Security Features in Scottish Banknotes

Peter Symes

From the introduction of paper money, issuing authorities have been aware of the possibility of counterfeiting. The ancient Chinese notes of the Ming dynasty carried the warning: ‘To counterfeit is death. The informant will receive 250 taels in silver and in addition the entire property of the criminal.’ To keep one step ahead of the forger is not always easy, but Scotland’s note issuers have managed to keep ahead throughout most of the history of their note issues. One has only to look at the change in bank note designs to realise that each change has brought another security feature.

            The aim of this article is to record the various security features utilised in Scottish bank notes from their inception to the present Footnote . This will be done by approaching each feature in turn.


According to Graham, writing in the nineteenth century, ‘The two chief requisites of a one pound note are, that it should be of such strength as to stand the tear and wear to which it may be subjected, and to be so contrived as to present the fewest points of attack to the “infamous forger”’.

            So it was necessary to provide paper which would be a deterrent to the forger. The suppliers of paper for the early Scottish notes were the various paper mills that were built along the of Water of Leith. Though it is probable that the paper for the first Scottish notes may have come from Holland or France, as the first of the mills on the Water of Leith commenced operations in 1695 which was the same year that the first Bank of Scotland notes were produced. (The mill built by Mr. Anderson at Valleyfield, Penicuik, in 1709 was later known as the ‘Bank Mill’ because it was at first devoted to making paper for banknotes.) Future stocks of paper for Scottish bank notes were provided by Messrs Stacey, Wise, & Co. of Northampton, and later by Messrs Portals Ltd.

            The paper used in the manufacture of the bank notes is of the highest quality linen rag, and is especially manufactured for bank note production. Graham contends that ‘At all times bank notes were made, as they still are, from new linen rags ...’. This is interesting as it is known that some of the Bank of England notes were made from old linen rags - specifically old mail bags. Whether new or old, all Scottish bank notes were made from linen rag and are still done so today.

            Linen rag and cotton rag paper produce the longest wearing paper and it is a commodity that is not readily available to the public. Indeed the paper manufactured for bank notes is guarded almost as preciously as the finished product.


Watermarks are introduced at the time of paper manufacture, and are produced by raised images in the paper moulds which affect the moisture levels in the paper during the drying process, as well as impressing an image into the paper. Refined over the years, the use of watermarks continues—as attempts to forge watermarks invariably fail.

            The principle methods of forging watermarks are to photograph the watermark or to imprint the watermark by a press - both methods fail. The peculiarities of a genuine watermark lie in the different shades produced by the varying thickness of paper and when immersed in water, the watermark becomes more distinct.

            If paper with a false watermark, caused by a press, is placed in water, the fibres of the paper swell to the same thickness and the false watermark is lost. When genuinely watermarked paper is held to the light the thicker parts of the watermarked paper appear dark, and when placed beneath a light the dark parts appear lighter. A pressed or photographed watermark will not sustain these qualities.

            Watermarks existed long before the first issue of notes by the Bank of Scotland in 1695, as it was the practice of some paper manufacturers to place watermarks on the paper they produced. At least one Scottish bank made a note issue on paper that carried the paper manufacturer’s watermark, this being the 1808 issue of the Fife Banking Company.

            Watermarks were used widely but not universally amongst the banks, and the use of watermarks within the issues of any one bank vary widely. The Bank of Scotland used watermarked paper in its second issue of 1704, and seems to have continued this practice during the 18th century. Other early users of watermarked paper were the Banking Company in Aberdeen (issues of 1773 to 1810), the Ship Bank (issue of 1759), Hunters & Co. (issue of 1773), and the Paisley Bank (issue of 1788).

            Watermarks continued to be used in the early part of the 19th century, by banks such as the Stirling Banking Co. (1808), the Stirling Merchant Banking Co. (1800), the Perth Banking Co. (1806), Sir William Forbes James Hunter & Co. (1808-24), and the East Lothian Banking Co. (1810), but seem to have become ‘obsolete’ as a security device with the introduction of the steel printing plate.

