The Numismatic Bibliomania Society



The E-Sylum: Volume 17, Number 1, January 5, 2014, Article 23


Our recent discussions of optical illusions in numismatic art referenced one of the biggest recent controversies surrounding such an illusion - the “Devil’s Face” portrait of Queen Elizabeth II on 1954 Canadian banknotes. Stack's Bowers is selling a set of “Devil’s Face” 1954 Specimen notes in an upcoming sale, and their Matt Quinn wrote about them in his January 2, 2014 blog. -Editor

1954 Devils Face specimen set

We are pleased to present one of the most important Canadian Banknote offerings we have handled, and a set that is likely missing from even advanced collections. This short-lived 1954 "Devil's Face" series displays the portrait vignette of Queen Elizabeth II at right with a hair styling that creates an easily discernible and sinister face. This engraving error quickly became controversial after its release and new plates were prepared. The series is always heavily collected, and the higher denominations are quite scarce in Uncirculated grades. These specimens are seldom available, save for the more available $5 and $10 denominations. With only seven $1,000 specimens of this Devil’s Face type known, only that many sets can be compiled.

To read the Stack's blog article, see: Rare “Devil’s Face” 1954 Specimen Set Part of Upcoming January NYINC World Banknote Auction (

Here's more on the controversy, which re-erupted in 1984. Devilishly interesting! -Editor

In 1952 the Bank of Canada commissioned George Gundersen, of the British American Bank Note Company, to design the forthcoming issue of bank notes, scheduled for 1954. In executing the design, Mr. Gundersen based his engraving of Queen Elisabeth II on a portrait photo taken by Peter-Dirk Uys, one of Her Majesty's official photographers. Everything unfolded as it should have, following all of the normal procedures. The bills were printed and put in circulation. Then, in 1954, a citizen's complaint alarmed the Bank of Canada; the outline of a devil‚s face was visible in the Queen's hair, right behind her ear.

1954 Elizabeth II portrait 1954 Elizabeth II devil

Heavens! Mr. Gundersen, the engraver, was the first suspect. He denied the accusations, claiming he had worked from the photograph issued to him. But someone had to be guilty of the crime. Some hypotheses suggested the work of a prankster employed at the Bank of Canada. French-Canadian nationalists or IRA sympathizers were also suspected. Time went by and the scandal faded for lack of proof, as the original photographic negative could not be found.

What is now called the Devil‚s Face could equally have been an involuntary act. Just a bad hair day! But in the end, Mr. Gundersen would modify the portrait of the Queen by shadowing out the Little Devil; new bills would be printed and put in circulation. The Devil's Face bills would be pulled by the Banks, stamped CANCELLED on the front and marked with the seal of the institution that cancelled it on the back.

It was only in 1984 that the scandal re-erupted with the death of the photographer and the recovery of the negatives from the 1952 photo shoot, events which coincided with the publication of Peter-Dirk Uys‚ memoirs (Uys, Peter-Dirk, Her Majesty's Image - The Life Of The Official Photographer Of Elisabeth The Second, Yellow Sheets Books, London (UK), 1985).

In his account, Mister Uys writes openly of his homosexuality and his long relationship with John Rietveld, Her Majesty‚s hairdresser from 1947 to 1962. Even more surprising is the revelation that Uys flirted with certain circles of initiates before holding his job at Buckingham Palace. We learn in the book that he was one of Aleister Crowley's (an eccentric, writer and devil-worshiper) disciples, as well as Kenneth Anger's (a photographer and filmmaker) lover during the 1940's, just before his final dedication to the trade of portrait photographer.

1954 Elizabeth II  photo 1954 Elizabeth II negative

To read the complete article, see: DEVIL'S FACE (

To read the earlier E-Sylum article, see: OPTICAL ILLUSIONS ON COINS AND MEDALS (


Live and Work in Southern California

Stack’s Bowers Galleries offers an important employment opportunity for the right person. We are seeking an experienced numismatist in the American series—coins, tokens, medals, and paper money—to work with our “dream team” of catalogers, building on the tradition of the Ford, Eliasberg, Bass, Cardinal, Norweb, Battle Born and other great collections.

If you can write in an authoritative and compelling manner with a high degree of accuracy, this may be just right for you! You will be working in Irvine, a modern community in dynamic Orange County, California—one of the finest areas to live. We offer generous benefits including medical and dental coverage, 401K plan, and more. Our offices are in our own modern, state-of-the art building with all amenities.

If you would like to be considered for this position please contact Q. David Bowers by mail or by email with your resumé, samples of your past writing (on numismatics or other subjects), and salary requirements: Mail to the attention of Q. David Bowers, PO Box 1804, Wolfeboro, NH 03894. Email to:

Wayne Homren, Editor

NBS ( Web

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