The art of bank note design

The Bank of England Museum’s latest exhibition offers a look at some fascinating items from its archives, including bank note test prints and sketches by designer Harry Ecclestone.

The Bank of England Museum’s latest exhibition offers a look at some fascinating items from its archives, including bank note test prints and sketches by designer Harry Ecclestone.

Curiosities from the Vaults: A Bank Miscellany is open until July 11 and features items collected by the bank since it was founded in 1694. Alongside paintings, rare ceramics and an 18th century sculpture of its emblem are a series of illustrations and tests for notes created by Ecclestone, who was the bank’s first in-house designer.

Top and above: Paste-up of Ecclestone’s Series D £10 note; the complete note (front and reverse)

Ecclestone worked for the bank for 25 years and was responsible for designing the ‘D’ series of notes, issued in 1970. A president of the Royal Society of Painter-Etchers and Engravers, he was awarded an OBE for his services in 1979, and he died in 2010.

Designing and printing notes is a complex process: to make counterfeiting as difficult as possible, specialised inks are produced on site and some images are engraved by hand onto metal plates, while others are created digitally and laser etched on to film. Watermarks are engraved using wax and, like the metal foil in bank notes, are embedded during the paper manufacturing process.

Intaglio and obverse litho test prints of the £10 note

Tests on display at the museum demonstrate the various stages of the printing process, which uses a mix of intaglio, letterpress and litho printing, while Ecclestone’s character sketches offer a rare glimpse at the early stages of bank note design.

Original sketch of Nightingale and a master drawing of the Scutari Barracks

Other items in the collection include high value notes signed by Nelson Mandela and George Eliot, a ballot box designed by architect John Soane and a leather trunk used for ‘carrying gold across deserts’, which is thought to have belonged to army officer TE Lawrence (Lawrence of Arabia). Lawrence was offered a job by the bank in 1934, a record of which is also on display.

Curiosities from the Vaults: A Bank Miscellany is open at the Bank of England Museum, Bartholomew Lane, London EC2R 8AH until July 11. For details see bankofengland.co.uk

Maclise Britannia £5 note

A thousand pound note signed by the Chosu Five, a group of Japanese nobility who studied at UCL in the 1800s after illegally leaving their home country.

Thousand pound bank note signed by author George Eliot

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