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
New acquisitions–2021 edition
The Bank of Canada Museum is responsible for the National Currency Collection, and part of its mandate is to foster and develop that collection. Despite the challenges of collecting during a pandemic, curators at the Bank of Canada Museum have acquired some unique artifacts—including some that document the pandemic itself.
The true value of money
What is money—when you really stop to think about it? To understand how money works, and what it ultimately represents, we need to strip it down to its very basic function.
The 1911 silver dollar
The 1911 silver dollar has a history to match its prestige, and it now has a permanent home in the National Currency Collection of the Bank of Canada Museum.
The $20 bill of 1969 was the prototype of the Scenes of Canada note series. Yet, as more notes were designed, the theme—and the $20 note itself—would change.
A mythic metal: Some stories of gold coins
In 1896, three enterprising men struck gold in the Klondike region of the Yukon. Their story is just one of many that illustrates the allure of gold through the ages.
Virtual Worlds. Real Economies.
The economies in modern, complex video games can teach gamers a lot about decision making and financial literacy.
Fur Trade Economics
Over its 350-year lifespan, the Hudson’s Bay Company has had an enormous impact on Canada’s economy and how the nation was settled.
The house the Bank of Canada built
The Bank of Canada head office is two structures: the stone cube on Wellington Street and the glass structure that it is nestled into. Both are significant architectural landmarks.
Value is in the Eye of the Consumer
Supply and demand is part of the very bedrock of an economy. It's what generates the price of any product or service.
Mishap on the dollar
An image of a river of logs floating behind Parliament Hill has long lived in Canadian collective memory thanks to a bank note, the Scenes of Canada $1 bill.
The Last Smokestack
Putting an industrial facility on a bank note is not a casual decision. At the end of the 1960s, such places were earning a bad reputation for pollution. There was actually a good reason for this choice, but it wasn’t obvious to many Canadians.
Playing with Economy
There might be only a handful of basic game formats, but there is an infinity of variations—a surprising number of which require the skills we need to manage our daily economic lives.