Sheep on World Banknotes

Peter Symes

The question has to be asked: ‘Why would anyone collect banknotes with sheep on them?’ The answer is quite simple, if a little strange, as it comes down to the long running rivalry that Australians have with New Zealanders. Why does this rivalry exist? I’m not sure! Perhaps it’s because New Zealand refused to join the federation of the Commonwealth of Australia way back in 1900. Perhaps it’s because they’re a neighbour with a similar history and we need to compete with them, or perhaps we just need to be superior to someone!

            Whatever the reason, Australians have a strong competitive relationship with New Zealanders. The Kiwis used to beat us at Rugby, and sometimes they still do, and very occasionally they beat us at Cricket; but, all in all, Australians like nothing better than to put New Zealanders in their place.

            At a gathering of the Sydney Chapter of the International Bank Note Society (IBNS) some time ago, a few members decided that it would be a good idea to do a presentation and talk that parodied New Zealanders, so that we could have some fun at the expense of Scott de Young, the only New Zealander in the Sydney Chapter of the IBNS. Scott, as a proud New Zealander, has written a book entitled the Decimal Banknotes of New Zealand 1967 – 2000, but his knowledge and academic prowess did not matter to us, he was a New Zealander!

            The individuals involved plotted the talk. We could use a few jokes that poked fun at New Zealanders and of course most jokes about New Zealanders involve sheep. Lamb meat and wool have been prominent in the economy of New Zealand for many years and the New Zealanders’ love of sheep has become the butt of many jokes. Puerile though they may be, questions such as ‘What is the name of a New Zealander’s girl friend?’ invariably brings the response of ‘Baaaarbara’; and the query as to ‘Why do New Zealanders never take their girl friends to the Rugby?’ brings the obvious answer of: ‘Because they might jump the fence and eat the grass!’

            Such is the depth to which the rivalry has dropped, but if any reader is concerned that the Kiwis are being unfairly treated, there is no need for concern. New Zealanders have developed a repertoire of retorts and jokes aimed squarely at Australians. However none of them are funny, so I won’t bother repeating them.

            If there is to be a talk about ‘Sheep on Banknotes’, in which New Zealanders are to be lambasted (pun intended), then there must be some banknotes to support the talk and give it some semblance of academic integrity. So I volunteered to put together a collection of notes. This promised to be an easy task, after all, how many banknotes could there be with sheep on them?

            While there are not hundreds of notes, I have been surprised at how many banknotes do have sheep on them. Banknotes replete with sheep can be divided into three groups: banknotes in which the sheep are the principal design feature, banknotes where sheep share the top billing, and banknotes where sheep are incidental to the design.

            One interesting discovery, in putting this collection together, is realizing which countries are prepared to put sheep on their banknotes. Invariably sheep are a part of the country’s economy, although in some cases of sheep that are incidental to the design of a banknote, sheep may simply represent agricultural abundance. So, let’s look at some examples of banknotes where the sheep are incidental to the design. (Reference numbers are from the Standard Catalog of World Paper Money.)

South Africa has several banknotes that depict sheep as a symbols of the agricultural wealth of the country, although on these banknotes, the sheep are quite prominent, not just incidental. Sheep appear on the back of South Africa Nos. 109, 110, 115, 116 (all the same design), 120 and 123.

            Halfway between being incidental to the design, and being the dominant feature, there are a number of banknotes where sheep play a major part of the design. These are a few of them.

            Notes in which sheep claim prominence come from several countries. China has four banknotes (so far identified). They are:

            Similarly, the Faeroe Islands have a fair representation of sheep on their notes, indicating a dependence and enduring relationship with the animals. The notes are:

            Other countries to have depicted sheep on their banknotes are:

            Another target for ovine-oriented collectors are the notes of the ‘Black Sheep Bank’ of Wales. These privately issued banknotes carry a picture of a sheep on each note but, as the notes are so difficult to obtain, it is probable only a sample will be required for a collection.

            While three categories of sheep on banknotes have been suggested, there is actually a fourth category. This is where coats of arms or official emblems containing sheep appear on banknotes. Two examples have been found so far; on the notes of the Falkland Islands and on the notes of Mongolia. The coat of arms of the Falkland Islands is emblazoned with a sheep and, since the coat of arms appears on many of their banknotes, these notes all become sheep-bearing banknotes. The Mongolian State Emblem on the 1955 issue is dominated by a horse, but to either side of the main emblem are the heads of four animals. A cow and goat appear on the left, while a ram and ewe are on the right, which makes the Mongolian notes containing this emblem a target for the collection.

