Private Issues – Jason Islands & Chatham Islands

Peter Symes

This is the fourth installment of a study into modern issues of private banknotes. In this study we look at the banknotes issued by the Jason Islands and the Chatham Islands.

            The Jason Islands are probably the most collected of all modern private issues. Over time they have achieved a recognition by dealers and collectors that is probably above their merit. On the other hand, the notes of the Chatham Islands have burst onto the scene with unanticipated success. These notes were originally issued to celebrate the new millennium and there was a close nexus between that unusual event and the success of the issue. Now into their second series, it will be interesting to see if the notes of the Chatham Islands will continue to be as successful as their initial issue.

The Jason Islands Issue

The Jason Islands are the most north-western islands in the Falkland Islands and consist of the Grand Jason Island and the Steeple Jason Island. These uninhabited islands were purchased by Len Hill in March 1970 as his personal penguin rookery. Leonard W. Hill was a British bird-lover who realized his boyhood dream of building a bird sanctuary in England. The sanctuary is the ‘Birdland Zoo Gardens’, located at Burton-on-the-Water in Gloucestershire. By a stroke of fate, the Jason Islands were offered to Len for £10,000, which included sheep that had been stocked by the previous owner. After some negotiation, he bought the islands for £5,500 without the sheep.

            Len turned the islands into a private reserve for the many birds who made the islands their home, although he did enlist some of the inhabitants for his sanctuary at Burton-on-the-Water. Len also provided birds from his islands to other conservation parks in return for specimens to stock the Birdland Zoo Gardens.

            Despite being a successful businessman, the cost of running his sanctuary and purchasing the Jason Islands had stretched his finances. In 1970 Len issued a postage stamp by the ‘Jason Island’ and the sales of this stamp helped to generate revenue for his enterprises. The postage stamp was printed by Harrisons, the British security printer who has printed British postage stamps for many years. Beneath the banner of ‘Conservation Year 1970’ are a portrait of Len Hill, a picture of Grand and Steeple Islands, and Gentoo penguins.

            In the late 1970s Len Hill decided to issue banknotes, purportedly authorized by the Jason Islands. The banknotes were evidently a second attempt to raise money for his conservation activities. The notes consist of five denominations, which are in ascending size and different colours. The notes are: 50 pence (green), 1 pound (purple), 5 pounds (red), 10 pounds (blue) and 20 pounds (brown). The design is common to all denominations. ‘Jason Islands’ appears in the top centre, the denomination appears at the lower centre and Len Hill’s signature, as ‘Administrator’, appears in the centre. To the right is a portrait of Len and to the left is a penguin.

            The penguin is the principal element of the design that changes between denominations. The penguins illustrated on each denomination are: 50 pence – a Humboldt Penguin; 1 pound – a Jackass Penguin; 5 Pound – a Rockhopper Penguin; 10 pound – a Gentoo Penguin; and 20 pounds – a King Penguin. At the bottom right of each note appears to be a reference number, which is assumed to be the same for each denomination. The 20-pound notes have ‘6H 4483’, the 10-pound notes have ‘6H 4484’, and the numbers increment to the 50 pence note which has ‘6H 4487’. The numbers are incorporated in the design of the note and are not applied as a secondary process.

            The backs of all notes carry the same design, differing only for the text and numerals that give the value of the note. The dominant design is of a vignette of one of the Jason Islands, from which stretches a panel that includes the text ‘Jason Islands’ and the denomination of the note. Peeping above this panel are some flowers, while their stems appear just below the panel. The remainder of the design is constructed with geometric patterns, which in places produce a moire effect.

            It is not known when the notes were issued, but on their back is the statement: ‘Valid until 31 December 1979’. This declaration cleverly protects the issuer from a claim at a later date, and this strategy is used by a number of issuers of private banknotes. The statement also suggests that the notes were issued in 1978 or 1979. The total number of notes issued by Len Hill is unknown, but it is most likely to have been many thousand. The other missing piece of information is the identity of the printer. Despite being of simple production, the notes are very well printed with the fine lines being clear and well-defined on each note.

            The issue of notes by Len Hill caused no concern to the Government of the Falkland Islands. The Government has the sole right to issue notes in the Falkland Islands, which of course includes the Jason Islands. When the notes were issued the authorities on the Falkland Islands quite sensibly viewed the issue as a private sector initiative and took no action against the owner of the Jason Islands.

