Private Issues – The Hutt River Province Principality & The Duchy of Avram
This is the fifth and final article to review some of the issuers of private banknotes in the modern era. Both issuers in this study come from the continent of Australia. It would be unfair to say that they both come from the country of Australia, as the Hutt River Province Principality and the Duchy of Avram probably see themselves as independent entities within the continent. There is no challenge to their legitimacy in this study, as we are only interested in the banknotes that they have issued.
However, It is worth mentioning at this point that, unlike some other issues discussed in this series, there is no ‘sunset’ clause on the notes issued by the Principality or the Duchy. Therefore they continue to be a debt that should be honoured by the entities who issued them.
Prince Leonard of Hutt
In 1970 Leonard Casley was a Western Australian wheat farmer. In Australia, wheat farmers sold their crop to the Australian Wheat Board under a quota system. When Leonard Casley’s family was offered an inadequate quota in November 1969, they challenged the legality of the quota system. Mr. Casley then took exception to the way in which he was being handled by the Wheat Board and by the Australian Government. In protest at his situation he investigated the laws of Australia and the state of Western Australia and decided that under a certain law he could form a ‘self-preservation government’. So, on 21 April 1970 the Casely’s seceded from Australia and declared their property the ‘Hutt River Province’.
Initially, Leonard Casely declared himself the ‘Administrator’ of the Province. While the Australian Government refused to have anything to do with the secession, several pieces of correspondence by certain sections of the Government were addressed to the ‘Administrator’ of Hutt River Province. This was seen by the secessionists as a form of recognition. However, shortly after secession a new Prime Minister was elected to lead Australia. He immediately announced that the secession was invalid. Delving into more obscure laws, Leonard Casely and his family decided that the secession could be more properly defended if the head of the seceding state was a Prince. So the Province was declared a Principality and the Administrator became Prince Leonard of the Hutt River Province Principality.
The Hutt River Province covers an area of approximately 75 square kilometres. The primary income of the principality is from the sale of wildflowers, agricultural products, and philatelic and numismatic items. The Principality also makes money as a tourist destination and as a purveyor of honours and titles.
During the thirty years that Prince Leonard has managed to remain independent he has produced numerous philatelic and numismatic products. These items are unashamedly sold into that section of the collector market that chooses to collect fantasy pieces. While postage stamps and coins have made up the bulk of his offerings, the Hutt River Province has issued one series of banknotes.
The banknotes of the Hutt River Province were issued in five denominations – 10 cents, 20 cents, 50 cents, 1 dollar and 2 dollars. The notes have a common design on their front and they are all the same size, although each denomination is printed in different colours. Dominating the design on the front of the notes is a portrait of Prince Leonard at the right and the seal of the Principality at the lower centre left. The seal carries the date 1970. The rest of the design is constructed with geometric patterns and various texts. The notes are signed by Prince Leonard vertically across the middle of each note.
The design on the back of each note contains the seal of the Hutt River Province, the denomination and the name of the Principality. However, dominating the back of each note is a pattern that repeats two images per note. The 10-cent note carries repeated images of boomerangs and shields, the 20-cent note bears swans and pigs, the 50-cent note shows cows and tractors, the 1-dollar note shows horses and kangaroos, while the 2-dollar note shows emus and Australian native flora (possibly a ‘black boy’ bush).
Each note has two serial numbers on its front. The serial numbers consist of a single letter followed by a six-digit number. A letter of the alphabet has been assigned to each denomination, starting with ‘A’ for the 2-dollar note, ‘B’ for 1-dollar note, down to ‘E’ for the 10-cent note. If all combinations of the serial number have been used then one million notes of each denomination would have been produced. While some very high numbers have been seen, it is not known how many notes of each denomination were printed.
Each note carries a ‘legal tender’ clause on its front and back. The small print may make it difficult to read, but for those with good vision, the following clause can be read: ‘Legal tender only in the Hutt River Province’. It is presumed, therefore, that the notes can be used in the Hutt River Province at any time and each note remains a liability that will be honoured by Prince Leonard.
The Australian Government continues to aver that the province holds no official status and is not recognized by the Australian or any other government. Passports, titles, and postage stamps issued by the Principality are not recognized by Australia and all such objects are regarded as fantasy items. According to official statements, the ‘Hutt River Province’ is just a privately owned wheat farm. It would be interesting to know if Prince Leonard has paid any tax to the Australian Government in all his years of independence, and if he has not, why the Government does not take action. It is probable that it is considered better to let sleeping dogs lie, rather than pursuing the issue, which would just give the Prince an opportunity to promote his cause.
