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Page history last edited by Edward Clark 10 years, 3 months ago

Banknotes: WIKI page, Ed Clark


Introduction: Banknotes - a history.

Eighteenth-century banknotes

Crime and banknotes in the eighteenth century.

Banknotes within the ‘It Narrative’

Banknotes in essays, books and other publications

Links to other WIKI pages

Links to external resources

Annotated bibliography


Banknotes - a history


The OED defines a banknote as 'a promissory note given by a banker: formerly, one payable at a fixed date and to a specified person; now, one payable to bearer on demand, and intended to circulate as money.'


1695   London Gaz. No. 3046/4,   A Bank Note for 17l. 2s. 4d. payable to Philip Wheake.

1714   London Gaz. No. 5239/3,   Lost..10 Bank Circulation Notes..none of them payable for several Months.

1714   London Gaz. No. 5271/4,   Four Circular Bank Notes for 100l. each all payable to Mr. Pope..or Bearer, with Interest.

1789   J. Wolcot Wks. (1812) II. 116   So prudent, numbers each bank-note and jewel.

1812   Examiner 28 Sept. 622/2   What is a bank note but a promise to pay the bearer a certain quantity of gold?

1870   F. C. Bowen Logic ix. 274   Money may mean either specie, or bank-notes, or currency consisting of a mixture of these two.

1850   T. Carlyle Latter-day Pamphlets v. 9   If speech is the banknote for an inward capital of culture.


Paper bills were first used by the Chinese, who started carrying folding money during the Tang Dynasty (A.D. 618-907) — mostly in the form of privately issued bills of credit or exchange notes — and used it for more than 500 years before the practice began to catch on in Europe in the 17th century. Up until the 18th century, most citizens would have had little or no contact with banknotes of any form. This was due to the recoinage of 1696, reducing the need for small denomination notes and negating the 16th century principle of 'running cash notes' which had been the original form of banknotes. With the average income around the time of 1700 being less then twenty pounds per annum, and no notes being issued below the sum of fifty pounds, it was not until 1759, when gold shortages caused by the Seven Years War forced the release of 10, 5 and 1 pound notes, that the average man would have had dealings with banknotes. During the 18th century there was a gradual move toward fixed denomination notes, and from 1725 the Bank was issuing partly printed notes for completion in manuscript. The £ sign and the first digit were printed but other numerals were added by hand, as were the name of the payee, the cashier’s signature, the date and the number. Notes could be for uneven amounts, but the majority were for round sums. By 1745 notes were being part printed in denominations ranging from £20 to £1,000.


Incidentally, the largest banknote ever issued by the Bank of England was the £1,000,000 note, issued in 1948 as a temporary measure during the postwar reconstruction in the Marshall Plan. Designed for use by the U.S. government only, the notes were canceled after just a few months, allowing very few to escape into private hands. 


Bank notes were to be most commonly found in the sphere of eighteenth-century writing in such official documents as legal proceedings. However, there does exist an 'It' narrative entitled 'The Adventures of a bank-note', detailing the movements and transactions of a bill around London. In plays and memoirs too (though the latter were often of criminal forgers), the bank-note comes to prominence within this time period.


Eighteenth-century bank-notes


Glastonbury & Shepton Mallet bank £5 note from the 1830's A note from Shepton Mallet - rural banks produced their own notes from the late eighteenth century, with this practice only coming to an end in 1921. Such notes today are worth millions of pounds.



 Town & County of Poole bank £5 note from the 1800's


Weymouth & Dorsetshire bank £1 note from 1825


Bank notes were handwritten originally, bearing the signature of a cashier and the details of 


In this last example, a classified advert from the early eighteenth century, note the reward offered for the return of a banknote which has been lost. Such a concept is fairly bizarre in today's society as notes can be used by anyone and are practically impossible to mark as individual property. However, as we enter the 1700's, notes were made out to individuals for set amounts, and thus could not be used by others. Often, if notes were lost, a reward was offered with 'No questions asked'.


Crime and Banknotes in the eighteenth Century


 Forgery was seen as an extremely serious offence in the 18th century, and capital punishment was not uncommon for those found guilty.



Only fairly modern methods have created the situation whereby banknotes are incredibly difficult to replicate illegally. Originally, banknotes were printed in black and white on just one side or paper, and before that, hand-written bills, making the act of forgery far more straightforward.

Banknotes within the 'It Narrative'


To better appreciate how banknotes were viewed by the general population within the eighteenth century, it is useful to consider the text 'Adventures of a Bank-Note'. This 'It Narrative' follows the transactions in which a banknote is involved and gives the reader a good idea on the general use of bills in the 1700s. The speed of transaction and the rise of the note as currency is evidenced by the many purchases and exchanges the note finds itself involved in within the novel:


"...by the Yorkshire clothier, I was paid to a wool-stapler; he paid me to a Nottingham weaver; the weaver changed me with the landlord at the Bull in Bishopsgate-street; the landlord paid me to the one-eyed Norwich warehouse-keeper; from him I went to a gingerbread-baker for gingerbread sent by the waggon into the country. By Timothy Treaclebread the gingerbread-baker, I was paid to Mrs. Coppernose, a rich brazier’s widow, for rent: all this was performed in less than three hours.The duce fetch these men of business, says I to myself, they give very little rest, either to money or bank-notes."