            With the subsequent development of photography and the weakening of reliance on intricate engraving as the sole security measure, the watermark made its reappearance towards the end of the 19th Century. The Royal Bank re-introduced watermarks in their issue of 1861 and the Bank of Scotland in 1885. Whilst the watermark used by The Royal Bank was very simple - being the Bank’s name - the watermark used by the Bank of Scotland was a very intricate Celtic design of interwoven lines (a style sometimes called ‘opus Hibernicaum’). The Bank took out a patent on the watermark and this is seen on all the notes of the late 19th and early 20th centuries with the notation ‘RD.NO.18970’ printed in the bottom border of the notes.

            The other two banks using watermarks from this period were, the British Linen Bank and the Union Bank of Scotland; whilst the North of Scotland Bank introduced them around the turn of the century. The British Linen Bank ceased using theirs in the 1914 issue because they believed that their notes were sufficiently secure without them. This view was also held by the National and Commercial Banks. However with the introduction of their ‘modern’ series, both banks started using watermarks, the Commercial Bank in 1947 and the National Bank in 1957 - both being their last issues. The final issues of the British Linen Bank and the Union Bank of Scotland did not have watermarks.

            All note issues of the modern banks have watermarks and it seems likely that the practice will continue. It is interesting to see that the three modern banks also utilise three implementations of the watermark. The Bank of Scotland uses a pattern that is spread evenly over the paper, whereas the Clydesdale Bank uses a repeating pattern on the right-hand side of the notes, and The Royal Bank uses a single image on the left-hand side of the note. The actual designs are a thistle pattern for the Bank of Scotland, the ship of the Lord of the Isles for the Clydesdale Bank, and the portrait of Lord Islay for The Royal Bank of Scotland.

            Watermarks are an excellent security feature due to the difficulty of forging them, but it does seem strange that in some note issues they are difficult to distinguish. The ‘Sir Walter Scott’ series of the Bank of Scotland is an example - because of the of the many patterns and colours on the notes, it is almost impossible to see the watermark. Another little known example is the watermark on the 1966 £5 issue of The Royal Bank - here is a watermark of the Bank’s arms which covers the whole note, but because of the note design it is difficult to pick out the definition of the watermark.

            In these cases one must wonder at the effectiveness of the watermarks; however this very difficulty is overcome in most modern note issues by the preparation of a white or pale area on the note which allows the easy detection of the watermark.


Embossing is achieved by pressing the paper between two dies that have the same pattern - one with the die pattern raised and the other with the pattern sunk. The result is a raised image of the die pattern. Embossing was not widely used amongst the Scottish Banks, but was used in the initial issues of the Bank of Scotland and The Royal Bank of Scotland.

            The Bank of Scotland’s first issue of 1695 carried the Bank’s seal embossed into the notes, and this practice continued well into the 18th century. The Royal Bank also had its Bank seal embossed into its first issue of 1727 and subsequent issues of the 18th century. Whilst the practice seems to have been discontinued in the latter part of the 18th century by both banks, The Royal Bank did have an issue in 1861 that again carried the Bank’s seal embossed on the notes. The only other bank that appears to have used embossing was the first issue (1810) of the Commercial Bank of Scotland which carried ‘an impression of the Bank’s seal placed over the signatures’ (Douglas, 1975, p.97).

            It should be noted that all bank notes issued between 1800 and 1815 carry an embossed revenue stamp, with the exception of The Royal Bank, the British Linen Bank and the Bank of Scotland who were allowed to compound their stamp duty from about 1808. This embossed revenue stamp was impressed on the notes by the Government and was not part of the printing process undertaken on behalf of the issuing bank.

            The decision of the majority of banks not to include embossing on their notes is probably due to the costs involved, and also illustrates their reliance on engraving and printing of the notes for security.


