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The Saatchi Gallery shows ‘The Art of Defaced Bank Notes’

07 September, 2018 — By The Xtra Diary

Bruce Reynolds Burt Ten Shillings by Nick Reynolds


Prime Minister Harold Wilson had a bright idea to flummox the perpetrators of the Great Train Robbery Diary learns while hobnobbing with Nick Reynolds, the West End-based the son of train robber Bruce at the Saatchi Gallery.

“He actually considered changing the entire nation’s currency in an effort to render the robbers’ loot as non-legal tender, and would have done so if it had not been financially untenable,” Diary is told as we peruse an exhibition called Cash Is KingThe Art of Defaced Bank Notes at the Saatchi Gallery in Sloane Square which Nick, an artist and musician, has contributed to. Nick’s work includes a 10 shilling note with his father’s image on it (pictured above), and this prompts another tale about the robbery.


Funny Money by Josh Usmani


The cash stolen amounted to £2.6million, the equivalent of about £50million today. Less than 10 per cent was ever recovered, and the perpetrators of the what was called the “crime of the century”, the hijacking of the Glasgow to Euston Royal Mail train in 1963, became folk heroes for many – partly because of the huge sentences they received and partly due to the escape from high security prisons by Charlie Wilson and Ronnie Biggs.

“One myth, often retold, is that the robbers played Monopoly in their hide- out with real money,” adds Nick.

“Another is that they lit cigars with fivers. Neither of which is true. It is true however none of the robbers could be bothered with the 10 shilling notes, so my dad claimed them, boosting his share.”

The exhibition – which ends tomorrow (Saturday) – includes over 100 bank notes that have been defaced, enhanced, reworked, sullied, adorned or remixed by artists – many of whom are actually breaking the law by doing so.

In the UK, it is illegal to deface money, and in Australia you can be handed a criminal record if you disfigure or mutilate them.


Johnny Cash by Nick Reynolds


The USA allows you to stamp notes but not with anything deemed to be advertising, while you can get a fine of one million dinars or six months behind bars in Iraq if you deface notes there. And while bank notes are themselves intricate pieces of design, often with marvellous aesthetic qualities, they also represent official documents issued by an establishment who always seem to have plenty of them, especially in comparison to the rest of us.

So no wonder many rebel artists have turned to the bank note as a way of expressing their own take on a mad, mad world where cash is king.


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