Hansard and his Typographic Note

Peter Symes

First published in the

International Bank Note Society Journal

Volume 37, No.2, 1998

Most students of the history of bank note production will know that, at the beginning of the nineteenth century, bank notes ceased to be printed from copperplate and were instead printed from engraved steel plates. In fact the history of printing banknotes can be simplified into three main areas - copperplate engravings, steel plate engravings, and lithographic (or offset) printing.

            It now seems clear that transition from copperplate printing to printing from engraved steel plates was a logical step, but there was at least one man who didn't see the transition quite so clearly. This man was Mr. T. C. Hansard, and in 1819 he saw the future of security printing in “stereotyped” plates. This article explores his idea—explaining his rationale, and questioning some of his proposals (even though he is not here to defend himself).

            Perhaps some readers are already familiar with T. C. Hansard, as “Hansard” is a name that many people associate with the official reports of the proceedings of the British Houses of Parliament. This association being formed because Messrs Hansard were the printers of the reports from 1774 until 1891.

            Thomas Curson Hansard (1776-1833) was the eldest son of Luke Hansard who became printer to the House of Commons and also responsible for printing many works by such authors as Edmund Burke and Dr. Johnson. While Luke Hansard's younger sons (James and Luke Graves) continued with their father's business - Thomas struck out on his own. In 1805 he took over the business of a Mr. Rickaby in Peterborough Court and in 1823 founded the Paternoster Row Press.

            Apart from being a successful printer he also took a great interest in the history and development of printing. In 1825 he wrote “Typographia, an Historical Sketch of the Origin and Progress of the Art of Printing; with Practical Directions for conducting every department in an Office, with a description of Stereotype and Lithography”; and he was also an active member of the “Society of the Encouragement of the Arts, Manufacturers, and Commerce”, or more simply “The Society of Arts”. It is his association with this Society that is of interest to us.

            In 1819 the Society of Arts decided to turn their attention to one of the more pressing matters of the day - the forging of Bank of England notes - and Mr Hansard was one of the members of the Society who put forward a submission. Shortly we will look at his submission in some detail, but before commencing it is necessary to look at the developments leading to the Society's investigation into the Forgery of Bank Notes.

            The problems started (more or less) in 1797 when the British Government declared the notes of the Bank of England inconvertible - i.e. they were no longer redeemable for specie. This measure had predictable results - people started hoarding bullion! To provide for the shortage of specie the Bank of England commenced issuing one and two pound notes, but whilst this solved one problem it created another - rampant forgery.

            For the first time, notes were being circulated by the poorer sections of the population who, more often than not, were illiterate. Unable to read the notes, they were easy dupes for forgers and all too often it was not the forger who was convicted for his crime, but an innocent and illiterate person who was convicted of uttering.

            The rapid increase in forgeries became a matter of some concern, not only to the Bank and the Government but also to the public. In an effort to reduce the forgeries the Bank of England reissued the notes in a different design in 1798, and in 1801 introduced their distinctive wavy watermark (which was granted sole use to the Bank by an Act of Parliament) ... but the forgeries continued.

            Whilst the Bank continued its ineffectual measures against counterfeiting the public grew restless. The Bank was seen as unnecessarily producing a climate wherein people were tempted to forge notes, whereas they could easily remove this temptation by producing bank notes which could not easily be copied. It was in this climate that the Society of Arts launched its investigation.

            Several submissions were presented and a great deal of attention was given to the new designs from America and the possibilities of printing from plates produced by intricate engine work on engraved steel. In hindsight it is easy to see how obvious a development the steel plate was, as this path was ultimately followed by all security printers; but at the conclusion of the investigation by the society of Arts, the “Typographical Note” as proposed by Mr Hansard was all but acknowledged as the direction that should be taken by the Bank of England.

            Hansard's submission centres on the proposition that the greater the diversity of skills required to produce a note, the less likelihood there is of it being forged. Indeed the conundrum ever presented to security printers is that whatever one man can produce, another man can copy. It is precisely in answer to this problem that Mr Hansard presents a note which would take the skills of twenty different crafts.

            Whilst Hansard refers to his note as a “Typographic Note”, in essence it is a composite note utilising, as he calls them, the “Chalcographic Art” (copper engraving) and the “Typographic art”. He proposes that the chalcographic art be used for three elements of the note. Firstly he requires that there be four medallions created, one for each corner of the note. In the top corners there are to be medallions which would be copies of the figure of Britannia (as in use in 1819); with the distinction that one would be black on a white background and the other would be white on a black background. The lower corners he suggests could carry allegorical figures of Liberty and Justice.

            The second use of the engravers art would be to provide “a border of exquisite design and workmanship” which would be placed around a square in the centre of the note. Within the square the third requirement is made - that of the writing-engraver - where the “usual words of the Bank note” would be presented “in all the various styles of ornamental penmanship which the space will admit”.

