The Bank of England is 325 years old. To mark the milestone, a new exhibition pulls together 325 fascinating objects from the financial institution’s past. Bank of England Museum curator, Jenni Adam, singles out a handful of these objects for Londonist.
One hundred million pound note (2018)
Notes like these are used for internal accounting purposes at the Bank — never for circulation! One of the uses is to represent sums held at the Bank on behalf of other UK note issuers, like the Scottish and Northern Irish
issuing banks. This is held as backing for the notes those banks issue — an assurance that those banks can honour the face value of their banknotes.
Decorative tiles by the Malkin Tile Works, Staffordshire (1932)
This beautiful tile, and others like it, were designed for the new Bank of England building at the Malkin Tile Works in Staffordshire. There are 14 in all, with different motifs that relate to the Bank in some way. We have four on display in the exhibition — Minerva (Roman goddess of wisdom), Pythagoras (Ancient Greek philosopher and mathematician), two lions guarding a pile of gold, and Britannia (symbol of the Bank).
Nuclear weapon effects calculator (1959)
As the central bank, the Bank of England is an essential part of our economy and financial system, so business continuity has always been important. This rather chilling artefact was part of 1950s contingency planning, to estimate the damage that might result from a nuclear attack during the Cold War.
Proof for Jacobite banknotes (1745)
This is a design for Jacobite banknotes, made in 1745 by engraver Robert Strange. He was commissioned by Charles Edward Stuart (Bonnie Prince Charlie) to produce printing plates for banknotes that would be used to pay Jacobite expenses during the rebellion. But the printing plate — and banknotes — were never used. It was abandoned after the Battle of Culloden, and only rediscovered in the 1920s.
Coin sorter (1896)
This is a patent coin sorter by Hanmer of Liverpool, used at the Bank of England’s Newcastle Branch to sort large batches of coins. The coins were poured in the top, and filtered down through the layers which caught progressively smaller coins — crowns (5 shillings) at the top, then double florins (four shillings), half crowns (two and a half shillings), florins (two shillings) and shillings (12 pence). It was at the Bank’s Newcastle Branch. The
Bank has had branches and agencies around the country since 1826. They gather information about the economy nationwide, and local conditions in different parts of the country.
Banknote forgery (1850s-90s)
This banknote forgery has a particularly intriguing story. It first appeared at the Bank in 1858, when a customer tried to pay it in — to exchange it for gold. The counter staff stamped it as a forgery, then returned it to the
customer, as was the practice at the time. But some time later, some enterprising person managed to erase the ‘FORGED’ stamp, because in 1898 it was presented once again for payment. This time, it was confiscated, and
was held within the Bank’s collections as a curiosity.
Box label (1970s)
This label came to the museum in the late 1970s. It’s from a box used for confidential papers for the Chief Cashier. It illustrates the segregation of duties that maintained the security of confidential documents. But the
gendered language in the inscription is also revealing of the times — it seems completely unthinkable that the Chief Casher could be a woman, and really illustrates the layers of administrative bias that women have faced when entering roles traditionally carried out by men. Today’s Chief Cashier, Sarah John, is the third woman to hold the post. The first was Merlyn Lowther in 1999.
£40 banknote in the name of Elizabeth Head (1702)
This is one of the oldest banknotes we have in the collections, from 1702. At this point the notes were only part-printed and most of the important details (value, date, number etc) were written in by hand. We picked this
one because it’s the earliest note that names a woman as a payee, Elizabeth Head. It’s for £40 which in 1702 was a huge amount of money, around £9,200 — this certainly wasn’t an everyday method of payment for most
Recycled polymer beads (2019)
One of the big advantages of polymer notes is that they last longer in circulation than paper: they are more durable, and resistant to damage and staining. They can also be recycled. These polymer beads are made of
withdrawn polymer notes and can be recycled into a variety of things — we’ve got examples of pens, flowerpots, buckets and even a bird feeder in our collections.
14th century water jug (found in 1929)
Between 1925 and 1939, the old Bank of England was entirely demolished and rebuilt, to create a larger building with greater capacity for an expanding workforce. This medieval water jug was found on our site in 1929, during the building work. This part of London is incredibly rich in archaeology — it’s the oldest part of the city, and practically any building project will uncover material as far back as the Romans. But it’s truly amazing to me that this beautiful thing, made in the 1300s, has survived in such good condition.
Hand scales for weighing and testing coins (1749)
This is a set of hand scales for weighing gold and silver coins from other countries, which could be accepted because of their value as bullion. The weights are labelled with the name of the coins they represent, which helps
a user make sure an unfamiliar coin is genuine (forgeries would usually be lightweight, because they wouldn’t contain as much gold as a genuine coin).
Specimen Florae Britanniae by Justine Smith (2019)
Justine Smith creates delicate botanical sculptures using banknotes. This is a special commission for the Bank of England Museum, using genuine notes that were marked for destruction. Some of them are withdrawn old-design notes, and others were uncirculated test-prints for the current £50 design. Justine has created a beautiful bouquet of British wildflowers — dog roses, wild cherry blossom, ox eye daisies, hazel, bindweed and daffodils. The sculpture was created in the Bank’s 325th year and is being held in a silver water jug made in 1694, the year that the Bank was established.
325 Years, 325 Objects is at the Bank of England Museum from 22 July 2019-15 June 2020. Entry is free