It has been a while since I wrote about a new purchase, mainly because I have not made many new purchases. The few I have made were to fill a few holes in a Barber Quarters and Barber Halves collection that I am doing for fun. I have picked up a few error coins that were not exciting. But this is the first time in a few months that I made a purchase that really excites me.

A few years ago I sat at a table at one of the Whitman Expos in Baltimore when I came across a dealer who was selling later issues of Israeli currency for inexpensive prices. I had seen a few pieces that intrigued me so I purchased what I could. Not long after, I found two books about the currency issues from the Bank of Israel and I decided to try to collect a sample from every series including the first two issue from the Anglo-Palestinian Bank and Bank Leumi after the founding of the State of Israel.

Last year I learned that the Bank of Israel was holding a public competition for the design of new bank notes. These notes will replace the current Second New Sheqalim series that was first issued in 1999. As a collector, it meant trying to get samples from the current series.

Luckily for me, my nephew is going to school in Israel and since he was spending his Spring/Passover Break in the United States, I decided to take advantage of his presence in the Holy Land to visit local banks to find nice notes for his uncle. Since I already have a 20 New Sheqalim polymer note, I was interested in the 50, 100, and 200 NIS notes. At the prevailing exchange rate, the cost would be under $95 for the set.

After sending the check to my brother to deposit into my nephew’s U.S.-based bank account, he went out looking for clean notes. According to my nephew, that is where the fun begins. First, he is in a school that is basically in the middle of nowhere—somewhere between Jerusalem and Tel Aviv near a land area not suitable for building. But since he had been traveling to Jerusalem, he would check the banks there.

Apparently, collecting currency is not a popular hobby in Israel because when he went to the banks they questioned his motivation. The story of the strange looks and comments by Israeli tellers and other bank personnel says that either there are not many numismatists in Israel or that they find other ways to purchase their collection than from the banks. I was amused by my nephew’s stories. He was a real trooper and found three notes that he carried back the the United States for his uncle’s collection! He’s also doing well in school, which is very important!

All three notes are from the 5766/2006 (third) printing with updated signatures and in either crisp or almost uncirculated condition. All three have nice colors and really display well, including the security features which are difficult to image. All the text on the obverse is in Hebrew using numbers for the denomination for easy identification. The reverse also includes the denomination information in both English and Arabic making Israel one of the few countries to include three languages on its currency (India is another).

The three notes are signed by Stanley Fischer, the Governor of the Bank of Israel, and Chairman of the Advisory Council, Aharon Fogel. Because of a change in the law that abolished the Advisory Council, notes printed after 5770/2010 only have the signature of Governor Fischer.

The 50 NIS note features the portrait of Shmuel Yosef Agnon sitting in his study and personal library with a pen in his hand. The text is from his acceptance speech when he was award the Nobel Prize for Literature in 1966. The reverse is a picture of Agnon’s writing stand with his pen and reading glasses. Listed over the paper on the writing stand are the titles of sixteen books written by Agnon. That list is in Hebrew.

The 100 NIS note features the portrait of Izhak Ben-Zvi, the second President of Israel, with the interior of the wooden structure that served as the President’s residence. Also featured on the obverse is text from the speech Ben-Zvi gave to the first assembly of the Yemenite community that was held at his residence in 1953. The reverse is the image of the synagogue in the Galilee village of Peki’in along with the text from the speech from his second inauguration. To the right over the windows panes (seen in red) is microtext are the titles of nine books written by Ben-Zvi.

The 200 NIS note features the portrait of Zalman Shazar, Israel’s their President with the image of students in an elementary school class. The text is from Shazar’s address to the Knesset on June 13, 1949 after the Compulsory Education Law was passed. The reverse features a typical alley in the town of Safed, a spiritual center of Kabbalists. Text is an excerpt from Shazar’s essay, “Tzofayih Tzefat” (Thy Watchers, O Safed), first published in 1950. To the right of the text is microtext featuring the titles of fifteen of Zalman Shazar’s works.

These notes are beautiful and they tell parts of Israel’s history. Digital images cannot convey how the security features, color shifting ink, subtle changes in color tone are well integrated into the notes making them works of art. One of the more interesting fetters are the triangles that appear on both sides of the note. If you hold the note up to the light, the triangles are lined up to reveal the Star of David.

The United States tried to use currency as a means to teach the people something. The Educational Series of 1896 tried to use allegorical figures with various themes. But the controversy of using a bare breasted woman on the $5 note derailed the series. These are amongst the Top 100 notes identified in 100 Greatest American Currency Notes by David M. Sundman and Q. David Bowers. In fact, very few small-sized notes made the list—only special issues like the Hawaii overprint note made for World War II. Even though the Bureau of Engraving and Printing has dabbled in color, maybe they should learn from a country like Israel and come up with more historic and iconic designs.

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