During the 18th and 19th centuries the printing of books and newspapers was accomplished with printing presses containing moveable type, but maps, bookplates and bank notes were printed with copperplate engravings. Nearly all Scottish bank notes prior to the beginning of the 19th century were printed by the copperplate process, with the notable exception being the 1769 issues of Douglas Heron & Co. (The Air Bank). In this instance the two notes (one pound and one guinea) were printed by the letterpress process.

            Peculiarities of the copperplate notes are the extensive use of copperplate writing with occasional words in Gothic or Roman script, and the common use of single vignettes. Examples of these characteristics can be seen in any of the notes of the 18th century, where issues were dominated by the provincial banks and the public banks. There were of course exceptions, notably the Bank of Scotland where some issues around 1723-31 had numerous types of scripts, and no vignette appeared on any of their notes until 1810.

            The quality of engraving used for the copperplate notes was considered the best security against forgery, and the high point of the engraving was the vignette. It is apparent that forgers generally found it difficult to reproduce the copperplate script and particularly the vignettes with any degree of competency.

            One of the disadvantages of using copper plates in printing was the easy wear to which they were subject. There was a disincentive to the engraver to produce very intricate work because the plates would have to be copied several times for a large printing run. The cost and effort to do this was prohibitive, but this all changed with the introduction of steel printing plates.

            The steel printing plate was introduced in the early part of the 19th century and revolutionised bank note production. With the steel plate, the engraving is done on soft steel which is then hardened—this is the die plate. The die plate is then used to make impressions on other soft steel plates which are in their turn hardened and used for printing.

            This meant that much more time and effort could be expended in producing the die plate, as the design only had to be engraved once. This feature, plus the use of new engraving tools and the capability of steel plates to carry much finer lines, meant that the use of steel plates quickly became universal.

            The first Scottish notes to be produced by a steel plate appear to have been the £1 and £5 notes of the Dundee New Bank, issued in 1802. The first notes produced on steel by W.H.Lizars, perhaps the most prolific plate maker in the 19th century, were in 1807 for Ramsays Bonars & Company.

            By 1830 almost every issue was produced by steel plates and the copperplate era was at an end. An interesting highlight to show the passing of the era is the £1 note of the Commercial Bank that was issued in 1818 - this note was originally printed by a copper plate, but was given an additional overprint in 1825 by an engraved steel plate to enhance its security.

            Characteristics of notes engraved on steel plates are the multiple vignettes, often of allegorical figures, and the use of intricate patterns of fine lines. The vignettes were a continuation of their very successful use in copperplate notes, whilst the intricate patterns were the result of ‘engine work’.

            Engine work is executed with a special lathe that engraves symmetrical patterns. Examples of this type of work can be seen in early notes of the 20th century, notably on the back of notes issued by the Clydesdale, National, Commercial and British Linen Banks.

            A later development in the design of notes produced on steel plates was work undertaken by the ‘stump engraver’, which was used to engrave words on the plate in very small type and often in a pattern. It was not unusual to have the name of the issuing bank or the denomination of the note printed up to two thousand times as a background pattern on the note. The sunburst patterns used by the British Linen, National and Clydesdale Banks in some of their 20th century issues, and the background patterns on the British Linen notes and some Commercial Bank notes are examples of this work.

            The reproduction of ‘engine’ work and engravings by a ‘stump engraver’ were impossible until the introduction of photography. With this development the reliance on the intricate designs as the main security feature diminished, even though they continued to be used.

            Further advances have been made in printing with modern notes using offset and intaglio printing. Offset printing allows the complex use of colours and patterns, whilst intaglio printing is used to highlight aspects of the design. An interesting use of the offset printing process is the printing of the right panel on the current Clydesdale Bank notes - the panel that contains the watermark. The panel looks very plain, printed in soft colours; but when placed under magnification it is possible to see that the panel is made up of many tiny lines that form irregular patterns. If the note is photocopied the patterns will appear on the photocopy, as the photocopier catches all the lines whilst the human eye balances the colour so that it appears as plain printing. Intaglio printing is very useful in that the printing is raised, and therefore not possible to reproduce by any other method—making it one of the main security features currently associated with printing techniques.