            Perhaps with the suspicion of the coming dominance of steel engraving, Hansard is careful to admit steel as a medium on which the engravers could practice their art. He suggests that the medallions could “be cut on blocks of wood, brass, or steel, to give a surface impression, as in the manner of type”, and the centre block “to be executed on a block of brass or steel”.

            Moving to the use of the Typographic art, Hansard suggests that the compartments in the top, bottom, and sides of the note be filled with writing from two typefaces. The top compartment (between the figures of Britannia) “to exhibit in letters of about an inch in size the value of the Note, but these letters to be formed by the display, in various ways, of the small Diamond type”. An interesting (and perhaps original) variation on filling this compartment is also nominated: “[alternatively] the whole space might be formed of continuous lines of type, in which the portions necessary to form large words might be of type of a different face, either lighter or darker in appearance, so that at a little distance from the eye the effect would be of the words One, &c. being dark on a light ground, or light on a dark ground”.

            The side and bottom compartments of the note are to be filled with “a syllabus of the law either existing or which may exist, relative to the securities against Forgery”, in addition to which there should be “frequent repetition” of the warnings “The Law punishes with Death the Forger” and “The Law rewards the Informer to prevent the Crime” so that any person attempting forgery “should be reminded of his crime, and copy his own condemnation”.

            Central to the proposition of Hansard is the typeface to be used in filling the “compartments”. He requires that a type be “cut on purpose; to be very small, at least equal in minuteness to that denominated Diamond [type], but of such peculiar form and proportions that it could never be required for any other occasion”. He then proposes to add a second type “of an entire new appearance on paper, so novel that any legal security might be obtained for it” - similar to the legal restrictions surrounding the Bank of England watermark.

            Evidence accepted in the minutes of the Society's committee indicates that the preparation of these types would take six to nine months and the skills required to cut the punches is quite limited - a Mr Caslon stating that “at present there are only 4 or 5 persons in England who can execute diamond type”. Thus the number of men who can copy what another has made is severely reduced.

            It is at this point that the method of producing the Typographic note becomes very similar to that of the notes produced by engraved steel plates. Whilst the engraved steel plate is used as an original to create the printing plates, the composite elements of the Typographic note are formed together by “the hands of the stereotyper for moulding and casting any number of fac-similes which may be required, preparatory to being ready for printing off”.

            On the completion of the printing process, Hansard proposes to include a stamp “of some excellence” in the centre of the note - not only to add an additional feature, but also to increase the number of skills required to imitate the note. As an added security feature Hansard proposes that several of the 5000 or so letters on the notes might be “made peculiar to serve as private marks, known only to the printer and the Bank, the missing of any one of which by the imitator could be immediately advertised to the whole country, as the sure and easy means of detection.” He then notes some examples on his specimen note - the use of a small capital in a word which is otherwise entirely in lower case, a reversed letter, and a single italic letter in a word which is other wise standard type.

            Hansard calculates that it would cost £1,880 to produce the composite parts of the note and a further £750 to cast 50 plates for printing. He then estimates that it would cost £20 to produce 40,000 notes per day - a cost of one half farthing per note. He intimates that the production cost is a saving on current costs incurred by the Bank of England - without actually nominating those costs. He does note that this “vast saving would be effected, independent of the great reduction of expense under the head of Law Charges and Prosecutions” - an indication of the cost of securing prosecutions of forgery and uttering.

            Hansard takes great pains to emphasise the different number of skills required to produce his note. He claims that while the imitation of his note is not absolutely impossible, it would “require such an unprecedented union of talent in the same person (for forgeries are rarely executed by partners in the crime) ... as would place the success of any forgery, the fartherest possible from all probability”. The skills required he lists as:

            1          The designer of, and

            2          The engraver of the vignettes, medallions, and writing.

            The Letter-Founding Department

            1          Punch-cutter

            2          Justifier and matrix-striker.

            3          Mould-maker.

            4          The caster.

            5          Breaker.

            6          Rubber.

            7          Kerner.

            8          Setter-up.

            9          Dresser.

            The Printer's Department.

            1          The compositor.

            2          The reader.

            3          The pressman.

            The Stereotyper's Department.

            1          Moulder.

            2          Caster.

            3          Picker.

            The Die-Sinker's Department.

            1          The engraver.

            2          The engine-maker.

            These skills and trades are unknown to most of us today, but Hansard claims that “no man ever could, or at least, ever did, unite the capability of executing any three of them in his own person.”

            Hansard was obviously very much taken by his plan and there is no doubt that he firmly believed that his Typographic Note would solve all the problems facing the current issues from the Bank of England. However there are two points where his logic is shaky - making a certain typeface illegal to cut, and introducing “private marks” which would distinguish the proper notes.

            To make the type face unique Hansard suggests a precaution be taken by promulgating a law along the following lines:

“it should be made highly penal for any Punch-cutter, or other person to devise, cut, make or possess; or Founder, to justify, strike, cast, dress, or have deliver; or Printer to have or use, such [described] type, being less in body or face than [Pica]; or any Engraver, &c. to draw, trace, engrave, cut or otherwise form or imitate or have in possession, &c. &c.”