            Perhaps the most unusual sheep to be found on a banknote appears on the last French 50-franc note (Nos. 157 and 157A). This note carries a portrait of Antoine de Saint-Exupéry a French aviator and author of The Little Prince. Included on the notes are drawings from Saint-Exupéry’s classic story, including the Little Prince on his home planet. The story of The Little Prince includes a scene where the narrator draws three sheep for the prince. Hidden on the 50-franc note is the ram that the narrator drew for the Prince. It is a fluorescent device in the lower area of the watermark, which becomes apparent when the note is subjected to ultraviolet light; although the image can also be seen in normal light if the note is tilted at the correct angle.

            Of course, collecting banknotes with sheep depicted on them has its difficulties! How do you tell the difference between a sheep and a goat? The tip I have been given is that goats have straight horns, while those of sheep curl. This simple rule was discovered a little too late, as a note from Paraguay has since been classified as a caprine banknote and I feel a bit of a goat in having acquired it. (Perhaps I could start a secondary collection of banknotes with goats on them? No, I’m just kidding!) On the other hand there is a wonderful depiction of two mountain sheep on an Algerian 50-dinar note, which look suspiciously like goats, but I am sure they are sheep. At least I hope they are sheep because I never intended spending a large amount of money on these notes and after a while the money starts to add up.

            I have been fortunate in that most of the banknotes acquired so far are relatively inexpensive. I’m a little sheepish in declaring how much I might have spent on the collection to date. Initially, only very cheap notes were acquired for the collection. Inevitably, a more expensive note was ultimately offered and, faced with an on-the-spot decision, I thought that I may as well be hung for a sheep as a lamb – so I bought the note. However, I have to face the fact that there are notes which are completely out of my reach, such as the Australian 1000-pound note; but there is no use bleating about what you can’t have!

            Until I started collecting banknotes with sheep on them, I had never delved into thematic collecting. I am an ordered type of collector. That is, I like to put together collections where the series are known and are delineated by dates, signatures and design changes. I had never attempted a thematic collection and so collecting by theme was a real challenge.

            Obviously, no-one has put together a list of banknotes bearing sheep, and so there is a clean sheet (not sheep) on which I could start a list. But how does one go about identifying banknotes with sheep on them? I have found two excellent devices. The first source is fellow collectors. Once your fellow collectors (and dealers) know that you have an obscure interest, they are all too willing to point out notes that fit your quixotic interest. This was how I learnt about the very expensive Australian and New Zealand notes, in which I don’t usually have an interest. (The difficulty in dealers knowing that you are seeking such a specialized collection, is that if they have a note to offer, you may be concerned about being fleeced.)

            The second profitable method, of locating notes with sheep on them, was through electronic searching. By using on-line auctions I was able to search for ‘Sheep’ in the title and description of auction lots. This proved to be very rewarding. I then visited on-line lists provided by a number of dealers. On loading their lists I was able to search for ‘Sheep’ which invariably returned a ‘hit’ or two. I also receive a number of dealer’s lists electronically and when I receive them I usually conduct a search for ‘Sheep’. In just over a year, without too much exertion, I have compiled a list of banknotes that carry sheep on them. Of course the list is not complete ... how could it be! For instance, I have yet to invest hours trawling through the Standard Catalog of World Paper Money looking for descriptions of banknotes that indicate the inclusion of sheep in their design.

            In building my pastoral collection, I have concentrated on acquiring examples of each note, rather than hunting for notes in top condition, so the grade of some notes is a little woolly. However, having put together a relatively modest collection, I am beginning to appreciate the sheep as a subject of art. Undoubtedly the most attractive note is the 50-kronur note from the Faeroe Islands. A simple grey, black and white note, the fine details of the horn of a sheep stand out brilliantly against the washed illustration in the background. Another fine bucolic image is the flock of sheep on the Bank of China’s 10-yuan note. For sheer extravagance, the large-sized Algerian 50-dinar note with the mountain sheep is hard to beat. An unusual depiction of a sheep is on the Puerto Rican notes (of the 1900 and the 1901-04 series) where the Paschal lamb is holding a cross with a flag hanging from it.

            Since commencing this collection, one of the strangest moments that I experienced was shared with Mark Freehill at a coin and banknote show in Sydney. While discussing the finer points of a banknote with me, Mark attended to a customer who asked for tokens or badges with sheep on them! Mark, aware of my new collecting interest, looked at me and I looked at Mark. Could this be? Yes! Here was another person collecting numismatic items and exonumia with sheep on them! How bizarre.

            What will surprise me even more, is if there are other collectors of ovine images out there in the wider world – although perhaps I shouldn’t be too surprised if there are. Perhaps there are people who can expand the list of banknotes with sheep. If so, there may be encouragement to continue the collection. (If there are enough people who collect sheep on banknotes, do they become a ‘flock’ of collectors?).

            Despite my growing collection of banknotes with sheep on them, there is still no sign of the presentation and talk, which was the spur to commence the collection. After putting this collection together, it doesn’t seem right to make fun of sheep, although New Zealanders are still fair game!

This article was completed in January 2003
© Peter Symes