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Bridging the Gap - An Overview of Colliding Worlds

Author: By Aris Maragoudakis, Director of World Currency Auctions / Thursday, February 07, 2019 / Categories: Paper Money of the Week

​While art and numismatics are both collector driven industries, they have long been considered completely separate from each other, even though they have more in common than would seem at first glance. For those with an affinity for both industries, it is easy to see the overlap, as the gap between them has begun to close, particularly in the field of modern art.

An ongoing concern for hobbyists or dealers with established collections has been the need for new blood and the worry that collecting itself may fizzle out in the decades to come, due to a lack of interest in the modern world. Fortunately, thanks to crossover from popular modern artists, and some validation from one of the most prestigious numismatic museums, this may be far from the truth. One may not have to look any further than the most popular modern artists for answers as to why.

In 2004, Banksy, the legendary anonymous street artist, printed £1 million worth of fake £10 notes to circulate at the Reading Festival and Notting Hill Carnival. The notes, which are known among the art circuit as Di-faced Tenners, show a defaced £10 banknote from the Banksy of England with a vignette of the adored Princess Diana replacing Queen Elizabeth II (who is printed on more banknotes than any other historical figure). The jeu de mots of  “Di-faced Tenner” versus “Defaced Diana Ten Pound” is typical of the clever wording usually found in Banksy’s work. Pest Control, Banksy’s “Authentication Firm,” has announced that it has donated an example of one of these treasured notes to the British Museum to be added to its prestigious Department of Coins and Medals, where some 4,000 years of “Money History” can be traced. Examples of this banknote have sold from $300 up to $10,000 for signed or limited numbered examples. In the fine gallery world, a group of five was offered by the prestigious auction house Sotheby’s.

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Photo of Banksy, Di-faced Tenner

Notably, Sotheby’s made Banksy headlines recently when they offered “Girl with Balloon” in a 2018 auction. It sold for over £1 million before being shredded live in the auction room. Its name has since been changed to “Love is in the Bin.”

Sotheby’s and numismatic auction company Stack’s Bowers Galleries have worked to bridge the gap between collectors of art and numismatics. The firms joined forces a couple years ago to sell the most valuable coin collection ever offered: the D. Brent Pogue Collection that realized over $106 million for 681 coins that have a face value of less than $1,000. Many of the buyers of those rare coins also possess significant art collections.

Capitalizing on their current reputation for offering the greatest collections in numismatics, Stack’s Bowers Galleries is preparing to offer Part IV of the Joel R. Anderson Collection of United States Paper Money. The 240-note collection is estimated to be worth in excess of $30 million. Only 54 notes remain to be auctioned in March at the Whitman Coin & Collectibles Spring Expo, and these lots are estimated to bring $7 to $10 million. The offering features incredible museum quality highlights such as the 1891 $1000 Silver Certificate known as the “Marcy Note.” This treasure is the king of Silver Certificates and is expected to bring $2 to $3 million when it crosses the block as lot 4037.

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Friedberg 346e (W-4581). 1891 $1000 Silver Certificate.
PCGS Currency Very Fine 25.​

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Triptych Painting of Marcy Note

Photo Courtesy of Brunke Wolzen (Instagram: @WolzenArt)

Banknote rarities like the Marcy Note have long been appreciated for their artistry and the quality of their engraving. A popular artist in the modern art world who has long been painting such treasures is Brunke Wolzen (@wolzenart), a self-taught Oklahoma City artist. Wolzen has painted numismatic rarities from historical pieces such as the Marcy Note and the Chief note, all the way up to the more modern Benjamin Franklin $100 bills. Many of his $100 canvases have different overlays for various design houses, like the all-orange canvas for Hermes, or the monogrammed Gucci and Louis Vuitton overlays found overpainted onto the Benjamin design.

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Photo Courtesy of Brunke Wolzen
Instagram: @WolzenArt

Other famous artists have taken more groundbreaking approaches to bridging the gap between numismatics and modern art. Hayden Kays (@haydenkays) has a few standard issue United States banknotes that he has painted over, which have been selling for over 1,000 times their face value at Maastricht’s Vintage Deluxe Shop. Those pieces include A License to Paint Money, which is essentially a banknote-sized triptych of sequential $1 bills painted in a fashion similar to that of Damien Hurst. This piece is currently on sale for under 1500 Euros, a fraction of what his original works typically bring.

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Photo: VintageDeluxeShop.com

Instagram: @VintageDeluxeShop

Other artists such as Dub Williams (@DubWilliams) have also taken the approach of painting over paper money. Williams is known in the New York, Los Angeles, and San Francisco communities for replacing the vignettes of presidents on United States money and vignettes on foreign notes with cartoon characters or figures in popular culture. He has even purchased uncut sheets of paper money to create larger pieces of work for his dedicated collector base.

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Photo Taken from Instagram: @DubWilliams

In Miami, G-Stakis (@GStakis) is well-known for his use of real or monopoly money on his Panda Paintings that were an Art Basel hit, as is Mister-E (@mister_e) who has printed very colorful counterfeit $100 notes (Benny Jr.).  In South Florida, these artists are carrying the torch for using money in a creative fashion.

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Photo Taken from Instagram: @GStakis

Photo of Mister E’s work at Miley Cyrus’ Malibu Home
Photo Taken from Instagram: @Mister_e

Even notable second generation numismatic dealers like San Diego’s JR Bissell (@itsbissell) have taken an interest in fusing their passions for the worlds of art and numismatics. When not selling five to six figure coins from shipwrecks, Bissell is painting renditions of some of the pirate treasures he and his father have unearthed and brokered through their company, Pirate Gold Coins.

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Coin and Painting of Mexico 1715 8 Escudos
Photo Courtesy of JR Bissell (@itsbissell)

Perhaps the most unique approach to numismatic art, however, can be seen in works by Penny (@OnePennyPiece), who hand cuts intricate stencils using banknotes and a scalpel. His fascinating methods of repurposing banknotes to form art are remarkable. He has also produced some funny satirical pieces using a hybrid of his method with the type of humor that is typically found in the work of Banksy or Hayden Kays.

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Photo Taken from Instagram: @OnePennyPiece

Collectors are beginning to see that there is art within the art. Given the lengthy history of numismatics, it has taken considerable time for the artistry and engraving of past generations to be appreciated in a more modern light. However, thanks to these modern artists, we have noticed growing desire on the part of collectors to acquire some of the most beautiful banknotes and coins created throughout history. These include the Educational Series of United States Silver Certificates, rainbow colored Flowing Hair silver dollars, and large size European notes created by famous artists. While there are still bridges being built between the lands of art and numismatics, it is evident that soon there won’t be much water between them at all.