Plate Letters

Positional plate letters are small letters used to identify the position of individual note impressions on sheets that carry multiple images of the notes. This means that any given note can be traced to its position on the sheet. Whilst this feature was used mainly to keep an eye on the quality of the notes, it could also be used as a security check; although this was never meant to be its main use and it would be wrong to list it as a security measure. Waterlow & Sons Ltd. are the only printers of Scottish bank notes to use these plate letters, and they can be seen on the notes they printed for the British Linen Bank, the Commercial Bank, the National Bank, and the Union Bank.

The Counterfoil

Many bank notes of the 18th and 19th centuries were bound in books, and presented in a manner which is similar to the modern cheque book. When a bank note was issued, it was removed from the book in much the same way that a cheque is removed from a cheque book - but whilst the cheque is detached from the ‘butt’ by tearing perforations, the bank note was removed by cutting it from its counterfoil.

            The cut was usually made along a decorative panel and quite often it was an irregular cut. When the note was returned to the bank for payment, the teller could retrieve the book of counterfoils by reference to the serial number and then match the irregular edge of the bank note to its counterfoil. The genuine note would have an edge that complemented its counterfoil.

            The use of counterfoils was a major security feature of many bank notes, but their use has long since disappeared. Interestingly, many bank note designs continued to incorporate a panel down the left side of the notes despite the passing of their functionality. The 20th century issues of the British Linen Bank are a good example of the continued use of the panels, and the £5 issue of 1962 even has a wavy line on the border, reminiscent of an irregular cut, which recalls the original use of the panel.

Security Fibres

Two of the Scottish banks have used paper with embedded fibres as a security measure, these being the North of Scotland Bank and the British Linen Bank. The original fibre-embedded paper is often referred to as ‘granite’ paper, and has red and blue fibres embedded evenly through the paper. The other type of embedded fibre is the fluorescent fibre. Fluorescent fibres are invisible in ordinary light, but when submitted to ultraviolet light they glow in a specific colour.

            The North of Scotland Bank introduced granite paper to the Scottish public in their issue of 1909 and continued with its use until its final issue of 1939/42 when the use of fibre-embedded paper ceased. The British Linen Bank changed to granite paper in 1937 and continued its use until the £1 and £5 note issues of 1962. There was then an interesting divergence, with the concluding £5 issues of the bank printed on paper with embedded fluorescent fibres, whilst the £1 issue of 1962 was printed on paper that had red, blue and fluorescent fibres, and the final issue of the £1 note in 1968 was printed on paper with only fluorescent fibres.

Coloured Inks

The first bank notes circulating in Scotland were printed in black ink, and they continued to be printed in the one colour until 1774. In that year the Bank of Scotland issued a one guinea note that was the first Scottish note with two colours - black and blue. Not to be outdone, The Royal Bank of Scotland quickly followed with the issue of a one guinea note in 1777 which had three colours - black, red and blue. With both these issues, the blue ink was used to print the panel containing the value ‘one guinea’, and the red ink on the note of The Royal Bank was used to print the vignette of George III. There was no thought here of the inks lying on top of each other.

            There was an interesting issue of the Banking Company in Aberdeen in 1801 when they issued a one pound note printed in red. This experiment appears unsuccessful as they soon returned to black - perhaps the public wasn’t ready for such an innovation.

            Around the 1820s there was a spate of dual coloured notes - arriving in the same period as the introduction of the steel printing plate. The dual coloured notes were issued by: the Ship Bank in 1823 (black and blue); the Greenock Banking Co. in 1825 (black and green); Hunters & Co. in 1828 (black and brick red); and the Glasgow Bank Company in 1830 (black and brown). The Perth Banking Co. also issued a note in 1823 with three colours - black, blue and red.

            The 1860s saw another spate of colour issues and, from this time, the use of colours becomes the major security feature of Scottish bank notes. The use of colours was prompted by the development of photography, which was making the continued use of black and white notes too tempting to the forgers.

