By Alex Casey for The Spinoff.
I’ve always been really good at finding money. Not in the useful, fiscal hole kind of a way, but in the literal, frequently picks up bottle caps thinking they are 50c coins kind of a way.
Last year, a car nearly backed over my head because I was retrieving a $2 coin from a drain. I nearly caused an accident recently after spotting $5 on the side of the motorway. I’ve found a $20 note in the middle of a school field and a $50 note in a pile of autumnal leaves.
The pursuit has become a bit like my own personal Pokémon Go. For example, my mouth waters at the idea of finding the commemorative $10 note released at the turn of the millennium. If you’ve ever seen one, you’ll know of it’s unbridled beauty already. The vivid blues and purples, splash of yellow and swirling seas can be spotted across a crowded room, which is exactly what happened when my colleague walked in holding one he received as change from a cafe last year.
Designed by Wellington’s Cue Design Limited in 1998, the polymer note features oodles of easter eggs. If you fold the note while looking through the clear window at the map of New Zealand, you’ll see “Y2K”. “The bank note has a diffraction optically variable device, which is an aluminium coating in the shape of two silver ferns within the window area,” the RBNZ annual report reads. “This feature reflects rainbow colours when the bank note is tilted to the light.”
Another snazzy fact is that the note does not feature a single portrait. “Instead it depicts a Māori waka (canoe) sailing towards the sun on the obverse side, with the words ‘The dawn of a new era lights the way for New Zealand’s perpetual voyage of innovation and discovery’ within the clouds,” the Te Ara site reads. On the flipside you’ll find people surfing, skiing and kayaking, with the achingly optimistic phrase ‘Celebrating New Zealand’s free spirit and quest for adventure in the new millennium’ weaved in between.
A collector’s edition (red serial numbers) were released on 11 November, 1999, with the circulating note (black serial numbers) released on 2 August, 2000. With over three million notes released into general circulation, the Reserve Bank encouraged the public to “keep these notes as millennium souvenirs if they wish.” According to Trevor Wilkins at Polymer Notes, the Reserve Bank began withdrawing the notes from circulation in 2002.
But, evidently, not all made it home to roost.
A simple Trade Me search reveals a plethora of millenium notes in all their oceanic splendour.
“While some collectors’ items appreciate a lot over time, others are a labour of love and are collected for the thrill of the chase,” Lisa Stewart, head of marketplace at Trade Me tells me.
There are currently 26 listings for millennium banknotes, ranging from individual notes to a whole uncut sheet of 35 notes. Just last month, two sold for $88.
So what should you do if you find one? And how long should you hold onto it “If you happen to come across a $10 millennium banknote you could be holding on to a lot more than $10,” Stewart says. “If you want to cash in, there are plenty of keen Kiwis looking for these collectible notes onsite.”
It proves to be becoming a more populated market too, with the sale of collectable banknotes on Trade Me in 2019 increasing from the previous year by 68%. Overseas sites feature the note for as much as $60 US.
Look, spending your whole life looking for one of these pretty notes may not be a get rich quick scheme by any stretch, but it is a fun, decades-long national treasure hunt that you may not have even known you were involved in.
Rummage through your old boxes, open up those old tea-stained envelopes from the ancient year of 2000, and you might even find you’ve still got one yourself. Excited at the thought of having my colleague’s $10 note valued and potentially resold, I contacted him to see if he still had it.
Oh, my tenner?” he said, “I think I blew it on some Hobnobs.”
So, there’s at least one still out there. Game on.