The Theatrical Promises of Imitation and Satirical Bank Notes: Visual Cultures of Paper Money in Britain, 1780-1850
Paper money – which had been circulating in Britain since the founding of the Bank of England in 1694 – was taken as a medium for advertisement starting in the early 1780’s. Imitation notes made theatrical promises to their viewers by borrowing the social capital of paper money for their own purposes, often masquerading as actual currency. Once the culture of paper credit expanded beyond merchants and business owners after the specie crisis of 1797, satirists and radicals seized on the idea of paper currency as a subject of and medium for social criticism in a tradition often thought to culminate in William Hone’s Bank Restriction Note and accompanying “barometer” of 1819. This presentation will widen the history of imitation bank notes to include unpublished material and related graphic satires in Britain, focusing on a few satirical bank notes by John Luffman, Samuel Knight and some unknown artists, arguing that this form reflected and helped produce the changing cultures of paper money during and after the bank restriction period (1797-1821). In addition to forming an important part of the history of visual culture and capitalism, these fake bank notes track two major dual and dueling cultural reactions to engraving: the naturalization of paper currency and the decline of graphic satire in Britain.