            The notes issued in this period were not simply coloured additions to a black plate as was the case four decades earlier, but involved the use of two coloured inks—often to the exclusion of black. In 1861 the British Linen (Bank) Company issued a series that were printed in blue with a red underlay of the company’s initials, ‘B.L.C.’. The Central Bank of Scotland’s issue of 1861 was black and blue, but they soon followed this in 1866 with a red and blue issue. The use of blue and red for printing bank notes was no accident, they were chosen by many printers because of the inability of the photographic emulsions of the time to satisfactorily render the two colours onto a negative. However they were not the only colours used, the Clydesdale Bank issued a green and purple note in 1870, the Commercial Bank issued a blue and buff note in 1888, and the Union Bank issued a blue and green note in 1863.

            The real scientific exploration of security inks belongs to the colours given to the notes of the Bank of Scotland in their issue of 1885. Experiments were undertaken by Professor Crum Brown, Professor of Chemistry at Edinburgh University, at the behest of the Bank of Scotland in an effort to discover the most effective inks to counter the attempts of the forgers. The final colours were brown, yellow and blue-grey, and it was believed that these could not be forged by any photographic means. Two years after the notes were introduced, some forgeries were discovered that were made by a copperplate engraver. Due to this discovery changes were made to the design of the note but the colours remained the same.

            With the further advance of photographic techniques in the first decades of the 20th century a third colour was added to most notes - this usually taking the form of an overlay and in many cases it was a ‘sunburst’ pattern. Further development of photography has meant that colours can no longer be relied on as the principle security device on bank notes, and the use of colour is now restricted to the artistic and recognition requirements of the note issuers.

Magnetic Sorting Marks

As no Scottish bank is allowed to issue the notes of another bank, there needs to be a facility where the notes can be exchanged when taken in by the banks. This exchange is done at the ‘Note Exchange’ and it was becoming an increasingly difficult task with the rise in the number of notes in circulation. In an effort to speed up the process, sorting machines were introduced that required special marks on the notes to identify the issuing bank and the denomination.

            The use of sorting marks on the one and five pound notes commenced in 1967 and continued until the early 1980s. Whilst the marks were introduced specifically for sorting the notes, they had an added benefit as a security feature, as the ink used for the sorting marks was a magnetic ink. This meant that any attempt to circulate forged one or five pound notes would be discovered at the Note Exchange where the sorting machines would reject notes that did not have magnetic ink used for the sorting marks.

Serial Numbers

The serial number was first used to keep track of notes that were issued, and of those outstanding, for these are liabilities to the banks. It naturally followed that any attempt to pass a forged note to the bank would ultimately be found out by an incorrect or duplicate serial number on the counterfeit note.

            The reason that sorting marks were dropped from Scottish bank notes in the 1980s was that the new note sorting machines could read the numbers on the notes as they were sorted. This meant that any forgeries would almost certainly have been rejected by the sorting machine on the discovery of a faulty serial number.

            The serial number has several advantages in being used as a security feature, as it is the third printing process following the offset and intaglio printings. Usually the serial number is the only item printed in the third process, which means that special inks can be used - such as magnetic or ultraviolet sensitive inks.

            Several Scottish banks have used red serial numbers already, these being The Royal Bank in 1792 and 1920, the Commercial Bank in 1882, and the Clydesdale Bank in 1950 - and it seems likely that the serial number will appear in the list of security features on future issues.

Security Threads

The first Scottish bank to use the metal security thread was the Clydesdale Bank in their issue of 1950. They were followed by the British Linen Bank in 1962, The Royal Bank in 1966, and the Bank of Scotland in 1968. The metal thread was originally just that - a small thread of metal that was inserted into the paper during the manufacturing process. With technical developments the metal thread has been replaced with a synthetic thread, and with the synthetic thread came some interesting variations on the use of the thread.

