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The E-Sylum: Volume 23, Number 25, June 21, 2020, Article 15

THE BANK RESTRICTION NOTE OF 1819

Gil Parsons submitted these thoughts on Cruikshank's Bank Restriction Note inspired by our earlier discussion on penalties for counterfeiting. Thank you! -Editor

Cruikshank note front
Cruikshank's Bank Restriction Note

The article and comment on "To Counterfeit tis Death" alludes to the unrealized proposal to illustrate actual hanging on banknotes. Actually, there exists precisely such a note, which deserves to be more widely known as it is one of the great works of graphic political satire. This piece, the "Bank Restriction Note" of 1819, was the work of George Cruikshank (1792-1878, artist, social agitator, illustrator of inter alia Dickens Sketches by Box and Oliver Twist) and William Hone (1780-1842. satirist and bookseller, known especially for his successful advancement of copyright law.)

The Bank Restriction Act of 1797 (37 Geo III.c.45) was an outgrowth of Pitt's overprinting of bank notes to cover the costs of the war with France: the Act withdrew large notes from circulation and divorced paper money from direct backing with gold. Vast numbers of one and two pound notes, often crudely made and easily forged, entered the money supply of England. Forgery was punishable by death, and continued to be so until 1832. Cruikshank claimed to have produced this note after seeing the gibbet at the Old Bailey upon which women had been hanged for passing counterfeit one pound notes.

The Bank Restriction Note is a close parody of an actual note of the time. M. Dorothy George (in Catalogue of Political and Personal Satires in the British Museum, ix, 1949) gives a concise description, which is reproduced thus:"Below the title, which is engraved along the left margin:'Specimen of a Bank Note--not to be imitated. Submitted to the consideration of the Bank Directors and the inspection of the Public'. Below this is a border of shackles at right angles to the heading of the note, 'Bank Restriction' in Gothic characters. Below is a long beam from which eleven bodies dangle, three being women; the two uprights of this gibbet are inscribed "Bank Post". Above the heads: 'I promise to perform", and over-printed: No Ad Lib to No Ad Lib The text:During the issue of Bank Notes/ easily imitated, and until the Resump/tion of Cash Payments, or the Abolition/ of the Punishment of Death,/ for the Govr and Compa of the/Bank of England. [signed] J. Ketch ["J. Ketch" was of course the slang term for the public hangman. It should be noted en passant that the original Jack Ketch had been an executioner of the seventeenth century, notorious for his decidedly bad aim]. On the left of the text, within an irregular oval, a woman seated like Britannia with a spear is devouring children. Outside the oval border are the figures of despairing women and agonized men, two with their heads in a noose. This is surmounted by a skull. As a background to this device wavy lines represent the sea; at each of the four corners is a ship with a pennant inscribed "Transport". Below this in place of the sum of money on the real note, is a large L made of rope, enclosing on a black ground twelve tiny heads, intended to represent heads between prison bars."

Cruikshank claimed that the publication of this Note stopped the production of one pound notes by the Bank of England and that it directly led to the end of hanging for forgery. This is not entirely true and George gives a good account of the legal and parliamentary wrangling. At any rate, Cruikshank regarded the Bank Restriction Note as one of his highest political and artistic achievements. Examples do come on the market from time to time.

One might note also that there is a good contextual account in William Graham. The One Pound Note in the Rise and Progress of Banking in Scotland. London, 1886

To read earlier E-Sylum articles, see:
GEORGE CRUIKSHANK'S NOTES (https://www.coinbooks.org/esylum_v18n29a26.html)
COUNTERFEITS IN MILWAUKEE AND MINNEAPOLIS (https://www.coinbooks.org/v23/esylum_v23n23a36.html)
TO COUNTERFEIT 'TIS DEATH (https://www.coinbooks.org/v23/esylum_v23n24a14.html)



Wayne Homren, Editor

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