In 1894, a long-term member of staff at the Bank of England, Maberly Phillips, published a history of banking and bankers in the north-east of England. During the course of his research, Phillips was disappointed to find that there was no public collection of the old country banknotes. Would it not be advisable, he suggested, ‘for the officials of the British Museum to endeavour to form a collection of such notes?’  In the meantime, Phillips put together a collection of his own: this was presented to the Institute of Bankers in 1906, forming the basis of a collection which was added to over subsequent years to illustrate the history of banking across the world.
The British Museum started actively collecting paper money in 1979. Its scope is worldwide, but from the start there has been a strong emphasis on creating a national collection of notes from the British Isles. In addition to donations and purchases of individual banknotes, the acquisition of major private collections, notably those of Hugh Langmead in 1980 and Michael Garrett in 1985, laid the foundations of an excellent collection of English country banknotes. In 1988 the now Chartered Institute of Bankers collection was placed on long-term loan, complementing the Museum’s own holdings. Just over 20 years later, in January 2009, this collection was generously donated to the British Museum, providing an unparalleled resource for the research and display of this fascinating material, so intimately related to Britain’s economic and social history.