worthing history
 

© FREDDIE FEEST 2012

 
Raiders had no case to answer
 
       
 

THE offer of a £100 reward for the recovery of stolen bank notes with a face value of £10million would, on the face of it, appear mean. In the case of banknote owner Frederick Catlin, of Hastings Road, west Worthing, such a reward seemed perfectly reasonable. Seventy years after the event, Freddie Feest explains why.

     IN 1937, the world’s largest and most valuable collection of banknotes in private hands was not all that it seemed to the thieves who broke into Frederick Catlin’s London home while he was enjoying a break in sunny Worthing.
     Their “target” was nothing less than 40,000 banknotes with a face value of millions.
     Not surprisingly, the theft raised a hue and cry in most of the capitals in Europe, as Scotland Yard, convinced the thieves came from the Continent, spread their net more widely than usual.
     Good news for the criminals – if only temporary – was that they had escaped with more than £10,000,000 in currency, apparently making their haul the richest in the history of burglary up to that time.
     The bad news for them was that all the notes had been withdrawn from circulation. So despite their face value, not one could ever be spent!
     Learning of their error, the thieves quickly changed tack and began seeking a buyer from among European or American collectors of old bank notes. Scotland Yard believed the gang might attempt to dispose of the notes in Vienna or New York, so they were already keeping a close watch on air routes and seaports.
     Then, everything went quiet and for several weeks nothing more was heard of the collection.
     Mr Catlin, who confessed he was heartbroken over the loss of what had become his lifetime’s hobby, offered a reward of £100 for their recovery.
     He feared that once the thieves realised the banknotes were not negotiable, they would burn them.
     Mr Catlin had collected the notes from all over the world. They included the first Bank of England issue, Chinese notes over 600 years old, notes issued by General Gordon during the siege of Khartoum and many other specimens of great historic interest.
     The thieves began to panic when they realised their loot would be easily recognisable by enthusiastic banknote collectors throughout the world. It was then they decided to “ransom” their haul back to the man from whom they had stolen it.
     They sent a letter containing one of the stolen banknotes to Mr Caitlin’s son, an RAF squadron leader, demanding that £500 be deposited in a green attaché case at King’s Cross station, against the return of the entire collection.
     Acting on Scotland Yard instructions, the squadron leader inserted an advertisement in the personal columns of a daily newspaper, offering £300.
     This was accepted in another letter and at the writer's direction – and with Scotland Yard's approval – Squadron Leader Catlin deposited a green attaché case at King's Cross Station.
     Instead of £300 in notes it contained pieces of newspapers. 
     Later that day – and naïve to the very end – a man collected the case and walked straight into the arms of waiting police officers.
     What happened to the collection of historical banknotes?
     Mr Catlin, whose grandfather had started the collection and father had carried it on, was by now in failing health. He decided the cost of insuring the collection was becoming prohibitive so, wanting it to remain in safekeeping, he sold it to the London Clearance Bankers for “a nominal sum”.
     They, in turn, presented it to the Institute of Bankers, who have it to this day.