Bank of England Gets in Touch With Jane Austen

  • New tenner has a tactile feature for the visually impaired
  • Image of Jane Austen and the quote used have been criticized

Questions Over U.K.'s Jane Austen Banknote

The U.K.’s 10-pound ($13) banknotes are evolving.

The new bills, which replace the image of naturalist Charles Darwin with that of early-19th century novelist Jane Austen, will be issued on Sept. 14 and will be the first to include a tactile feature to help the visually impaired, Bank of England Governor Mark Carney announced Tuesday.

Mark Carney with the new 10-pound note, July 18.

Photographer: Simon Dawson/Bloomberg
Source: Bank of England/Flickr

The note will be made of durable polymer -- which the U.K. central bank introduced for the five-pound note last year -- and include a series of raised dots in the top left corner to help the blind and partially sighted. The old paper currency will be withdrawn in spring 2018.

“Our banknotes serve as repositories of the country’s collective memory, promoting awareness of the U.K.’s glorious history and highlighting the contributions of its greatest citizens,” Carney said at an event in Winchester, south-west of London, where Austen is buried. The features aim to ensure that “the nation’s money is as inclusive as possible.”

The new tenner, as it is known in Britain, has drawn controversy from the start. When it enters circulation it will be the only BOE banknote with a woman on the reverse -- although the queen appears on the front of all notes as the sovereign -- and some of the campaigners that lobbied for a female-figure faced harassment and online abuse.

Quote Irony

The selected image of Austen has also drawn fire, with one historian referring to the 1870 image as an “airbrushed makeover.” And even the choice of a quote from her book “Pride and Prejudice” raised some eyebrows. The line “I declare after all there is no enjoyment like reading!” is delivered by a character who actually has no interest in reading at all.

Responding to a question about the choice of quote on Tuesday, Carney said that “it works on multiple levels” and can either be read straight or, “if you know the work, you would know the irony of that.”

“It draws out some of the essence of her social satire and her insight into people’s character,” he said.

It’s not only the design that has proved troublesome. The Austen note is printed on the same polymer as last year’s new five-pound bills, which attracted protests by vegans and some religious groups after it emerged the material contains trace amounts of tallow, made from rendered animal fat.

At the time of the controversy, the BOE had already produced 275 million of the new tenners at a cost of 24 million pounds. It has since said that it is considering alternative materials, including one that uses the palm oil -- which is also controversial for its contribution to deforestation -- for when it conducts future print runs and releases a new 20-pound note in three years.

Security features on the notes, which are printed by De La Rue, include a see-through window, the image of Winchester Cathedral in gold foil on the front and silver on the back, a quill that changes color, micro-lettering and raised ink.

— With assistance by Jill Ward

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