A Scottish art gallery is joining forces with an artist known as “the world’s smallest engraver” to stage a Willy Wonka-style challenge involving the new five pound notes.
Tiny portraits of Jane Austen have been added on to four of the notes, next to the images of Sir Winston Churchill and Big Ben, by Graham Short, who famously engraved the words of the Lord’s Prayer on to the head of a pin.
Classic quotes from Emma, Pride and Prejudice, and Mansfield Park have also been engraved on to the Bank of England notes, which go into circulation this weekend.
Although the outline of the golden engraving may be visible to the naked eye, a microscope will be needed to see the engraving properly.
Artist Tony Huggins-Haig, who has staged regular exhibitions by Short at his gallery in Kelso, believes they could be worth upwards of £20,000 each.
Collectors have been paying thousands to buy the new “plastic fivers” with unusual serial numbers.
The Bank of England printed 450 million new notes, which entered circulation on 13 September and will replace paper notes which will cease to be legal tender in May.
Short, 70, has been engraving for more than half a century after starting an apprenticeship when he left school at the age of 15. He works at night, when traffic vibrations are lower, uses a stethoscope to monitor his heart and engraves between beats.
His latest project replicates the plot of the classic Roald Dahl novel Charlie and the Chocolate Factory, when a famous confectionery maker hides golden tickets in the wrappers of his “Wonka bars.”
Mr Short, who spent more than two weeks on each note, said: “As soon as I saw the new £5 note I just thought to myself, ‘Wouldn’t it be good if I could engrave something on it?’ I didn’t know what at first then I found out that next year is going to be the 200th anniversary of Jane Austen’s death.
“Her image is also going to be on the new £10 note, which is coming out next year, so it ties in quite nicely with that.
“The beauty of this is that in the right light you can’t see the engraving at all, but when you turn the note and the light comes at a different angle, it appears. I like to call it invisible engraving.
“I’ve no idea how much they will be worth if people try to sell them. But previous pieces I have worked on have been insured for more than £50,000.
“The last one I did, a portrait of the Queen on a piece of gold inside the eye of a needle. If somebody finds one I hope they will maybe put it on eBay. If they can get some extra money for Christmas I’ll be thrilled.”
Mr Huggins-Haig said: “This is a great example of how art can be vast and how art can be very, very small. We have all sorts of artists and art in the gallery, but it’s fair to say no-one is quite like Graham.
"Graham came up with the idea of doing something to benefit the ordinary man in the street during these hard times.
"The popularity of his work has gone through the roof worldwide with clients now including the Royal Household, Scottish Parliament, Rolls Royce and Chanel. That’s fantastic appreciation of his art, but it’s no longer accessible to most people.
"I think £20,000 is a £20,000 is a conservative estimate of how much one of these notes will be worth. It’s a bit like the Willy Wonka golden tickets. People will soon find themselves in possession of these very different notes – but only if they look very closely.”