Featured Banknote building blocks

Discussion in 'Paper Money' started by gsalexan, Jul 11, 2015.

  1. gsalexan

    gsalexan Intaglio aficionado

    Recently, I acquired an intriguing lot of banknote engravings that may be of interest to collectors of stocks, checks, and obsolete notes from the 1830s to '80s. These aren't vignette proofs, they are ornaments and elements used to "build" a banknote product. As the more mundane components of a note, proofs like these usually get little attention, so I thought I'd give them their own spotlight for once. I'm also including examples of usage, to give a better understanding of their placement.

    Underprint patterns. These patterns were printed repetitively across a note or security, usually in a second color, to create a fine-line undertint that was difficult to counterfeit. The patterns on this proof are a little too large for a banknote and were probably used on a stock or bond.
    Underprint patterns.jpg
    Usage underprint banknote.jpg Usage underprint banknote cu.jpg
    Usage underprint stock2.jpg Usage underprint stock2 cu.jpg

    Revenue stamp fields.
    Around the time of the Civil War the federal government began imposing taxes on all manner of transactions. Checks, stocks -- even commercial photographs were taxed and required to affix a revenue stamp on the document. Banknote printing firms created ornate fields for merchants and bankers to place the stamps.

    Rev stamp area.jpg
    Usage stamp shares number.jpg

    Large corner elements.
    Larger elements like these were likely used on stocks and bonds, but could also have been part of engraved invitations, menus, labels, taxpaid stamps and other products. Sometimes geometric lathe work was incorporated, like the six-sided rosette on the left, but others, like the cotton flowers and buds, were entirely engraved by hand. Some banknote engravers specialized exclusively in this type of work.
    Corner ornaments.jpg Usage corners.jpg Usage large corners.jpg
    Last edited: Jul 11, 2015
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  3. gsalexan

    gsalexan Intaglio aficionado

    Open corner elements. "Hollow" corners, most often used on banknotes, were intended to leave room for denominations, or sometimes left open as a porthole motif. These smaller ornaments were typically hand engraved, as well.

    open corners.jpg Usage open corner.jpg Usage open corner cu.jpg

    Miscellaneous ornament
    . "Pendants" and "tiaras" tended to adorn the top and bottom of a large numeral or vignette. Used on banknotes and wide range of other products.

    Misc ornament.jpg Misc ornament cu.jpg
    Usage misc ornament.jpg

    Number and dollar fields. These were used interchangeably on banknotes, stocks, bank checks, and a variety of serial numbered products.

    Number and dollar fields.jpg
    Usage number dollar.jpg
  4. gsalexan

    gsalexan Intaglio aficionado

    This proof has a little of everything -- a "5" corner denomination (probably for banknote), a very small $3 denomination, two number fields, a corner ornament, and a "Shares" field for a stock certificate.

    5 corner and shares.jpg Usage stock corners share number.jpg Usage corner 5.jpg

    Cameo or medallion engraving. I consider this the most interesting piece in the lot. Dimensional engravings like this adorn many banknotes and some early stocks. An engraved plate was created using a ruling machine that slowly dragged a set of "pins" over an actual carved bas relief cameo or medal. This produced a series of tight, parallel lines that wavered according to peaks and valleys of the carving, much like a topographical map. Very difficult to forge, but also quite laborious to produce.
    Cameo cu.jpg
    Usage cameo check.jpg Usage cameo check cu.jpg
    Usage cameo banknote.jpg Usage cameo banknote cu.jpg
    DBDc80, techwriter, rooman9 and 4 others like this.
  5. gsalexan

    gsalexan Intaglio aficionado

    And here's a stock certificate for the 17th & 19th Streets trolley in Philadelphia that has it all going on: fancy share and number fields, floral corner ornaments at top, porthole corner ornaments below, and even cameo engraved elements on either side, all enclosed by a subtle lathework frame. Another home run by the American Bank Note Company!

