Of English Provincial Banknotes
By Roger Outing
English provincial banknotes offer
a unique and fascinating insight into the historical development of
the English banking system. The early days of the London
goldsmith-bankers during the 1650's; the explosive expansion of
provincial private bankers during the early 1800's; the
establishment of the first joint stock banks in the 1830s'; the
final consolidation of the "Big Five" banks in the 1920's, these
can all be recorded in the wide range banknote issues that were
made in the past.
What is needed to bring these
threads of historical banking development together is a single
banknote collection that is sufficient in scale and quality to
encompass all the various elements. The David Kirch collection of
English provincial banknotes does exactly this. As you view the
David Kirch collection, the history of English banking is revealed
and explored in a manner that perhaps no other medium can achieve.
Provincial banknotes are a real and tangible link with the past.
Through them you are in contact with the origins and growth of the
industrial revolution, the subsequent development of our major
industrial cities, and also with the establishment of a banking
system that enabled London to be the financial centre of the world
for the larger part of the 19th and 20th centuries.
Just a handful of examples from the
David Kirch collection are described here...
The Southampton Commercial Bank was
established in 1793 by Christopher Shaw, operating in partnership
with his brother Thomas Shaw. They were linen drapers and wine
merchants at 159, High Street, Southampton, from which they would
have also conducted this banking business. Shown at Fig. 1 is their
5 Guinea note of 1795 with small vignette of a ship, hand signed
(bottom right) by "Chris
Shaw", with the further signature (bottom
left) of "Thos,
Shaw" the latter recording the entry of
the note in the banknote register. This combination
of banking with some other pre-existing business enterprise was a
normal procedure during this early period. As there was no
regulation of banking at this time the Shaw brothers were quite at
liberty to simply start a bank and then to commence the issue of
their own banknotes. Amazingly, Christopher Shaw could actually
claim previous banking experience as he had been a partner in the
Southampton Town & County Bank since 1785.
Despite his previous banking
experience, Christopher Shaw proved to be better as a traderthan he
was as a banker. The bank failed in 1796 and bankruptcy followed
for the twobrothers. It should be noted that this 5 guinea note
does not have any of the cancellation or bankruptcy stamps that
might be expected. With the Southampton Commercial Bank only
trading from 1793 to 1796 then this issued and uncancelled 5 guinea
note, hand signed by each of the Shaw brothers, is an important
record of early banking in Southampton.
Great Hewas, Cornwall Illustrated
at Fig. 2 is a £1 dated 1818 with the title "Great
Hewas, Cornwall" with a
vignette of Lion with Shield and the legend "One and All" at the
upper left. This 'bank' is not listed in any standard banking
reference nor in Standard Catalogue of
Provincial Banknotes of England & Wales by Roger
Outing. It is a previously unknown note and, to date,
is the only known surviving example. It is hand signed by
"J. Stanley" on behalf of the
six partners whose names are printed on the note.
It is relevant that the title does
not include the word "Bank" - this description has been avoided.
Great Hewas, 3 miles west of St Austell, was in fact the location
of a copper and tin mine that commenced operations in the 1790's.
Whilst further research needs to be done this note was very likely
an issue by the owners of the mine who, not being bankers, chose to
avoid that description. The text states that it was payable at
"Barclays, Bevan, Tritton & Co,
Bankers, London" and this is consistent with the needs
of businessmenfor having funds available to them in
London. Circulation of notes such as this would have been very
limited - most certainly the miners themselves would never have
seen one. Preservation of this example within the David Kirch
collection is a real find indeed and demonstrates how private
collections can function as important archives that preserve what
otherwise might be lost.
Old Bond Street, London
Most accounts of banking history
present the accepted view that private bankers in London ceased the
issue of their own banknotes sometime in the 1770's. This was
because of the dominance of the Bank of England in London and the
fact that their notes served for all practical purposes.
Illustrated at Fig. 3 is proof that this accepted view is not
entirely accurate. This is a 5 Guinea banknote of Stephen Thurstone
Adey, William Macgeorge & Co, dated 1801, with ornate initials
and the address of 22, Old Bond Street at the upper left. It is
hand signed, very neatly, by "Wm.
