By Neil Shafer
Printers’ samples take a number of forms. Among those more often seen are bank note-like pieces approximating a piece of paper money, usually with a design incorporating some well-known historical figure or scene.
At times, especially during the 19th century, various printers have created elaborate full-size sheets that contain a large number of vignettes in rows. Such sheets often date from the mid-1800s, sometimes later. Long-defunct security printers have left us these magnificent examples of their great skill during those earlier years when printers were becoming so highly sophisticated.
One of these printers’ sample sheets was reprinted in a limited edition by J. Roy Pennell, well-known collector years ago from South Carolina. It measures 20 x 20 inches square and has no less than 125 individual vignettes, guilloches and ornamental sections in 11 irregular rows - quite an impressive display. Its title was Specimens of Bank Note Engraving, and the original printer was the New Orleans office of Rawdon, Wright, Hatch and Edson. RWH&E was one of the seven producers of banknotes that merged in 1858 to create the American Bank Note Company organization that stayed in business from then to the later 1980s. (According to one Internet source, the American Bank Note Company was founded in 1795 as Murray, Draper, Fairman ad Company with headquarters in Philadelphia.)
As a matter of fact, American Bank Note Company has produced such a wealth of sample printings that a detailed study of just these products alone would be a wonderful project. Any display that would result from such research would easily be a prizewinner at any major convention, so magnificent are these examples.
As I have studied these various pieces, I have become intrigued by the names of the printers because they often show the progression in development of those that eventually become the truly dominant security printers. One can obtain samples from places like Homer Lee, the old National, Columbian, Western, and others who have been absorbed into larger entities and present these items in a truly spectacular and meaningful display.
Another aspect of collecting printers’ pieces has to do with their appearance and style. These samples are often typical of their times, meaning that they represent a particular span of years even though they may not bear a year date.
I have always written that advertising pieces like these are obliquely related to propaganda issues in that they attempt to sway a prospective customer in much the same way, whether it be from a more genteel perspective through advertising or the more direct and forceful method employed by wartime propaganda. The single purpose of having manufactured such items is to make the viewer believe what is written on the piece. Competition is keen, and the samples are full of the most appealing kinds of colors, vignettes and overall appearance that strongly beckon the holder to its way of thinking.
The deeper I have examined this collecting field, the more I have become impressed with the size and breadth of the whole area. Literally hundreds of collectible examples exist, and a good many appear to be relatively available through private sales and auctions. Often, the more exotic pieces bring hundreds of dollars if not more, but a wide variety of the more modern examples can be found at more modest outlays.
In fact, I would say that a well-rounded and representative collection could be formed in a relatively short time and with very reasonable total cost.
This article was originally printed in Bank Note Reporter. >> Subscribe today.
More Collecting Resources
• Order the Standard Catalog of World Paper Money, General Issues to learn about circulating paper money from 14th century China to the mid 20th century.
• When it comes to specialized world paper money issues, nothing can top the Standard Catalog of World Paper Money, Specialized Issues.