The 1954 note series
Have you ever seen eyes in the bark of trees? Wolves in the clouds? Faces watching you from the abstract patterns of your mother’s bedroom drapes? Although this is a Hallowe’en blog, I’m not talking about anything supernatural, here; I’m talking about shapes that can sometimes be seen in otherwise random images or patterns—such as in the design of a bank note, for instance.
When the Bank of Canada creates a new bank note, one important step researchers take is to ask a focus group to have a really good look at a model of the new note. A fresh perspective is crucial here to find any unintended shapes in the imagery. If anything appears to protrude from a portrait subject’s ear, or if there are faces in the background patterns, it’s best that such things are pointed out before the note has been issued. Because it wouldn’t be the first time a curious shape has appeared on a bank note.
As Canada headed confidently into the 1950s, it did so with new, modern, nationalistic bank notes designed by Canadian war artist Charles Comfort. A gorgeous landscape engraving filled the back of each note while our brand-new sovereign, Elizabeth II, was the star feature on the front of all eight denominations. Celebrated Canadian photographer Yousuf Karsh took an official portrait of Elizabeth. She was then beautifully reproduced by master engraver George Gundersen of the British American Bank Note Company. The new bank notes were elegant and very Canadian.
However, there was something not quite right about the engraving of the Queen; something perhaps a little sinister. Reports began surfacing of people seeing shapes in her hair—specifically the face of the Devil! In 1956, a British politician named H. L. Hogg wrote a scathing letter to the High Commissioner for Canada in the United Kingdom:
“The Devil’s face is so perfect that for the life of me I cannot think it is there other than by the fiendish design of the artist who is responsible for the drawing or the engraver who made the plate…I enclose an envelope for the return of the note but I would be better pleased if you told me you had burned it.”
References to the Devil’s head popped up now and again in the Canadian media from 1956 until as late as 1959. A prominent member of the coin collecting community claimed the face in the Queen’s hair was “no accident” and that, “those responsible might be trying to put across a subtle message to the public.” A number of newspapers picked up this story, spreading the idea that an insider had infiltrated the bank note printing firms. By that time, true or not, such comments would certainly have upped the interest of any “Devil’s Head” notes on the collector’s market.
All conspiracies of fiendish engravers aside, the Bank moved quickly to have the security printing companies deal with the issue. Engraver Yves Baril darkened the highlights in the Gundersen engraving and, after 1957, the series was entirely free of questionable images or of any faces but that of the Queen.
With no diabolical intention, Gundersen had actually done a remarkable job of reproducing the Karsh photograph as an engraving. The problem was that he was too good. If you take a good look at the Karsh photo and squint your eyes a bit, you can just discern above the Royal left ear some contours of hair that do resemble a face—these contours are then made clearer and arguably more demonic by the fine-lined, high-contrast etching of the engraver’s art.
It would seem that Mr. Hogg should have directed his wrath not at the talented Mr. Gundersen, but at the Royal hairdresser. Unless, of course, there was a dark conspiracy involving the hairdresser, the photographer and the engraver…let me check online. Happy Hallowe’en.
The Museum Blog
The Adventure of Exhibit Planning VI
This is not the time for ‘nay sayers’. Basically, we planned a luxury car knowing that when all was said and done, it was going to be a very nice family sedan (maybe with the big engine?).
The Adventure of Exhibit Planning V
Now the writer takes a deep breath and attempts to take a subject like the ‘representation of 75 years of national identity as depicted on stamps and bank notes’ from 50 pages of research and squash it into 65 words.
The Senior Deputy Governor’s Signature
For much of their history, Canadian bank notes have represented a promise, a guarantee that they could be redeemed for “specie” (gold and silver coins) at their parent institution.
Becoming a Collector V
Suppose you walk into a bar frequented by currency collectors and in an attempt to join in you refer to a ‘planchette’ as a ‘rosette’ (beer mugs hit the tables and the pianist stops playing). This could be pretty humiliating and you’ll probably never be able to go to that bar again, at least not on numismatic night.
Becoming a Collector IV
Now that you have a grasp of preservation techniques for coins, you might want to familiarize yourself with the finer points of their anatomy. It is all part of your numismatic education and besides, you need to be informed and sound informed when you are buying coins at flea markets or coin fairs.
Museum Reconstruction - Part 3
Though naturally we are aware that the former Museum space is being gutted, the reality of seeing it empty is still pretty strange for most of us here. In the last blog of this series we showed you the empty cafeteria space that will become the new Museum, as well as some images of the old Museum as it was at the time: stuffed with odds and ends of exhibit cases, the occasional display still on the walls.
With all the blogging we’ve been doing for Voices from the Engraver, you’d think we had nothing else on our exhibition plate. We do, actually, and it’s called CENTimental Journey. This temporary exhibition, hosted at the Canadian Museum of History, walks you through more than 150 years of the Canadian 1 cent piece.
Museum Reconstruction - Part 2
We are coming up on a year since we closed the doors on the physical museum. During that year, we’ve worked very hard to make sure everybody knows that we are still a functioning museum and one that will be opening its doors again in a few years on a beautiful new space, with an expanded mission and mandate.
Becoming a Collector III
For you as the steward of your collection, your aim is to preserve the items as best as you can by protecting them from further deterioration. The pros call this preservation.
The Adventure of Exhibit Planning IV
This exhibition is about engravers, production processes and the beauty of postage stamps and bank notes. In the previous episode of this series we talked about the process surrounding securing the bank notes for this exhibition and how it had to take into account both the needs of the exhibition team and the concerns of the collections department.
Becoming a Collector II
So now you’ve decided that collecting currency is far more fascinating than collecting 14th Century Flemish altar paintings and have begun to accumulate some items. Good for you, those paintings are a bother to dust and currency is far easier to take care of.
Becoming a Collector I
Collecting things is a very common human urge. Be they matchbooks, pop bottles or 17th century Flemish altar paintings, owning large numbers of the same type of thing is a fascinating pastime for many of us.