            The Royal Bank introduced their thread in the 1966 issue of one and five pounds; these notes had translucent, synthetic threads with the letters ‘RBS’ - for ‘Royal Bank of Scotland’ - printed in micro-type. Micro-printed text can only be read under magnification, and can not be copied by photography or photocopying. The use of the micro-printed thread continued until the Lord Islay series, when it was discarded in favour of the solid thread.

            When the Bank of Scotland introduced their thread in 1968 they had another variation - the ‘Morse code’ thread. This is a synthetic thread that has solid and translucent sections; when the solid sections are read as the dots and dashes of morse code they read ‘BOFS’ - for ‘Bank of Scotland’. The notes of the Bank of Scotland continue to use the Morse code thread.

Latent Images

A latent image is one that is to all intents and purposes concealed, but will become apparent under certain circumstances. The use of latent images in bank note design is a modern invention, with the images always appearing in intaglio printing. The first use of latent images in Scottish bank notes was in the Lord Islay series of The Royal Bank of Scotland. When the notes of this series are viewed at a very low angle - almost horizontally - the denomination of the note can be seen in the bar with wavy lines at the bottom of the note. The value of the one, five and ten pound notes can be seen at the far left of the bar, whilst the value of the twenty pound note is found to the left of the Bank’s arms.

            The Clydesdale Bank introduced the latent image with the issue of their ten pound note in 1988 where the value of the note is held in the four-disc pattern in the centre of the note. This feature has been continued with the issue of the five and twenty pound notes in reduced size. The Bank of Scotland introduced this feature with the reduced size notes of the Sir Walter Scott series. Here the value of the note appears as a latent image at the bottom right of the bust of Sir Walter Scott.

Perfect Registration

Perfect registration occurs when a pattern on one side of the bank note aligns perfectly with the same pattern on the other side of the note. This feature is possible to achieve because both sides of the note are printed at the same time.

            This feature can be seen in the latest series of the Clydesdale Bank, where the design containing the ship of the Lord of the Isles is perfectly aligned with the similar pattern on the reverse of the note. When the note is held to the light, the colour of the hull in the pattern on the reverse fills in the white gaps of the hull on the front of the note.

            The Lord Islay series of The Royal Bank has three examples of perfect registration. The first example is the star patterns at the top and bottom of the note which register perfectly with same patterns on the reverse. The second example is the Bank’s symbol which appears as a line drawing to the right of the outline of Edinburgh castle on the front of the note, and as a solid image on the back of the note - when held to the light the solid image fills the line drawing.

            The third example, is the registration of the Celtic pattern of interlaced lines at the top left on the front of the note with the same pattern at the top right on the back of the note. These patterns align on the one, five and ten pound notes, but they do not align on the twenty pound note. This is because the Celtic pattern is printed during the offset process for both sides of the lower denominations, but on the front of the twenty pound note it is printed with intaglio printing, making perfect registration with the offset printing on the back almost impossible. It is arguable that this failure is intentional, whilst it may also be the result of an over-ambitious attempt at alignment using two printing processes.

Micro-printed Text

Micro-printed text, as mentioned above, is very small printing which is almost indistinguishable with normal eyesight, but is quite plain when viewed under magnification. When photographed or photocopied the micro-printed text loses its clarity.

            Micro-printing was first introduced to Scottish bank notes on the thread of The Royal Bank of Scotland in 1966, and it was The Royal Bank who again lead the way with micro-printing on the notes, with the introduction of the Lord Islay series. Along the bottom of each note in the Lord Islay series is a long bar of intaglio printing, distinguished by a pattern of lines. If this panel is magnified, the letters ‘RBS’ can be seen repeated many hundreds of times in very small micro-type. Above this bar (looking at first glance like a straight line) is a line of micro-printed text that repeats the name of the bank.

