THE BRITISH LIBRARY

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2 posts categorized "Philatelic"

12 April 2017

The buck starts here: Early paper money from British Colonial America in the British Library

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The currency of the United States is used globally in addition to being a national icon and international cultural symbol. Before the War of Independence (1775-1783) each of the thirteen colonies that eventually established the United States were under British colonial rule and all faced significant challenges regarding their monetary supply. During the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries various types of currency were used as a medium of exchange. The official coinage was denominated in pounds, shillings and pence, however as few British coins were available in America the colonies were compelled to rely upon foreign specie such as the Spanish Dollar that was much more freely available and explains why the United States eventually adopted the dollar. On occasion there was even a shortage of dollars, forcing colonies to occasionally use commodities like tobacco, beaver pelts and wampum beads as a medium of exchange. Finally, to tackle the shortage of currency the colonies also issued paper money.

Since each colony was a self-governing settlement whose administrators were answerable to the British Crown they each printed their own paper money. The first was the Province of Massachusetts Bay in 1690, four years prior to the establishment of the Bank of England, making it the first authorised paper money issued by any government in the western world. The remaining colonies soon followed suit and by the mid-eighteenth century each had developed a sophisticated paper monetary system. Known as bills of credit they were essentially fiat currency rather than notes which could be exchanged for gold and silver. Depreciation of such notes could and did occur which was harmful to British creditors, consequently the British Parliament passed a number of Currency Acts to restrict paper money issues to circumvent the problem. These Acts like the 1765 Stamp Act soured colonial relations with Britain laying the foundations for the War of Independence.  The British Library possesses five original notes, the earliest being a thirty shillings bill issued by the Colony of New Jersey on 16 April 1764 printed by James Parker depicted in images one and two.

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The obverse face of the note is bi-coloured being printed in red and black inks. It has a complex engraving of the Royal Coat of Arms whilst the lettering is in a variety of typefaces. Theoretically the registration of the two ink colours, varied scripts and complexity of the armorial engraving would require considerable skill, time and money making the notes unprofitable to counterfeit. Being a denomination insignia, the engraved half-sun on the note is another security feature.

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The design on the reverse face of the note is based upon a security feature invented by Benjamin Franklin for the 1737 New Jersey paper money issue. Franklin developed a method of printing from leaf casts via a copper plate press for transferring a sage leaf image onto the back of paper money bills. Since a leaf is a unique object it theoretically provided complex fingerprint for each bill which would be impossible to counterfeit accurately.

 

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 The second note depicted in the collection is a ten pound bill issued by the Colony of New York on 16 February 1771 with manuscript signatures of Theophylact Bache, Walter Franklin and A. Lott in addition to a unique serial number. Printed in black ink on thin laid paper by Hugh Gaine, the ornamental upper border and arms of New York depicted on the obverse face were actually engraved by Elisha Gallaudet. Like other notes in the collection there is a verbal warning “Tis death to counterfeit.” Curiously, following a spate of forgeries in 1773 the Colonial Authorities authorised that images of the counterfeiters hanging from the gallows could be pasted onto the reverse face of the notes to discourage forgers but this was never carried out.

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The third note is a four dollar bill issued by the colony of Maryland on 10 April 1764 with manuscript signatures of John Clapham and William Eddis with a unique serial number. Information on designers, engravers and printing of paper money is sporadic at the best of times. However since this note is known to have been printed by Anne Catherine Green and Frederick Green it offer a rare glimpse of the role women played in the Security Printing Industry. Finally as an alternative to watermarked paper this bill was printed on thin paper containing mica flakes to help prevent forgery.

This two shillings six pence bill issued by the colony of Pennsylvania on 3 April 1772 possesses the manuscript signatures of Adam Hubley, Joel Evans and John Mifflin in addition to a unique serial number. It was once again printed by Hall and Sellers in black ink bearing the arms of the Penn Family on special security paper which contains blue thread and mica flakes. Some of these bills bearing this date can contain the signature of John Morton, a signer of the Declaration of Independence.

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The final bill is a twenty shillings note issued in Delaware on 1st January 1776 signed in manuscript by John McKinly and Boaz Manlove with a unique serial number. The note was printed in black ink by James Adams who had once worked alongside Benjamin Franklin in Philadelphia

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Comparison of these notes to contemporary ones issued by Bank of England in Britain shows they are arguably more accomplished in terms of their complex engraving, letterings, use of coloured inks and range of security features. Although less iconic than the modern currency they do display the technical brilliance which helped develop the United States into the world’s leading economic power and banknote printers.