With the banknote assuming a personality of its own, it reminds us as modern readers of the points of functionality regarding financial exchange. At one stage, in the possession of a man who is 'a bubble at cards' (thinking himself good, in actual fact 'dismal'), we are told that "ten guineas out of the note" are lost. However, the note remains in the loser's possession, as change cannot be provided for it. The note, rather than a currency we might understand in the 21st century, has rather the air of a commodity.


The format was not an original one. A short tale,Adventures of a Halfpenny, had been printed in the twice weekly London periodical The Adventurer in April 1753. In 1760 the first volumes were published of Chrysal; or The Adventures of a Guinea, Wherin are exhibited views of several striking Scenes, WITH Curious and interesting ANECDOTES of the most Noted Persons in every Rank of Life, whose Hands it passed through IN AMERICA, ENGLAND, HOLLAND, GERMANY and PORTUGAL. Written by Charles Johnstone, a not very successful Irish lawyer, two further volumes followed in 1765. Chrysal - the name is derived from the Greek word for gold - is a guinea coin. 


The Two “Publics” of Thomas Bridges’s Adventures of a Bank-Note. Natalie Roxburgh, University of Oldenburg 


"One of the ways that social relationships were reshaped in the wake of the financial revolution of the eighteenth century was through the increased use of bank notes instead of bullion for transactions. While, at the beginning of the century, bank notes were generally restricted to businessmen and traders, by the end of the century, smaller notes were issued and more people used these in daily transactions. Two overlapping “publics,” one which circulates the bank note and one which comes together through literacy in a print market, is evidenced by the publication of Thomas Bridges’s Adventures of a Bank-Note (1770), which personifies the bank note as the main character with human sensibilities who interacts with seemingly random people as he changes hands and pocketbooks. The “character” of the bank note is intelligible insofar as he links together a motley set of people through his so called adventures. 


This pseudo-novel personifies the very thing that depersonalizes people in a public credit system: the bank note. Through the bank note, one’s trust shifts from the person with whom one exchanges to the institution that issues the note (and, increasingly, the state that supports said institution). And yet, the bank note also has a “character” of its own -- at least according to Bridges. In one way, the novel, or what one critic refers to as an “objectnarrative,” resembles contemporary works such Laurence Stern’s Tristram Shandy (1759-67)."




"Whereas the novelist Sir Walter Scott viewed stories told through the passage of coins from person to person as ‘an ingenious medium for moral satire’, Deidre Lynch, in The Economy of Character: Novels, Market Culture and the Business of Inner Meaning (1998), described them as ‘fictions of social circulation’. She analysed these eighteenth century narratives within the context of a society trying to come to terms with the increasing importance of market exchange, and commercial activity generally, in structuring human relationships and everyday social interactions. In her view, giving literary voice and character to coins and banknotes - personalising and anthropomorphising money - was one of a number of ways in which men and women in the eighteenth century sought to understand their increasingly commercial society.





Legal records


Links to other WIKI pages


Paper: On this WIKI page, there is a useful reference to a forgery trial in which a paper expert was summoned to verify a banknote.


Links to external resources


Eighteenth Century Collections Online:





The First Paper Money - Top 10 Things You Didn't Know About Money - TIMEhttp://content.time.com/time/specials/packages/article/0,28804,1914560_1914558_1914593,00.html #ixzz2vecFuAYV


Reading Experience Database:



Criminal Trials and Confessions of the Old Bailey



Eighteenth-Century Journals: A Portal to Newspapers and Periodicals, c. 1685-1735





Oxford English Dictionary




Annotated Bibliography:


Crompton, Joshua (d. 1778). Genuine memoirs of the life of Joshua Crompton, who was convicted at the Assizes at Guildford, July 31, 1778, for uttering a forged bank note. Containing A Variety of curious and instructive Anecdotes, extraordinary Stratagems, and uncommon Artifices, never before exhibited to the Public. To Which Are Added, His Trial and Manner of Behaviour under Sentence of Death; by a Person who has visited Crompton since his Confinement, and taken Minutes from himself. London : printed for S. Bladon, In Pater-Noster-Row, [1778?].


      This interesting work indicates to us how grave an offence tampering with bank-notes was in the eighteenth century. Here, we are told that Crompton is sentenced to        death.


Bridges, Thomas (fl. 1759-1775). The adventures of a bank-note. In two volumes. London : printed for T. Davies, in Russel-Street, Covent-Garden, 1770-71.


     This 'It Narrative' reveals much of the everyday transaction and use of banknotes.


Macready, William (d. 1829). The bank note, or, lessons for ladies, a comedy, in five acts. As performed at the Theatre-Royal, Covent-Garden.

London : printed for T. N. Longman, Paternoster-Row, [1759] [1795].


The Trials of Peter Declerk, a Dutch captain, for forging a 20l. Bank of England note. And Thomas Hunter, for a burglary in the House of Miss Elliott, in Queen Ann-Street east, tried and convicted in February sessions, 1798. Ordered for execution on Wednesday, May 9, opposite the Debtor's door, Newgate. [London : s.n., 1798].


     The 'Debtors door' is an interesting historical landmark, indicated on the site of the current Old Bailey; it was the door through which condemned prisoners went to      be publicly exectued.


Reports of cases argued and determined in the Court of King's Bench, in the nineteenth, twentieth, and twenty-first years of the reign of George III: London, 1790, Court of King's Bench.


The Adventures of a Robinson Crusoe. 



The Two “Publics” of Thomas Bridges’s Adventures of a Bank-Note. Natalie Roxburgh, University of Oldenburg 







dekLastly, here's that million-pound note mentioned earlier!





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