Darwin is extinct, it seems. At least in the UK. Perhaps I ought to explain. I do not travel to England often, and I’m not always good about changing cash before I go. Usury doesn’t sit well with me, and someone taking a cut just because I have to travel (usury actually doesn’t sting so much when you make a trip by choice) seems unethical. When I discovered I was required in Oxford, my wife suggested I take some cash. I went to the attic and rummaged through papers from a trip sometime within the last decade (my passport is still good, so it had to have been in this time frame), and found some ten-pound notes with Darwin on them. They didn’t smell bad to me, so I said “I’ll just take these.”
I suspect that, like most people, I keep a pocketful of change as a souvenir when I travel to foreign shores. So I had a few bank notes that hadn’t seemed worth changing back at the time. Bread cast upon the waters, and all. I had to make a small purchase in Oxford and the clerk said, oh so politely, “That’s old money, I’m afraid I can’t accept it.” Interesting. I had no idea money had a sell-by date. She said “The bank will change it for you.” Banks handle all kinds of money. I walked to the nearest bank and the polite young man (all the bank tellers carry tablets here, like iPads at the Apple Store) told me that banks don’t do that service unless you’re an account holder. “The good news,” he said, “is that the post office will do it for you, and it’s less than 300 metres from here.” I was up to a 300 meter walk, so I went. The British post office isn’t just a place to mail letters, I knew from living here years ago. The woman at the counter frowned. “I don’t know why banks send people here,” she said. “We can’t exchange pounds for pounds. I can change it into dollars for you.” Of course, there was a charge to do so, just as there was a charge to change the notes from dollars to pounds in the first place.
Sadly I handed Darwin over and received American faces in turn. Such is natural selection. Ironically, just a few days ago I was at a farmer’s market (in the United States). The man next to me received a silver note in change—he commented that these bills are somewhat more valuable than a standard Washington. They are still accepted however, as legal tender. In fact the last time I went to a US bank to turn in change, the bank officer looked at some very eroded coins and said, “As long as I can verify it’s US currency I can accept it.” I still find occasional old coins in circulation. Updating currency and then charging for having old money seems like it ought to count as usury. But then, perhaps my ethics are simply outdated.