The E-Sylum:  Volume 10, Number 36, September 10, 2007, Article 11


Finally leaving our office around 2pm, I walked up Charing Cross
and stopped at EAT to grab a tuna and onion sandwich.  Shops like
EAT and Pret A Manger abound in London, offering fast prepared
food often healthier than typical fast-food restaurant fare.
After wolfing it down I hit the tube station again and rode to
the Bank station.  This time my destination was the Bank of England
Museum.  Following the signs to the exit closest to the Bank, I
emerged on the street right where I expected.  On Sunday the
Mernicks had told me the museum had a separate entrance was
around the corner, so off I went.

Once inside the cavernous domed lobby, I had to empty my pockets
and place my things and backpack on a tray for the X-ray machine.
I walked through a metal detector and was given the all-clear.  I
put myself back together and stopped at the reception desk.  The
woman handed me a pamphlet describing the exhibits.

The first hall is a reconstruction of the original late 1700s
Bank Stock Office designed by Sir John Soane.  This was interesting
to see - while at Sir John Soane's Museum a few weeks earlier I
learned that much of his original Bank of England building had
been demolished.  It was good to know the Bank had seen fit to
pay tribute to Soane's work with a faithful full-scale reproduction.

Along one wall were cases and prints on the subject of the Bank's
architecture, from the rented premises it operated from for its
first 40 years, through the various buildings, expansions and
renovations on the present site.

Most of the first hall was devoted the Security by Design exhibit,
covering the history and use of anti-counterfeiting devices on Bank
of England notes.  At the front of the hall is an exhibit on the
newest Bank of England note, the 20 pound note featuring Adam Smith.
The case included a three-volume fifth edition of Smith's 'Wealth
of Nations' book.

Another case was titled 'Bank of England Notes - First 200 Years'.
Displayed were three early banknotes - a handwritten 1697 note for
107 pounds, an 1811 one pound note and others.  Artifacts displayed
included the Minute Book of the Court of Directors (open to Tuesday,
30 July 1694), a Copper Plate record book containing proofs of
banknote designs from 1694 to 1809, and the 'Twelve Brittanias'.
These last were examples of twelve minutely-different versions of
the 'Brittania' image.  "These have been annotated in ink to indicate
the 'Secret Marks' in the foliations which identify the particular
Brittania for each denomination."

A second case included an example of the 1819 Cruikshank Bank
Restriction note, a copy of an 1856 book "How to Detect Forged
Bank Notes", a master die of Brittania for the 1855 note, and a
wooden box open to show a pair of plates for printing 5 pound
notes, last used in 1926.

Other cases held items such as a plate for the intaglio portion
of the Elgar 20 pound note (1999) along with a holographic strip
for the note, a master plate for the intaglio portion of the
Stevenson 'fiver', and a cylindrical master die for the 1970-1980
one pound notes.

Along the opposite wall I noted a set of eight cases of coins.
According to the exhibit text "The Bank's coin collection was
begun in 1932 with the aim of compiling a representative collection
of British regal coins (i.e those having a representation of the
monarch) since 1694, the year of the bank's foundation."

The first case included ten coins of William and Mary 1688-1694
including gold one, two and five guineas.  There are nice high-grade
examples throughout the exhibit, which ends with the coins of 1994.

The next room was small, but held many treasures - it was probably
my favorite part of the museum.  As a bibliophile I was pleased to
see a 1694 pamphlet by William Paterson titled "A Brief Account of
the Intended Bank of England".  Nearby was a "book containing the
names of the subscribers and the amounts they invested in the new
project, the Bank of England."

But it gets even better - also displayed were the first cash book
of 1694 showing the names and accounts of depositors, and the
original 1694 Charter of the bank, a HUGE, beautifully decorated
and handwritten document with an equally huge wax seal.