 

By Richard Scott Morel

Curator, Philatelic Collections

 

Further Reading Eric P. Newman: The early paper money of America, (5th Ed, Krause Publications, 2008)

Farley Grubb: Benjamin Franklin and the birth of a paper money economy (Reserve Bank of Philadelphia, 2006)

Images are taken a volume containing a collection of paper money (The British Library, c. 143.d.5)

 

 

 

27 January 2017

Founding Mothers (I): Postage Stamps depicting women’s contributions towards the formation of the United States of America

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As state sponsored government art, stamps offer an incredibly rich visual resource for gender studies, a fact most apparent when looking at how women have been commemorated on postage stamps issued by the United States of America. This first article will illustrate some of the stamps depicting women from the earliest British colonial settlements up until the American Revolutionary War. What immediately becomes apparent is that during the course of the twentieth century, the American Postal Authority recognised and honoured the central role women played in the nation’s formative history.

From the very first waves of British migration to the New World during the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries, women accompanied their husbands and families to form settlements. Some settlements were successful, others less so. The first English child born in the United States was a girl named Virginia Dare, born in August 1587 at the ill-fated “lost” colony of Roanoke in modern Dare County, North Carolina.  Since the colony mysteriously vanished soon after her birth, Virginia’s fate is unknown.  However, she subsequently became an icon in American folklore and politics being referred to in poems, books, comics and films. Although little is known about Virginia besides her historic birth, she has become famous enough to warrant her own commemorative postage stamp, depicted in Image 1. The stamp portrays Virginia as a baby being cradled by her mother Eleanor with her father Ananias standing close by.

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Image 1: United States of America, 18 August 1937 Anniversary of Birth of Virginia Dare, 5c stamp

 

Women also played a key role in the debates and military campaigns surrounding the American Revolutionary Wars (1775-1783) which resulted in the independence of Britain’s thirteen American settlements from colonial rule and the birth of the United States of America.  The founding mother of the United States, Abigail Adams (1744-1818) depicted on the United States Postage stamp in Image 2 was the wife and closest advisor of John Adams (1735-1826), a founding father and Second President of the United States. Her son John Quincy Adams (1767-1848) became the Sixth President of the United States.  A member of one of America’s first political dynasties, Abigail was also politically active corresponding on a variety of issues including women’s rights and the abolition of slavery.

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Image 2: United States of America, 14 June 1985 Abigail Adams Commemorative, 22c stamp

 

The first American flag, one of the most iconic symbols of America’s independence and national identity, is also credited to having been made by a woman named Elizabeth Griscom “Betsy” Ross (1752-1836), who presented it to General George Washington in 1776. The presentation of Betsy’s flag to George Washington has been depicted on the United States Postage Stamp issued for the bicentenary of her birth depicted in Image 3

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Image 3: United States of America, 2 January 1952, Birth Bicentenary of Betsy Ross (maker of the first American flag), and 3c stamp

 

Women’s contribution to the supply and production of essential military equipment during the American Revolutionary Wars has also been commemorated on the United States Postage stamp. Image 4 depicts a female seamstress producing military uniforms for Washington’s Continental Army.

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Image 4: United States of America, 4 July 1977 American Revolution Bicentennial “Skilled Hands for Independence” issue, 13c stamp

 

Finally the United States Postage Stamp overprinted “MOLLY PITCHER” depicted in Image 5 was issued in 1928 to commemorate the 150th Anniversary of the 1778 Battle of Monmouth. The overprint “Molly Pitcher” refers to a nickname given to Mary Ludwig Hays (1754-1832), she was purported to have provided much needed supplies of water to help keep American cannon from overheating, in addition to loading cannon herself during the battle’s height under heavy enemy fire. Now regarded more as folklore than history, the nom-de-guerre is widely regarded as a symbol representing the brave and selfless acts of heroism and patriotism conducted by countless women during the American Revolutionary War.

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Image 5: United States of America, 20 October 1928 2c., carmine stamp overprinted “MOLLY PITCHER.”

 

Richard Scott Morel

Curator, Philatelic Collections

 

Source: Images from the British Library, Philatelic Collections UPU Collection