Auction 154 Highlights

Welcome to Smalls Auction 154

This Sale concentrates on World banknotes with the standout lot being the superb ‘Specimen’ Turkish 50,000 Lira Banknote - the note that helped fund WWI.

In his authoritative catalogue on the Turkish Banknote series, the author Mehmet Gaciroglu divides the banknotes of the Ottoman Empire into three distinct historical date spans. The notes of the first span 1840-1863 were used to finance the reforms of the Tanzimat (the reorganisation of Turkish economy and society) under the reigns of Abdulmecid and Abdullaziz. The notes of the second span 1876-1877 were printed to finance the ill-fated war against Russia led by Murad V and Abdulhamid, while the notes of the third span from 1912-1916 under the reigns of Mehmed Resad and Vahdeddin were issued to finance Turkey’s war effort against the Allies in World War I.

The colonial powers of Great Britain and France had previously been enthusiastic lenders to the Ottomans, but with the drums of war building in Europe they secretly began plotting to carve up the vulnerable Ottoman Empire in the post war world from which they naturally assumed they would emerge victorious. So, when World War I did eventually break out and Turkey found itself on the opposing side to its traditional lenders it looked to its new ally Germany as a fresh source of finance.

Germany poured five million gold liras into the Turkish Treasury and printed for its new ally three times that amount in paper currency to inflate the economy. Of course, no one expected that the War would drag on for five long years and eventually the number of paper notes that were printed escalated to 208,588,450 Lira of which 156,000,000 were issued for circulation. Gaciroglu writes, that on the eventual collapse of the Ottoman Empire a residual debt of 158,748,563 Lira was left to be dealt with by the Government of the new Turkish Republic.

Just forty 50,000 Lira banknotes were printed and, in our sale we have one of only four that have survived. Unlike most Turkish notes of this era, it is fully intact and has been graded a relatively high PCGS 45 details (or Choice Extremely Fine) with minimal spotting to the paper. It ranks as an extreme rarity.

The 50,000 Lira notes were not meant for circulation but were to be held by the Imperial Ottoman Bank as the ultimate deposit notes to cover the release of the smaller denominations. So, in effect the 50,000 Lira banknotes were the notes that funded the Turkish economy during World War I.

The story of this note’s discovery is even more intriguing.

It was found in 2016 in a hitherto unknown collection of specimen notes of the late Ottoman Empire which surfaced in Australia, a hundred years after their issue. This important collection had remained secreted in a family's possession for three generations, but how and when the notes arrived in Australia remains a conundrum especially as Turkish migration to Australia was restricted by a post-war ban which was enforced until the 1930s.

In total 144 banknotes of various denominations were found housed in a contemporary presentation album with a gilt title in Ottoman Turkish which roughly translated to “the collection of specimen notes of all notes of the State Ministry of Finance.” At the back of the album was a contemporaneous typed list headed the “totality of banknotes printed under my supervision,” confirming that they were once the property of a highly placed Government official whose tabulations reveal for the first time the definitive numbers of all denominations of war-era Ottoman notes that were printed for circulation.

Research continues into the identity of the original owner but there is strong evidence to suggest that this collection of specimens was compiled by Huseyin Cahid the Vice-President of the Ottoman Parliament, as it mirrors all the circulation issues that bear his signature. Cahid was a vehement nationalist who vetted the proposed new banknotes very closely, and so it is likely that he kept a reference collection of specimens for this purpose. He studied the notes intensely and falsely accused a rival parliamentarian, Voskan Martikaian, the head of the Post - Telegraph Service, of conspiring to include secret Armenian codes in their designs.

According to the list, the total numbers of notes printed for circulation were: 50,000 liras – 40; 1,000 liras – 5,210; 500 liras – 25,670; 100 liras – 243,250; 50 liras – 362,100; 25 liras – 728,200; 10 liras – 2,024,675; 5 liras – 5,347,000; 2-1/2 liras – 4,036,000; 1 lira – 46,050,000; 1/2 lira – 28,492,400; 1/4 lira – 9,970,000; 20 piastres – 21,875,000; 5 piastres – 73,400,000. Thus, a grand total of 208,588,450 liras were printed with 156,000,000 put into circulation and 52,588,450 held in reserve.

The 50,000 Lira of AH1332 (1916) is the key note in the collection and was the highest value note of its time being the equivalent of fifty-thousand 100 Kurush gold coins which equated to an actual gold weight of 10,570 Troy ounces. In 1916 Gold traded for around USD $21.00 per ounce and so a 50,000 Lira note with a denominated value of almost USD $222,000 would have represented a Sultan's ransom. Gold today has a trading range around USD $1,800 per ounce, and so this note would have a modern-day equivalent gold value of over USD $19,000,000.

The list reveals that only forty of the 50,000 Lira notes were ever printed, and such is its extreme rarity, that today only a few specimens survive. Similarly, the small numbers printed of the 1,000 Lira (5,210) and the 500 Lira (25,670) and their continual heavy use up until the first notes of the new Republic replaced them in December 1927, accounts for the poor state of surviving circulated notes. The paper stock used by the German printers was of extremely poor quality and so in many instances the high-grade ‘specimen’ notes we have on offer in our Sale are the only complete examples of a denomination or type that are known to exist outside of institutional collections.

Besides the specimen banknotes of the Ottomans, we also have other rare specimens from Canada, Ceylon, China, Cyprus, Egypt, Fiji, Luxembourg, Madagascar, Mexico, New Zealand, Uruguay and Western Samoa as well as high-grade circulation issues.

But it is not all about banknotes. The sale continues with a selection of early photographs including early portrait shots of Colonial Australians, Boxing identities, WWI battle photos and a rare bound edition of the ‘Photographs of New South Wales’ once owned by the promoter Hugh D McIntosh who staged the Jack Johnson v Tommy Burns World Heavyweight Boxing Match held in Sydney in 1908.

And to conclude the Sale there is a final offering of a group of original Theatre Lobby Cards including cards for the original ‘West Side Story’ the Spielberg remake of which has just hit the big screen.

We hope you find something of special interest in your collecting field.

Smalls Auctions