Fife signature on rare Hong Kong bank note set to sell for up to £50,000 at auction

A five dollar bank note from Hong Kong signed by a Fifer is set to go under the hammer.

Friday, 13th August 2021, 9:38 am

The recently discovered bill is likely to exceed its estimate of between £30,000 and £50,000.

The ‘Hong Kong 1860’ five dollar banknote was the earliest known fully issued banknote of any denomination for the country.

And it carries the signatures of two Scots - one from the Kingdom.

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The ‘Hong Kong 1860’ Five Dollar Banknote signed by two Scottish bankers (Pic: Dix Noonan Webb)

Born in 1833, James Webster came originally from Crail and died in Burntisland.

A banking career which began in the East Neuk took him to Hong Kong.

He worked for the Oriental Bank Corporation - the first to open a branch in the territory, and the only bank to issue notes there until 1858.

By 1859 he had taken a position as an assistant accountant, and went on to live and work in America, Japan, South America and Egypt before returning to Crail where he was a significant figure, entering many agricultural shows and painting positions on the board of many local establishments.

The ‘Hong Kong 1860’ Five Dollar Banknote signed by two Scots (Pic: Jan Stames/Dix Noonan Webb)

He married twice but had no children, and died in Burntisland in 1913.

His signature on those first ever note sits opposite another Scot - manager, John McDouall, who was born in Stranraer.

Mr Douall made his way to the newly founded territory aged just 20, and rose through the ranks. At the time of his death, at the age of just 53, he had risen to the position of manager of the entire Oriental Bank Corporation, at the time the wealthiest and most successful bank in the region.

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The ‘Hong Kong 1860’ Five Dollar Banknote -signed by two Scots - which could fetch up to £50,000 at auction (Pic: Dix Noonan Webb)

He was killed in a carriage accident in 1873 and buried in a Hong Kong cemetery.

Throughout its history, the bank had its head office in London and a sizeable branch in Edinburgh. The majority of its Court of Directors were Scottish, along with a great many of its senior overseas staff.

The note going to auction is dated June 1, 1860, and has the serial number 20465. The only other issued notes from the Oriental Bank Corporation to have survived date from 1866 and 1879, three of which are in private collections, and several others in institutions.

Andrew Pattison, head of banknote department at Dix Noonan Webb - the company putting it up for auction - said: “We are very pleased to be selling this wonderfully rare banknote which furthers our understanding of early banknote issuance in Hong Kong.

The recently discovered ‘Hong Kong 1860’ Five Dollar Banknote (Pic: Dix Noonan Webb)

“The consignor is unsure how it arrived in the UK, but we can surmise that it came back here in the late 1800s, probably with a British person working or travelling in the Far East, and lay undiscovered for over 150 years.

“And $5 was a lot of money in Hong Kong in 1860 so for someone to have this note and not redeem it is quite unusual. They probably brought it back here and forgot about it!”

Following several financial disasters in the 1870s, the Oriental Bank Corporation ceased trading in 1884.

Although it was reformed as the New Oriental Bank Corporation, this too failed, and the bank finally closed its doors in 1892.

The rare note will go under the hammer in an auction of British, Irish and world bank notes in London on Thursday, August 26.

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