Considering the length of time the Principality has been in existence, and the number of coins and stamps that have been issued by Prince Leonard, it is a little peculiar that only one issue of banknotes has been made. Perhaps afficionados of private issues will just have to bide their time and wait for another issue! For those interested in the Hutt River Province, follow the trail to http://www.wps.com.au/huttriver/
The Duchy of Avram
The Duchy of Avram is not a Duchy in the sense that one might initially conceive such an entity. It is not a land-based, physically identifiable entity, but rather an ethereal society of like-minded individuals who are located throughout the world and, presumably, linked by a common belief or understanding. The Duke of Avram is (usually) resident in Tasmania, Australia. How the Duchy came to be formed is of some conjecture. According to the web-site of the Duchy ( http://www.grandduchy.org/ ) the name Avram is ‘qabalistic’. The web-site states:
‘Frequently, over the centuries, the Qabala has been lost and rediscovered. We find this with Avram; in still more remote ages, it disappears from sight of enquirers, but not from those who have inherited the most ancient of knowledge. Avram means “he who possesses, the basis of the world” and is sometimes a symbol of all that radiates from the sun. Avram is he who, having gone through many layers of differentiation, receives the pulsation of life, which transfigures that proliferation on a level with cosmic action. In simple words, the action of an Avram in his own, house has a cosmic significance.’
Take the declaration as you will. Supported in today’s incarnation by the Duke of Avram, the Duchy appears to some people as an ‘imaginary’ entity established by men who seek the notion of independence and who endeavour to ennoble themselves with self-proclaimed honours. The Duke himself refutes this classification and takes great pride in the Duchy and the ideals it promotes.
While the Duke of Avram may appear to many people as eccentric and lost in a world of his own, he is obviously well-educated and there is undoubtedly a little bit of rebel attitude in his character.
Prior to the establishment of the ‘Royal Bank of Avram’, the Duke had written a doctoral thesis for business administration entitled ‘How to Form and Operate Your Own Bank in Australia’. Exercising the knowledge he had gained, the Royal Bank of Avram was ‘founded’ by Royal Charter and Letters Patent dated 1 October 1980. (The authorities granting the Charter and the Letters Patent are unknown. Evidently the documents were taken by the Australian Police – see below – and never returned.) The Bank is almost as ethereal as the Duchy itself. There are no known directors of the Bank and it appears never to have produced an Annual Report (although as a private entity it need not produce an Annual Report if it pleases).
The first banknotes issued by the ‘Royal Bank of Avram’ are dated 1 October 1980 and were released into ‘circulation’ in the same year. The notes were issued in five denominations, with each note being a different colour and ascending in size. The denominations and their colours are: 1 Avram – blue, 3 Avrams – green, 5 Avrams – orange, 7 Avrams – purple, and 15 Avrams – yellow. According to the Duke of Avram, the notes were designed by ‘The Right Honourable The Baron Ramsat’ and the choice of denominations was determined by the Baron for their appeal to collectors.
Common to the front of each note is the name of the duchy, ‘Duchy of Avram’, a portrait of ‘His Grace the Duke’, and imitation engine work. While the central example of imitated engine work is the same for each note, the design at the left varies slightly for each note, except that on the largest denomination note the left-hand design varies dramatically. The notes are signed ‘Avram’ as the ‘Governor Royal Bank of Avram’ and each note bears the actual signature of the Duke, not a facsimile signature.
Common to the back of each note is the title ‘Royal Bank of Avram’ and a small representation of the coat of armorial bearings of the Duke of Avram. Each denomination carries a different coat of armorial bearings as the major design feature on its back, accompanied by the name of the owner of the coat of arms. The coat of arms for each denomination is:
Each coat of armorial bearings has been granted to the individuals concerned by Letters Patent. (Again, it is not clear who authorized the Letters Patent.) Each banknote carries a serial number on its front and back, and most sets of notes carry the same serial number.
On 29 July 1981 the Royal Bank of Avram issued a 25-Avram note to celebrate the wedding of Prince Charles and Lady Diana Spencer. This note is the only denomination of the Royal Bank’s second issue. The commemorative note carries a portrait of His Grace the Duke at the right and the following text at the left:
By the Grace of God, we the people of the Duchy of Avram by our deed, hand and seals humbly offer our warmest best wishes for a happy and fruitful marriage to H.R.H. Prince Charles, Duke of Cornwall and Rothesay, on his wedding day. 29/7/1981
The back of the 25-Avram note carries an Australian rural image, taken from a photograph. Unusually, for the higher denomination note, there is only one serial number on this note, located on the front of the note. According to the Duke, there was considerable interest in this note following the tragic death of the Princess Diana.