            The ten pound note of the Clydesdale Bank and their reduced size five and twenty pound notes have the words ‘Clydesdale Bank Plc’ written repeatedly in a line underneath the portraits on the various notes. In addition, the new five and twenty pound notes have microprinted letters repeated in the right most of the four ‘discs’ in the middle of the notes. Written in the disc on the five pound note is ‘CB5’, and on the twenty pound note is ‘20’.

            The most recent five and twenty pound notes of the Bank of Scotland have the name of the bank repeated as a line of micro-printed text beneath the Bank’s coat of arms in the centre of the note. The use of micro-printed text is increasing throughout the world, and collectors would be wise to check future issues for the appearance of micro-printing in not so obvious places.

Ultraviolet Sensitive Inks

The use of ultraviolet (UV) sensitive inks is becoming widespread, as the qualities of the inks cannot be copied by photocopiers or reproduced by photography. The different behaviours of inks under ultraviolet light are: (1) the ink becomes dull, (2) the inks change colour, (3) the inks become brighter, or (4) the ink which is not apparent under visible light becomes apparent under ultraviolet light.

            The use of inks that appear only under ultraviolet light are the most exciting use of ultraviolet sensitive inks. This feature was first introduced to Scottish notes on the Sir Walter Scott series of the Bank of Scotland. The pound sign and the denomination of the note appear twice in an outline of golden ink - to the top and bottom left of the bust of Sir Walter Scott - when the notes of this issue are placed under UV light.

            The use of UV sensitive inks has also been taken up by the other two banks in their recent issues. The Lord Islay series has the symbol of The Royal Bank appearing in reverse image on a block of gold in the centre of each note. The Clydesdale Bank ten pound issue of 1988 has the number ‘10’ appearing in reverse image, also on a block of gold, in the centre of that note.

            However, all these features are being forsaken with the introduction of the reduced size notes which is currently in progress. In place of the above mentioned features we now see the reappearance of sorting marks - but this time they are printed in UV sensitive inks. These marks appear on the front of the notes as a pattern of broad and narrow bars which are repeated vertically and horizontally, and are apparent only under UV light.

            The notes of the Sir Walter Scott series also show the use of inks that become brighter when placed under UV light. These inks are all used in the depiction of the thistles that appear to the left of the notes - the green inks used in the one, five and twenty pound notes become brighter and the orange used the ten pound note becomes bright yellow. (Anyone interested in the development of Scottish bank notes would be well advised to invest in an ultraviolet lamp to observe these features.)


The first recorded forgery of a Scottish bank note was of the 1716 ‘Twelve Pounds Scots’ issued by the Bank of Scotland, and from that time the problem of forgeries has been constant. It is interesting to note that there was a rash of forgeries during the Napoleonic wars and many people believe that some of the forgeries were executed by French prisoners of war - perhaps with the approval and enterprise of their gaolers.

            Graham makes the interesting comment ‘Schoolmasters and engravers were the first forgers, from which a lesson may be learned by those who care to read.’ It seems that the early advances that Scotland made in educating its populace did not always have the right rewards.

            During the period 1806-1825 there were 86 prosecutions for forgery in Scotland resulting in eight executions, which is somewhat less than the thousand prosecutions and three hundred executions in England for the same period. However, this comparison is cold comfort for the Banks who had to sustain the losses of forged notes, which is why so much attention was paid to increasing the security of their note issues.

            Undoubtedly, forgery is still contemplated by many criminals, and this is the driving force behind the continual update of security features with each issue of bank notes; for as technology improves, so do the efforts of the counterfeiter. For this reason, the collector of modern bank notes has an opportunity to see more security features in the future, and probably with a greater frequency, as technology is moving very quickly.

            There are some common security features in use at this point in time that are yet to make their appearance on Scottish bank notes. These include the windowed thread (that currently appears in issues of the Bank of England), the use of light sensitive inks, polymer (instead of paper), and serial numbers of differing fonts, colour and size, to name just a few.

            As the development of technology unfolds, there will be the added interest of security features for all collectors of Scottish bank notes to follow and appreciate.

This article was completed in June 1993.


This article was completed in January 1993
© Peter Symes