Rare notes: how to spot a valuable banknote and find out what it's worth

Finding rare notes is by no means as straightforward as some reports have claimed. We spoke to industry experts to find out what to look out for, what to beware of and how much various rare notes are REALLY worth.

Spotting valuable notes

The launch of the new polymer £10 note has grabbed the interest of the British public, with many punters hoping to get their hands on a valuable Jane Austen tenner.

In the aftermath of the launch of the new Churchill £5 note last year, dealers were getting more than 50 calls a day from people who thought they had a note worth thousands of pounds.

As one of them put it: “The vast majority of those notes were worth about £5.”

So how do you go about spotting a note – new £10 or any other denomination – and what should you do once you find one?

We spoke to a couple of industry experts to learn more.

Note not rare or valuable? Put it in a top savings accounts

Watch out for misleading information

It’s easy to get carried away when you read reports of notes that people took out of a cashpoint, and sold a few days later for thousands of pounds.

However, most of these reports are wildly misleading says Pam West, founder of dealer British Notes and author of a comprehensive guide to note values, English Paper Money.

She cites the example of a £5 note that attracted bids of £80,000 on eBay.

At the same time, she had a very similar note on sale for £45.

In the end, the eBay auction winner never paid up.

In fact, many of these eye-catching auctions came to nothing, so the sales figures that hit the headlines were meaningless.

This is frustrating for all those involved in a failed sale, and holds risks for others who read about the sale too.

Andrew Pattison, a banknote specialist with auctioneers Spink & Son, warns that, if people read that a note has sold for thousands, they think they’re getting a bargain when they see the same note for sale for hundreds of pounds.

In fact, that note could be worth little more than face value.

Note not rare or valuable? Put it in a top savings accounts

New £10 note presents many opportunities

New £10 banknote with rare low serial number (Image: Bank if England)

That doesn’t mean there’s no value in these notes.

Given the new £10 note has just launched, it represents the best opportunity for snapping one up before they end up in the hands of serious collectors.

So what should you look for?

Those worth serious money tend to be notes with a desirable serial number. The numbers on the notes are split into two parts.

The first is the ‘prefix”: You ideally want the very first prefix, which in the case of the polymer £5 and £10 notes is AA01.

After that, there are six numbers, and you want the lowest number possible.

How much are these notes worth?

Rare new £5 note (Image: Spink & Sons)

Last year, Spink & Son had a special charity sale of £5 notes with very low serial numbers.

There were notes with a combined face value of £9,000 – and the sale made £200,000.

On 6 October, it is holding a similar auction of new £10 notes, and is expecting equally stunning results.

Pattison says that anything below 001000 will be worth more than its face value.

Anything under 000100 can be worth hundreds of pounds.

In fact, if you have a low number in this part of the serial number, then any prefix would be considered.

Pattison says, for example, that even something like ZK 0000001 would be worth checking the value of.

Don’t overestimate the prefix

However, there’s no such thing as a prefix that makes absolutely any serial number valuable (including AK47), because there are literally a million notes out there with this prefix.

It’s not just low numbers that are considered desirable, single numbers such as 333333 or ladders such as 123456 are also in demand.

If you have 888888, Pattison says that because the number is considered very lucky in parts of Asia, it could be worth up to £1,000.

Also, think about any significant dates that might make a note unique. For example, a new ‘Churchill’ fiver with the 1939 date on it (pictured, below).

Winston Churchill £5 note (Image: Spink & Sons)

Look after that note!

Even with the right serial number, there’s another factor that could dramatically reduce the value of your note.

Pattison says: “If it’s not in mint condition then the chance of it being worth anything are very slim, because there are so many notes out there.”

West adds: “Just because you got something out of a cashpoint, it doesn’t mean it’s in mint condition: they go in and out of banks several times over, so it may well already be in ‘circulated’ condition.”

Likewise, she adds, a common misconception is that you can fold a note in half and it is still in mint condition. If it has been in a wallet and folded, it will not be mint.

Note not rare or valuable? Put it in a top savings accounts

Older notes: which are valuable?

Rather than holding out for a lucky polymer £10, Pattison says the renewed interest in banknotes has persuaded many people to consider whether they have notes sitting around at the bottom of drawers or in attics at home.

The more unusual they are, the more they’re worth.

Unfortunately, this means that some notes are just too common to be worth more than their face value.

Take the £1 note from 1988.

When the notes were withdrawn, millions of people hung onto their last one, so unless your notes have particularly desirable serial numbers, you won’t make your fortune from them.

At the other end of the spectrum, Spinks & Sons sold a £1 million note last year (pictured, below).

It was never circulated, and was only ever used to make internal transfers within the Bank of England.

It had also been cancelled, so wasn’t worth its face value, but it still fetched a record for a UK banknote of £101,000.

Million pound note from the Treasury (Image: Spink & Sons)

Dates to look out for

As a rough rule of thumb, Pattison says anything from before 1960 is worth getting valued.

Even the 1956 old black and white fivers, which a lot of people kept, can sell for good money. One in mint condition is worth about £50.

He also says it’s worth checking if you have any provincial banknotes. He says: “Banks in virtually every part of the UK used to print their own notes.

They are very interesting from a local point of view, and people like to collect them, so they can go for anything between £100 and £1,000.”

Note not rare or valuable? Put it in a top savings accounts

Errors are rare. And valuable

Finally, Pattison and West say banknotes with errors are worth watching for.

They can range from extra flaps of paper attached to a note, to a missing Florence Nightingale, or the Queen on the wrong side.

Pattison says that when it comes to errors, the condition of the note doesn’t matter: even a battered error note can be worth getting valued.

So, for example, an old Newton £1 note may be worth £6, while one with an error it could be worth £150.

There are just two warnings when it comes to looking for errors.

Both experts warn that no genuine errors of the new £5 note have been found – so you should take care if someone is selling something purporting to be one of these.

West adds: “An error note means you can see immediately without looking at another note and comparing it side by side. A misalignment by a couple of millimetres is not a collectible error.”

One pound note (Image: Spink & Sons)

How to get a note valued

The best way to check if you have a valuable note is to take it to a dealer in person – as it’s the best way they can get an idea of the condition as well as the note itself.

If you don’t have one locally, look out for events like the IBNS World Money Fair in London on 29 September.

If you’d been hoping that your fortune lay in a £5 or £10 note, the reality may be disappointing.

However, if it encourages you to ask your family and check your home for old notes, you could still end up with a positive result.

You may find something interesting, which could encourage you to start swapping or collecting notes.

West points out that there are clubs to join, friends to make, and meetings to go to around the world.

In the end, you could get much more out of a banknote collection than just money.

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