Reserve Bank of Australia

The Commonwealth Bank and the Note Issue: 1920–1960

Currency Notes of the 1930s

The 1933 Series

Photograph of John Ash

Before long, preparations were made for a new series due in part to concern about counterfeiting. By late 1932 a new series, for denominations from 10/- to £10, was ready for issue.

The 1933 series came to be known as the 'Ash Series' after John Ash who succeeded Thomas Harrison as Australian Note Printer in 1927.

The notes carried a watermark portrait in a clear medallion as part of efforts to increase the security of the note issue. A profile of Edward, the Prince of Wales (later King Edward VIII) was used for this purpose.

A note showing watermark portrait

Manufacturing featured for the first time on the most widely used, 10 shilling, note.

While retaining the basic colour differentiation, these notes were smaller again than the previous notes.

Image of a note Image of a note

A major difference was that the new notes no longer carried a Government promise to redeem the notes in gold coin. Instead they were specified to be legal tender in the Commonwealth and its Territories.

Australia formally departed from the gold standard at the height of the Great Depression in the early 1930s. Following devaluation in 1931, the Australian pound was no longer worth a pound sterling. Until then British coin had circulated freely in Australia.

The Commonwealth Bank Act of 1932 made Australian currency notes no longer convertible into gold. Indeed, the Bank was not required to keep any gold reserves.

The 1939 Series

No major changes were made to the character of the notes in the 1939 series.

Photograph of King George VI

This new Ash series was issued mainly to replace George V by George VI on the front of the notes. This photographic 'collage' of King George VI was used as a reference image for the 1939 notes.

It was created by superimposing the (head) portrait of George VI on the torso taken from a photograph of Edward VIII, whose abdication in 1936 led to the need for a new note design featuring George VI.

The watermark profile of Edward, the Prince of Wales was also replaced with that of Captain Cook.

A distinctive feature of currency notes designed in the 1930s was the use of artwork by Frank Manley based on bas-relief panels originally designed by artist Paul Raphael Montford (see below).

These panels represented various sectors of the Australian economic life, namely:

  • Manufacturing - Ten shilling note
  • Pastoral - One pound note
  • Commerce - Five pound note
  • Agriculture - Ten pound note
  • Mining - Fifty pound note
  • Dairying - One hundred pound note

Image showing representation of the Manufacturing on the ten shilling note Image showing representation of Pastoral Industry on the one pound note

Image showing representation of Commerce on the five pound note Image showing representation of Agriculture on the ten pound note

Manufacturing (10 shilling) and commerce (£5) were the new economic sectors represented on our notes during the 1930s.

Image showing the back of a 10 shilling note featuring manufacturing activities. Image showing the back of a £5 note featuring commerce activities.

By the early 1930s, manufacturing and distribution services had each grown to be about 20 per cent of the economy, broadly on a par with the rural sector.

After Federation, Australia increasingly encouraged manufacturing through import-substitution, under the protection of high and rising tariffs.

While manufacturing grew, this did little to reduce the country's heavy reliance on a few rural exports.

Image showing the back of a £10 note featuring agricultural activities.

Accordingly, pastoral and agricultural activities remained prominent features on our £1 and £10 currency notes.