For me though, the best was yet to come in a group five quite
ordinary-looking strips of plain wood.  Why?  Because these were
tally sticks, something I'd read about but had never seen.  These
were very primitive early methods of keeping track of sums of money
- see the earlier E-Sylum article (link below).  One of the tally
sticks, a 4 foot 3/4 inch example from 1694 "is a receipt for
18,812:13s:11 1/2p (18,812.70), part of the original subscription
paid to the government."

[From the Tally Stick web page: "Tally sticks came into use in
England after the Norman invasion. Tax assessments were made for
areas of the country and the relevant sheriff was required to
collect the taxes and remit them to the king. To ensure that both
the sheriff and the king knew where they stood, the tax assessment
was recorded by cutting notches in a wooden twig and then splitting
the twig in two, so that each of them had a durable record of the
assessment. When it was time to pay up, the sheriff would show up
with the cash and his half of the tally to be reckoned against
the King's half." -Editor]


The next room covered The Early Years 1694-1734.  Displayed is
a large iron chest circa 1700, the oldest piece of furniture
owned by the Bank.  The text notes that "chests like these were
the precursors of modern safes."  Set into one wall is a scale
model of the Bank's first premises on Threadneedle Street circa
1734.  The diorama includes scale models of people, horses,
carriages and chairs - very well done.

In the next room (Growth & Expansion 1734-1797) there was a
freestanding case displaying a Million Pound note.  Although
undated, it is from the early 19th century.  These were used
since the 18th century for internal accounting purposes only
- the largest banknote issued for circulation was 1,000 pounds.

An exhibit case titled "The Restriction Period 1797-1821 centers
on forgery and the severe penalties meted out to forgers and
utterers - anyone caught passing or merely possessing a
counterfeit note.  The case included another Cruikshank note,
the third one I've seen while in London.  Just how rare are they?

The case showed four forged notes - three one pound notes and
one two pounder.  "Inimitable Notes" was a "book containing notes
submitted by the public and claimed to be 'unforgeable'.  Some
400 suggestions were received but most were unpractical."

Also in the case were two copper printing plates for one and two
pound notes forged by William Badger, and a wood and leather
"Forger's Box" c1800.  "This box was used by the forger Charles
Hibbert to contain his forging tools.  Hibbert was hanged in 1819".

One case included two Roman gold bars, another item I'd never
seen before (and didn't even realise still existed).  Both were
circa 375-378 AD.  The larger of the two weighed 16.85 troy
ounces and held the stamp of "Lucianus, Master of the Mint".

Some of the next exhibits were nice but held less interest for
me as a numismatist.  They included examples of "The Bank's Silver",
a collection of silver "of considerable artistic and historical
interest".  Many of the pieces date from the Bank's founding in
1694.  Other cases included a large scale for weighing gold bars
and a set of weights ranging from 1/2 ounce to 200 ounces.   An
exhibit of special interest to the general public is a gold bar
weighing "2 stones, 28 pounds, 13 kg".  In a specially-constructed
case, visitors can reach in and attempt to lift the bar from
its perch.  It's not easy.   A counter (updated daily) noted
that at current gold prices the bar was worth 137,651 pounds
today (over $275,000).

I wondered if the bar was sealed with some sort of clear protective
layer - gold is soft, so what would prevent a visitor from scratching
off some gold with their fingernails?    It sure wouldn't be easy to
walk off with the whole thing - a security camera sends a video stream
to a screen in the museum lobby where every visitor hefting the bar
is seen by security guards and the general public.  So if you're a
90-pound weakling trying to heft the bar, remember you're on Candid
Camera.  (Yeah, I did it, but I'd be lying if I said it was easy.
It's been a while since lifted more than the weight of a pint of beer).

Around the room were a set of cases continuing the chronological
theme.  The World War II case displayed a letter to the Bank signed
by General Eisenhower "expressing appreciation for the Bank's service
in handling the invasion currency", intended for the use of the
Allied Forces invading Europe.   I was pleased to see the case
included an Operation Bernhard Nazi counterfeit of a 1936 five
pound note.  It was stamped twice with the word "FORGED".