    Usage multi with cameo stock.jpg Usage multi with cameo cu.jpg
  6. USS656

    USS656 Here to Learn Supporter

    Great write up Greg, love the samples!
  7. saltysam-1

    saltysam-1 Junior Member

    You are our engraving Guru. :>)
    gsalexan likes this.
  8. chip

    chip Novice collector

    This thread is awesome.

    But I still do not have a firm handle on the process, for instance the landing of the pilgrims engraving was featured on 1 dollar national notes, it was also featured on later issued 5 dollar national notes, and later still on 5 dollar large size federal reserve notes, how were the elements recreated unto a new plate for printing?
  9. gsalexan

    gsalexan Intaglio aficionado

    Ah, now you're talking process -- I was just showing the pieces. It takes a whole team to create a note or certificate. The Noost posted a great thread about it some years ago. Beyond engravers, you need siderographers, plate makers, and skilled printers. At least it did before the computer age.
    Last edited: Jul 12, 2015
    midas1 and Earl Clark like this.
  10. Jwt708

    Jwt708 Well-Known Member

    Fascinating post and great examples!
  11. USS656

    USS656 Here to Learn Supporter

    Happy Birthday Greg! Hope you have a great day!!!!
    gsalexan likes this.
  12. Dave M

    Dave M Francophiliac

    Fantastic post and info - thanks!
  13. gsalexan

    gsalexan Intaglio aficionado

    I found another good example in my collection. Apparently "hollow" corner ornaments were sometimes used to frame vignettes, in this case a small portrait. The vignette below it also has a nice frame with a pendant, which may have been engraved as a single piece.

    Usage filled hole corner.jpg

    This is from an 1866 Philadelphia water bond, which is posted on the stocks and bonds thread --
    techwriter and USS656 like this.
  14. techwriter

    techwriter Well-Known Member

    To provide a few more examples of security against counterfeiting:
    the 2 is from a steel engraved die:

    Notice the Roman numeral " L "; might could change the number 50 but the L ?

    How about fancy art and scroll work; Roman numeral " V" for five:

    And a really good example, notice the 3 has three rows of scroll work and the 5 has five rows of scrollwork. The teller had only to count the number of rows, regardless of the number.

  15. gsalexan

    gsalexan Intaglio aficionado

    Nice additions! And that large "2" at the top of your post is also a good example of a cameo/medallion engraving -- you can see the parallel lines running through it. Here's a proof of a "Lazy 2" from my collection that was engraved the same way using a ruling machine.

    Lazy 2.jpg
    Last edited: Aug 19, 2015
  16. MEC2

    MEC2 Enormous Member

    I just posted a new pickup of mine that is the exact same note that engraved $2 is from... the signature portion even matches!

    I also posted an obsolete with a lazy five of very similar design to that lazy two above...
  17. gsalexan

    gsalexan Intaglio aficionado

    I've got that Lazy 5! Or at least something very similar. I bought both proofs some years ago in an auction where nobody recognized what they were. I always assumed they were used as underprints and never thought to look for them on the backs of obsolete notes. MEC, I hope you don't mind if I repost your note here for comparison.

    Lazy 5.jpg
    techwriter likes this.
  18. gsalexan

    gsalexan Intaglio aficionado

    While reorganizing my collection I happened upon an exact match for one of my corner element proofs. This one appears on the back of a Chicago, Rock Island railroad bond, circa 1900 -- it's a mighty good line!

    CRI bond usage.jpg
    hotwheelsearl, USS656 and techwriter like this.
  19. gsalexan

    gsalexan Intaglio aficionado

    In reference to the lazy deuce and five posted earlier, just thought I'd point out Lot 979 in the next Archives International auction. I probably should have guessed there was a one and three, but had never seen them before.

    Lazy 1235.jpg
    techwriter likes this.
  20. techwriter

    techwriter Well-Known Member

    And a Roman one at that. Nice.
  21. gsalexan

    gsalexan Intaglio aficionado

    While sifting through eBay I came across a match to the cameo of my maiden head proof posted earlier. The banknote (not mine) was printed in 1838 by Underwood, Bald, Spencer & Hufty so that helps narrow down the time period the cameo was engraved.

    Cameo.jpg Cameo maiden usage.jpg
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