            Len Hill died quite a few years ago and both the Birdland Zoo Gardens and the Jason Islands have passed from his family. The Jason Islands were purchased Michael and Judy Steinhardt, who have donated them to the Wildlife Conservation Society, of which they were trustees. Therefore, it seems highly unlikely that another issue of banknotes from the Jason Islands will be forthcoming.

Chatham Islands

The Chatham Islands are a small group of islands that belong to New Zealand. The Islands remained wrapped in obscurity until the fever of the new millennium gripped the world. At that time it was realized that 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 cash in on the unique position of the Islands. The ‘Chatham Islands Note Corporation’ (CINC) was formed and prepared an issue of notes to celebrate the occasion. Although the banknotes are a promotional issue, there has been 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 that 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 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 have a common format, with the head of a Taiko bird dominating the front of each note. A coloured pattern is in the centre of the note and to the left of the pattern is a map of the Chatham Islands. At the far left is a foil hologram and below the hologram 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 a Mr. Innes as ‘Director of the Corporation’ and a Mr. Day as ‘Secretary of the Treasury’.

            The back of each denomination celebrates an aspect of the Islands. The themes for each note are ‘The Sea’ on the $2.00 note, ‘The Community’ on the $3.00 note, ‘The History’ on the $10.00 note, and the $15.00 note celebrates ‘The Land’. Common to the back of each note is a rendition of the Black Robin, 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. The first variety has a silver foil hologram on each denomination, with the characters ‘1st’ printed on it. This refers to the fact that 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. For most denominations, the hologram 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. The notes of the second variety have a gold ‘Millenium First’ hologram. This hologram contains a globe of the world, the characters ‘1st’ and the words ‘World First’ repeated many times. There were 2000 of each denomination printed with the silver hologram and many more of the notes with the gold hologram. According to the CINC the following numbers of the second variety with the gold hologram were printed: $2.00 – 22,600, $3.00 – 22,500, $10.00 – 21,600, and $15.00 – 21,500.

            Perhaps the most important clause to appear on the notes is: ‘This note is negotiable tender on the Chatham Islands for the millennium year 2000’. This statement is important because certain claims by the CINC brought it to the attention of the Reserve Bank of New Zealand. The clause on the banknotes 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. 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 that suggested they were ‘legal tender’ or that they had the support of the Reserve Bank.

            The CINC has made claims on their web site that 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 the web-site suggests that the Reserve Bank of New Zealand had made specific recommendations about the ‘Negotiable Tender’ clause. The statement reads: ‘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.’

            However, the differences between the CINC and the Reserve Bank appear not to have been suitably settled in favour of the CINC. Their 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.

            During 2001 the CINC worked towards a second issue of notes. According to their closed 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 have been released and it can be seen that the notes are definitely superior to the earlier issues. Some people might even say that they are superior to a number of banknotes issued by certain national authorities. However, the liberal use of colour on the back of the notes may not be to everyone’s liking. For those who appreciate the art of banknote production, this issue is certain to offer some appeal.

            The notes of the second series are printed by Chan Wanich Security Printing 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. According to the 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. 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 that appeared in the first series, and 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 ‘Care 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 use of a ‘promissory’ clause similar to the clause used on the first issue suggests that the Reserve Bank of New Zealand may never have been concerned with the wording of the original clause.) The signature of the ‘Director of the Corporation’ and the ‘Secretary of the Treasury’ again appear on the notes, although they are different signatures to those on the 2000 series.

            The backs of the five denominations carry their own themes and individual, imitation watermarks. Details for each denomination are:

            On the gagged web-site, the CINC state the number of each denomination prepared for this release. These are: $3.00 – 28,571; $5.00 – 21,429; $8.00 – 21,429; $10.00 – 14,286; and $15.00 – 14,285.

            Having stumbled upon a marketing tool for the Chatham Islands, the CINC seems determined to continue with further issues of its notes. It remains to be seen whether the popularity of the first series can be maintained in the second series. Certainly, by improving their product they are in a position to capitalize on their earlier success and they may find a continuing market amongst banknote collectors.

This article was completed in June 2002
© Peter Symes