The Royal Bank of Avram was also responsible for the issue of several sets of coins, which were issued as ‘Ducals’. (There are 100 ducals to the Avram.) In 1985 the issue of banknotes and coins came to the attention of the Australian Treasury, who decided to prosecute the Duke on behalf of the Government of Australia. The Duke was prosecuted under the Australian Banking Act of 1959, which states, amongst many other things, that:
While, on the face of it, the Duke and the Royal Bank of Avram would appear to have contravened these sections of the Banking Act, the Government was unable to successfully prosecute the Duke. In all, six court cases were brought against the Duke, and in each case the court found that there was no case to answer. Subsequent appeals by the Australian Government were also unsuccessful. The matter became a cause celebre in Tasmania and the Duke subsequently stood for the seat of Lyons in the Tasmanian Parliament and was duly elected. He later became the shadow Minister for Construction.
The notes issued by the Royal Bank of Avram are available as issued notes or as samples. ‘Issued notes’ cost in the region US$250.00 for the first series and US$150.00 for the single note of the second series. Notes over-stamped with the word ‘SAMPLE’ are available at a greatly reduced cost of US$3.00 per note. One of the more intriguing aspects of the notes is their exchange rate. Quite early in the history of the notes, in the 1980s, the exchange rate of the Avram was stated to be: 1 Avram = A$4.60. Currently, the exchange rate is calculated at: 1 Avram = US$10.00. (The US Dollar is currently equal to approximately A$2.00, so it would appear that the value of the Avram has increased in the last twenty years or, alternatively, the Australian Dollar has decreased in value.)
The latest news from the Duchy is that the Avram is now linked to gold as a standard, after about fifteen years of being attached to the United States Dollar. There are currently thirty Avram to one ounce of gold. What this means to the Avram, only time will tell!
Although rumours suggested that a millennium issue of notes might be forthcoming from the Royal Bank of Avram, they have not eventuated. However, the notes of the first two ‘series’ can still be purchased. For those interested in contacting the ‘Royal Bank of Avram’, details can be found at http://www.heraldic.org/rba/ or http://www.royalbanker.org/
In the last five articles a number of private currency issues have been investigated. Why do people collect the private issues described here? Some of the notes illustrated in this series of articles have found their way into the author’s collection over the years and some have been purchased specifically to illustrate this article. Of those that were already in his collection, some were purchased as curiosities, some were gifts, and one set was forced upon the author by an unscrupulous auctioneer at a local auction held by the International Bank Note Society in Sydney, Australia.
The attraction of some of these notes is that they are actually negotiable. Some notes are always redeemable and a number of the issues have ‘sunset’ clauses on them, whereby they are redeemable until a certain date. Then again, there would be very little chance of getting your money back from some of the issues, despite their declarations to that effect. Most of them are simply promotional activities that take advantage of people’s fondness for currency.
For many readers, the attraction of these private issues is that they emulate true banknotes and for that reason they are of interest. Some of the designs on the banknotes are also a celebration of the banknote as a work of art and technology. Some of the others are obviously works of a local printer and an amateur designer.
It is of interest that some of these private issues have been very successful from the promoter’s point of view, while others have been less successful. Why do some sell and others not? Cost appears to be a limiting factor. Most people are prepared to outlay a certain amount to obtain items that have curiosity value, but the higher priced items seem to have difficulty in finding a market. (One might argue that this is the case with real banknotes available to collectors.) Availability is another key factor. A good marketing and promotional campaign is required to present the items in the marketplace.
It would also appear that a quality product will return dividends, although promoters of the private issues will mostly try to keep their costs low. Of course, very few people have access to true security printers for the small run of notes that they intend to produce. Several ambitious projects, such as the Antarctic Exchange Office and the Chatham Islands Note Corporation, have used security printers. Interestingly, the Naples Bank Note Company in the United States (http://www.banknotables.com/) produces paper notes with security threads and intaglio printing specifically for the promotional market. So, companies are being established whereby good quality private issues can be produced.
But what will the market bear? Promotional and private notes surely have a limited market, but then doesn’t everything! What is the limit for such collectibles? For many of these private issues it can be expected that, while the first issues may sell well, subsequent issues may not sell so many pieces. It depends a little to which market the product is being sold and how that market views them. One of the more successful issuers of private notes, who has not been covered in this series of articles, is the Disney organization. Their Disney Dollars have generated a collecting industry of their own. So, given the right marketing and a big enough audience, the sales can probably be generated for many years.
For the banknote collector, who is less interested in the object of the promotional activity than the notes themselves, the collection of private notes is an interesting theme, which will keep them searching for obscure issues for many years.
This article was completed in June 2002
© Peter Symes