Tuesday, October 18, 2016

Forged Banknotes in the Regency Era

Tuesday, October 18, 2016
£1 Bank Note 1814
Loretta reports:

In researching Dukes Prefer Blondes, I spent some time looking up criminal cases. I was struck by the number of prosecutions for coining and forgery. That was why the short entry (shown below) in Hone’s Every-day Book about forged notes caught my attention.

I found an explanation at The Proceedings of the Old Bailey, 1674-1913.
Forgeries 1818

“Between 1797 and 1821, the period known as the ‘restriction’, new, primarily copper coins and, most importantly, inexpensively produced £1 and £2 notes were brought into circulation. The poor quality of these notes led to a spate of forgeries, which in turn led to a high number of prosecutions led by the Bank [of England] itself, for both forgery and uttering forged notes.”

If you’re curious about what old bank notes looked like, you can scroll down this page.
Bank of England 1809

You can look at a forged note from 1936 here.

And the Old Bailey website also offers a history of money & what it bought.

Clicking on the caption will take you to the source, where you can learn more and enlarge images as needed.


William Savage said...

In the early days of bank notes, they were simple promises to pay later in ‘specie’ (hard currency) and most banks issued them. This was almost an open invitation to forgery!

Actonbooks said...

As I wrote in The Day They Hanged a Banker
In medieval times there was a great temptation to “coin” money, chip bits off gold and silver coins. Since the 18th century paper currency and paper documents that were as good as money filled the void that coins could not – the means of exchange had effectively been privatised. Forgers stepped into a niche in the ecosystem – as the act of forgery on paper was so much easier than the act of making metal coins. The law was both vague to define the crime and lax to punish. Just after the Napoleonic War the Bank of England was told that “Bank of England note plates are more easily imitated than common engraved shop bills because they are of inferior execution; an apprentice to a writing engraver of two years standing, by three or four days work, is able to copy a Bank-note plate so that good judges cannot tell the genuine from the spurious.” (The Times Nov 15 1817).
This was something the state could not tolerate. The paper exchange relied on utmost good faith in the legitimacy of the promise. Checking was often all but impossible. In England notes issued by country banks did not travel far from the town where they were drawn up. They were treated as good by the simple expedient that someone recognised the handwriting of the banker who wrote them. But with the way that English cities were growing during the early Industrial Revolution that was less likely to work in a metropolis. And as selling to the world expanded nor was it safe for international dealing.
The practicalities of payment across an ocean were almost un-policeable. When you received in Virginia a bill of exchange from a reputable London bank for £100 as payment for your tobacco and you took it to a correspondent banker in, say, Philadelphia, representing the London bank you and the Philadelphia bank both expected the bill to be eventually honoured in full. These documents were negotiable and as such were often endorsed and passed on. The tobacco farmer got the £100 less a small discount from whoever he passed it to and the new holder of the bill would use the bill like money to pay his debts and so on. The Bank of England underwrote the issuing bank’s credit and all was right with the world.
But this relied on everyone in the chain believing in the validity of the paper-based credit system and in the paper itself. A return journey to and from London to confirm that the paper was good might take three months.

Sarah said...

Interesting, thank you! At least forgers were no longer boiled alive at Smooth Field [Smithfield] as a punishment by this time, which was the Medieval punishment for coiners.

Actonbooks said...

Why were we once so tough on bankers? Other trading nations such as France, Holland or Hamburg in the German Confederation did not have the death penalty for forgery. Those against it felt that its very harshness was counter productive; for if humanitarians detected a forgery or a forger they were loathe to prosecute if the outcome was the certain death of the miscreant. The death penalty for forgery and a great number of other crimes of a lesser nature than homicide had been questioned by “a numerous and respectable class of person”.
Ironically, it was that same class of person less than 100 years before who had upped the penalty for forgery from the pillory, a massive fine and a couple of years in jail – to swinging from a knotted rope. Now they wanted to draw distinctions between the acts of those who had privilege, but who inflicted a lifetime of misery on many of their own middle classes, with the small time trader who in extremis does a foolish thing and signs something that he shouldn’t. It wasn’t until 1832 that the law was changed.

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