserve Act and the Internal Revenue Code to free America from the fraud of Fractional Reserve Banking – NORFED’.

            Surrounding the banknote, in the white margins, are strings of micro-text which quote from classic American texts. Where the text does not complete the line in the margin, the denomination of the note is repeated alternately in words and numerals. The four micro-printed statements are:

            Completing the security features on the notes is a fluorescent strip of ink printed on the front of the notes. This strip is invisible in normal light but fluoresces purple when the note is subjected to ultra-violet light.

            The NORFED currency has been released in various series, with the number of the series being the year of issue. The series number is located at the bottom left, just above the foil stamp.

            The NORFED web-site (at ) offers a range of items for sale. Their primary objective is the use of their notes in everyday commerce within America, and so packs of these notes can be purchased for use at businesses that accept them. There is a program that offers to educate people on NORFED currency and lists of businesses that accept the currency. However, the collector is not left unattended. There are a number of products for sale, which are revenue-raising and promotional exercises.

            Whether the concept of ‘American Liberty Currency’ will catch on, and ultimately challenge the notes of the Federal Reserve, remains to be seen. For collectors interested in privately issued banknotes, they remain an intriguing series to collect, although the 500-dollar note may prove to be beyond the budget of many collectors.

This article was completed in May 2002
© Peter Symes