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Old Lady quids-in with fivers

First there were commemorative watches, then there were commemorative bottles of beer - called Red Dawn. Now the Bank of England has joined the crush to make a buck out of Hong Kong's handover to China by printing special £5 notes.

The handover is big business and the Old Lady of Threadneedle Street hasn't missed a trick. She has reconfigured her presses for the first time in 303 years to produce 500,000 fivers with the serial number prefix HK97.

These items are being sold in Asia by Singapore-based MoneyWorld at US$18 each. Demand has been strong. MoneyWorld sold out of its first batch during a three-day exhibition in Hong Kong, with queues running into the hundreds.

"It has been a roaring success," says MoneyWorld boss Michael Tan: "We are very proud to be involved." The Bank of England was paid an undisclosed sum for the banknotes. Any additional mark-up is MoneyWorld's.

And the biggest mark-up of all will be on what Tan refers to as the "auspicious" notes - those that contain lucky or interesting serial numbers. These are to be auctioned off in the next few weeks for far more than US$18.

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