Nearly 60 years before The Perth Mint began striking official coinage on Western Australian soil, some of the earliest banknotes printed in Australia were issued by the Western Australian Bank.
Established on 23 June 1841, the WA Bank was founded by a group of influential pastoralists and merchants including George Shenton and Edward Hamersley.
As shareholders in the Bank of Western Australia, formed in 1837, they had been unhappy with the board’s decision to amalgamate with the Bank of Australasia.
The first branch of their rival WA Bank was located at the eastern side of the intersection of St Georges Terrace and Pier Street – now the location of St Andrew’s (Uniting) Church.
It received strong support from local depositors. In fact, it was so successful that the Bank of Australasia was forced to withdraw from the west in 1845.
WA Bank’s first issue of notes was on 24 June 1841. These notes are known today by collectors as the “Type One” variety, and were composed by a local printer in black ink on one side only. The paper stock used was extremely light, even when compared to other notes from the pre-Federation period.
Western Australian Bank 1844 Unissued One Pound.
More information: Sterling & Currency.
By the end of the year, some 1,800 of these notes had been issued, a figure that had risen to 4,000 by January 1844.
Several hundred unissued examples of the “Type One” WA Bank £1 note were marketed by the well-known coin dealers Downies. They were presented in a coloured cardboard album that contained a range of background information on the bank and the notes, and was decorated by a number of contemporary watercolours of the Swan River Colony.
Downies’ literature stated that “From records, it is possible that up to 650 of these notes exist in original and uncancelled condition. However, experts believe the number surviving may well be as little as half of that number.”
At the WA Bank’s half-yearly meeting on 10 January 1844, the directors announced that: “A supply of new Notes, of a more durable character and from an engraved plate, is also daily expected, to supersede the neat but temporary note in type, which has hitherto been in circulation.”
These “Type Two” notes were engraved with an oval containing a swan, the title of the bank and “Established 1841” at the top. As part of the design, the word Perth appeared in the side borders and they were issued here until 1 November 1860.
It must have been a sad day for many Western Australians when in January 1927 the 84-branch WA Bank was acquired by the Bank of New South Wales, marking the end of a local institution “that had so long identified with the life and fortunes of this state.”
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