Macgeorge" as partner.
This private bank of Adey &
Macgeorge was only in existence from 1801 to 1805. There is no
record of bankruptcy so the assumption is made that the bank ceased
trading and paid off its debts, including the note issue. This
makes the survival of this issued and uncancelled 5 Guinea note
very unexpected and ensures that it is a highly desirable piece for
any provincial banknote collection. It is the only surviving
example that has been confirmed. In respect of the London bankers
it is these late issue (e.g. post 1800) notes that are generally
more difficult to find than earlier issues.
A £100 from
George Moore opened his private
bank in Nottingham in 1802 and was later joined by Frederick
Robinson. In 1836 these by then well-established private bankers
created Moore and Robinson's Nottinghamshire Banking Co. and
thereby became part of the joint stock banking movement. Their bank
was highly successful and outlived the original partners to be
taken over by London County Westminster & Parr's Bank in 1919.
This became Westminster Bank Ltd in 1923 and we now call the bank
NatWest. This is an example of a private bank transforming itself
into a joint stock bank and then prospering to become part of the
'Big Five' banking system of the 20th Century. Any example of a
note from such a bank is an important historical record.
Shown at Fig. 4 is the highly
attractive Moore & Robinson's £100 note from Nottingham and
which is perforated with "Specimen C Skipper &
East". It is undated but as
"Limited" is included in the title then it must be post-1866 -as
the bank was not a limited company until that date. An issued note
of this £100 denomination has not yet been seen but it is entirely
possible that the denomination would have been issued. Obviously
any such issue would have been very small in number and the chance
of them not being cashed in at the Bank must be remote indeed.
Consequently this Specimen £100 becomes a very desirable piece for
Colourful £5 from
Shown at Fig. 5 is the £5 Sudbury
Bank of Alexander, Birkbeck, Barclay & Buxton. It is dated 1880
and is hand signed by one of the partners
"Samuel Alexander". The note
has been cancelled by writing
red ink over the black ink signature. It has a
vignette of building at the centre, a design of circles at the left
and is printed in a distinctive orange/red colour. Each of the four
partners listed on the note was a well-known member of the
Victorian banking world and their names would have been instantly
recognised throughout the business community. The name of
perhaps the recognisable name for us today. In 1896 this was one of
20 private banks that combined to form Barclays Bank; and so this
was an important foundation bank for one of the principal banks on
the High Street today.
Some notes tell us a story of 'what
might have been'. Fig. 6 shows the £20 of The International Bank,
dated 1878, and perforated "Specimen C
Skipper & East". There is a wonderful
vignette of allegorical figures with the use of a
green colour panel with a subtle background pattern. This is
sophisticated and high quality security printing for the
There never was, precisely, any
such a bank as The International Bank. This was no doubt a proposal
for a bank that never came to fruition. During the 1870's and
1880's there was something a frenzy of speculation involving the
establishment of banking companies in London. Many proposals were
made and a few were actually established. This International Bank
apparently did not make it, but the survival of this Specimen £20
records a significant period of banking history in London.
It is relevant to note that there
was an International Bank of London in existence from 1880 to 1905.
Was this £20 Specimen of 1878 in some way connected with earlier
proposals for this bank? Was there a late change in name? Sometimes
we can only conclude that further research is required. One of the
charms of investigating English banking history through the medium
of banknotes is that there always seems to be something new to
The six pieces shown above have
been plucked, almost at random, from the David Kirch collection.
They are my personal 'favourites' from the extensive selection of
notes that are available. When you have, quite literally, thousands
of notes to choose from then any selection must be an individual
and personal choice. Next time I look I might well choose six
completely different notes - there is certainly enough choice
available! I hope that this brief selection goes some way to
illustrating both the wide range and the high quality of the David
The David Kirch Collection is to be
sold October 2012, and further sales in 2013. All proceeds from
these auctions will go to the David Kirch Charitable Trust. For
further information, contact Barnaby Faull: email@example.com, +44
(0) 20 7563 4031.