            This suggestion is hopeful at best and filled with ignorance at worst. The Report from the Society notes that the Bank of England watermark is “guarded from imitation by penalties of the law”, but then adds: “There appears, however, to be no difficulty in producing a passable imitation of this”. Clearly the forger is going to break the law and one more law to break is hardly a deterrent.

            Hansard then claims that “every line, every word, and every letter would have a clear character and definition. Such a letter, in such a word, in such a line, being pointed out as erroneous in an imitation, would at one destroy the whole fabric of the forgery”. By this he claims the perfection of detail would make the note inimitable and should a forgery suffer an error, the error would be instantly detectable.

            After advocating this perfection in design he later suggests the possibility of including “private marks” such as the small capital letter, the single italic letter, and the reversed letter - as mentioned above.

The inclusion of private marks is contradictory to his initial desire for a note that is perfect in all detail (which is probably the better idea), and seems to reflect the practice of the Bank of England at that time which was criticised by other members of the Society. R. H. Solly in particular was scathing in his condemnation of “private marks”:

“The Bank of England appears to rely principally upon certain scratches and dots and pecks, and secret marks which can be of no guide to the public so long as they are really kept secret; and being easily imitated by the forger, they only tend to mislead as soon as they become known.”

            Apart from these two criticisms there appears little wrong with the Typographic Note, but how was his submission received by his colleagues? As far as the minutes of the committee show, his submission seems to be very well supported.

            Mr. T. C. Hansard's communication was read on April 25, after which he took the opportunity to expand on his paper, produced specimens of stereotyped diamond type, and paper capable of furnishing 24 notes per sheet - after which he fielded some questions.

            A Mr Turell, after stating that “Every writing engraver who can execute a good card, may imitate a Bank Note” (i.e. the current Bank of England notes), then goes on to say: “The plan proposed by Mr. Hansard would be peculiarly difficult of imitation in copper.” At a later meeting a Mr. Lee

                        “was of the opinion that it might be possible to imitate Mr. Hansard's plan on blocks of wood or brass, cut in relief (inasmuch as he conceives nothing can be done which may not be imitated), but that such immense time and patience would be required as to preclude all probability that it would ever be attempted, and consequently that it is as complete, as it respects forgery, as if it was actually impracticable.”

            On May 8 Mr. Caslon (a letter-founder) voiced support for Hansard's theory that it would be nigh impossible for someone to cut the necessary type and stated that “it would be scarcely possible for one person to complete a fount of letters from first to last”.

            On May 15 a Mr Clymer from America gave evidence regarding the production of notes from steel engravings. He then extolled the virtues of typographic notes:

“Mr. Clymer stated, that he was one of a company in the United States during the late war, whose object was, to produce Notes as difficult as possible of imitation. For this purpose they formed the borders of impressions from block cutting on brass, and the body of the Note was filled up with type. Some of the Banks adopted their Notes, but peace coming on, the company broke up, after having subsisted only a few months, and the plan was not pushed to any extent; 1, 2, and 3 dollar Notes were all that were made, and these are still in circulation. He has known forgeries to have been committed on those American Banks whose Notes were executed by Murray and Co. where they have been for considerable sums, but not for 1, 2, or 3 dollars.”

            There were no criticisms of the Typographic Note in the recorded minutes of the Society, although Mr Beaumont noted “that subjects composed of diamond type have already been before the Bank Directors” - suggesting that designs based on a Typographic Note had already been rejected. Indeed there had already been a proposal placed before the Bank of England by Augustus Applegarth and Edward Cowper of a note prepared by stereotyped plates. Their note attempted to use several colours and had a reverse which registered perfectly with the obverse. Whilst initially receiving the support of the Bank, the idea was rejected after the engravers at the Bank were able to copy it. By this second example of a stereotyped note, we can see that the concept of utilising stereotyped plates was not the idle dream of one man.

            The eventual development of steel engraved printing and the failure of the Typographic Note even to get into production seems unsurprising at this distance in time, but in 1819 to the men of the Society of Arts it was much different. Certainly there had been banknotes produced from set type, with the 1769 issues of Douglas Heron & Co. (The Air [Ayr] Bank of Scotland) being an example (as well as those noted by Mr. Clymer above), and it is not so fanciful to project that the method was worthy of development. The Typographic Note was certainly progressive in that it advocated the production of one plate from which many copies could be made - a point of design that proved so advantageous for the steel engraved plates.

            In closing, it is worth noting that the report from the Society - whilst supporting Mr Hansard's design - also strongly supported the used of fine vignettes executed by a good historical engraver, this proposition coming from other submissions. In the end, the report from the Society - and many other submissions to the Bank of England - bore no fruit. The Bank decided to continue with their current designs, and did so for well over one hundred years. It seems that all the effort of men from the Society of the Arts, Manufacturing, and Commerce could do nothing to sway the bureaucrats, and the forgeries continued.

© Peter Symes