At the very back of the museum was a small room called The Banknote
Gallery.  It began with a 24 January 1699 note for 150 8s 8d, a
1770 note for ten pounds and an 1809 two pound note.  I thought it
interesting to read that "Notes were often cut in half and sent
separately to ensure safety in the post."  The exhibit contained
three more Operation Bernhard notes.  Interestingly, it also
included a set of small tools labeled "Dies subsequently captured
from the Germans."  I hadn't been aware that any of the forgers'
tools had survived the war.

Regular readers will know I tend to judge the worth of a museum
gift shop by the number and quality of the books it offers.  The
Bank of England Museum shop was a little disappointing in this
regard.  While there were some good books they were few in number.
The most substantive was a three-volume work by Sayers on The Bank
of England 1891-1944.  There were some good current references on
British banknotes, including English Paper Money, 7th edition, and
the Banknote Yearbook, 5th edition (2007).   I bought two small
card-covered pamphlets:  "Sir John Soane: Architect & Surveyor
to the Bank of England" and "Forgery: The Artful Crime - A Brief
History of the Forgery of Bank of England Notes".

The Bank of England Museum is a must-see for numismatic visitors
to London, and is more than suitable for non-numismatists as well
- the whole family would enjoy the experience, and admission is
free.  I saw quite a number of visitors in my time there.

Next I went back to the building lobby and asked for curator
John Keyworth.  Howard Berlin had suggested I contact him, and
I'd spoken with him on the phone the day before.  He was with
another visitor (also a U.S. tourist), so I waited.  I had to
call Catherine Gathercole at Spink to let her know I'd be
unable to stop by today for a second visit.

When John became free he came out to greet me and we had a
nice talk in the lobby.  I told him I thought the museum was
stunning, but he modestly said that there were several areas
he was hoping to update or improve.  I asked how long he'd
been the curator and he joked, "Too long!"

I learned that he wasn't keen on the coin collection, and I
told him that I was somewhat surprised to see it there.  His
focus is naturally on the Bank of England products, which do
not include coins.  Still, they nicely round out the exhibits
for a general public unknowing and uncaring about the difference
between the Bank of England and the Royal Mint.  In the U.S.
there is similar confusion between the Bureau of the Mint
and the Bureau of Engraving and Printing.

John gave me his email address and I promised to send him a
copy of my London Diary.  I went back into the exhibit area
for a bit, but was soon shooed out with all the other visitors
(there had been many) as the closing time of 5pm approached.

>From the exhibits I remembered that the Bank originally set
up shop in Mercer's Hall on a street nearby.  This being London,
I wouldn't be surprised if the building from 1694 were still
there.  I pulled out my handy map and behold - there was a
Mercer's Hall clearly displayed on the map.   I oriented myself
and walked up Poultry Street to the corner of Ironmonger's
Lane (don't you just love London place names?)

I found a large building called Mercer's Hall, but it looked
nothing like the images I'd seen at the Bank museum.  It was
an old building, but not THAT old.  An historical marker noted
that part of the building was on the "site of St. Mary's Church,
destroyed in the Great Fire of 1666".  At the other end of the
building a sign noted that "Thomas Becket, Chancellor, Archbishop
and Martyr was born here c1120".

I kept walking, making my way back to the tube.  I passed a pub
on Fetter's Lane that would have been a fine place to stop for
a pint with Joel Orosz.  It was called "The Printer's Devil",
the name of Joel's column in our print journal, The Asylum.  I
passed more shops and restaurants, but not seeing any to my
liking I entered the Chancery Lane station.  It was rush hour,
and the tube was as packed and hot as ever.  I squeezed onto
the next train and held on tight.  The train rocketed away.
I climbed out at my usual Queensway stop.  After having dinner
at a Chinese restaurant I headed back to my hotel.  It would
be my last night in London, and it was time to do some final
laundry and pack my bags.

For more information on the Bank of England Museum, see:
Full Story

  Wayne Homren, Editor

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