THE BRITISH LIBRARY

American Collections blog

What's on the mind of Team America?

Introduction

Find out more about our Americas Studies collections on the Americas blog, written by our curatorial team and guest posts from the Eccles Centre writers in residence. Our collections cover both North and South America, as well as the Caribbean. Read more

12 April 2017

The buck starts here: Early paper money from British Colonial America in the British Library

The currency of the United States is used globally in addition to being a national icon and international cultural symbol. Before the War of Independence (1775-1783) each of the thirteen colonies that eventually established the United States were under British colonial rule and all faced significant challenges regarding their monetary supply. During the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries various types of currency were used as a medium of exchange. The official coinage was denominated in pounds, shillings and pence, however as few British coins were available in America the colonies were compelled to rely upon foreign specie such as the Spanish Dollar that was much more freely available and explains why the United States eventually adopted the dollar. On occasion there was even a shortage of dollars, forcing colonies to occasionally use commodities like tobacco, beaver pelts and wampum beads as a medium of exchange. Finally, to tackle the shortage of currency the colonies also issued paper money.

Since each colony was a self-governing settlement whose administrators were answerable to the British Crown they each printed their own paper money. The first was the Province of Massachusetts Bay in 1690, four years prior to the establishment of the Bank of England, making it the first authorised paper money issued by any government in the western world. The remaining colonies soon followed suit and by the mid-eighteenth century each had developed a sophisticated paper monetary system. Known as bills of credit they were essentially fiat currency rather than notes which could be exchanged for gold and silver. Depreciation of such notes could and did occur which was harmful to British creditors, consequently the British Parliament passed a number of Currency Acts to restrict paper money issues to circumvent the problem. These Acts like the 1765 Stamp Act soured colonial relations with Britain laying the foundations for the War of Independence.  The British Library possesses five original notes, the earliest being a thirty shillings bill issued by the Colony of New Jersey on 16 April 1764 printed by James Parker depicted in images one and two.

  Image 1_20170301_17282030

 

The obverse face of the note is bi-coloured being printed in red and black inks. It has a complex engraving of the Royal Coat of Arms whilst the lettering is in a variety of typefaces. Theoretically the registration of the two ink colours, varied scripts and complexity of the armorial engraving would require considerable skill, time and money making the notes unprofitable to counterfeit. Being a denomination insignia, the engraved half-sun on the note is another security feature.

  Image 2_20170301_17305083

The design on the reverse face of the note is based upon a security feature invented by Benjamin Franklin for the 1737 New Jersey paper money issue. Franklin developed a method of printing from leaf casts via a copper plate press for transferring a sage leaf image onto the back of paper money bills. Since a leaf is a unique object it theoretically provided complex fingerprint for each bill which would be impossible to counterfeit accurately.

 

Image 3_20170301_17290772

 The second note depicted in the collection is a ten pound bill issued by the Colony of New York on 16 February 1771 with manuscript signatures of Theophylact Bache, Walter Franklin and A. Lott in addition to a unique serial number. Printed in black ink on thin laid paper by Hugh Gaine, the ornamental upper border and arms of New York depicted on the obverse face were actually engraved by Elisha Gallaudet. Like other notes in the collection there is a verbal warning “Tis death to counterfeit.” Curiously, following a spate of forgeries in 1773 the Colonial Authorities authorised that images of the counterfeiters hanging from the gallows could be pasted onto the reverse face of the notes to discourage forgers but this was never carried out.

Image 4_20170301_17295502

Image 5_20170301_17313887

The third note is a four dollar bill issued by the colony of Maryland on 10 April 1764 with manuscript signatures of John Clapham and William Eddis with a unique serial number. Information on designers, engravers and printing of paper money is sporadic at the best of times. However since this note is known to have been printed by Anne Catherine Green and Frederick Green it offer a rare glimpse of the role women played in the Security Printing Industry. Finally as an alternative to watermarked paper this bill was printed on thin paper containing mica flakes to help prevent forgery.

This two shillings six pence bill issued by the colony of Pennsylvania on 3 April 1772 possesses the manuscript signatures of Adam Hubley, Joel Evans and John Mifflin in addition to a unique serial number. It was once again printed by Hall and Sellers in black ink bearing the arms of the Penn Family on special security paper which contains blue thread and mica flakes. Some of these bills bearing this date can contain the signature of John Morton, a signer of the Declaration of Independence.

Image 6_20170301_17332756

Image 7_20170301_17350286

 

The final bill is a twenty shillings note issued in Delaware on 1st January 1776 signed in manuscript by John McKinly and Boaz Manlove with a unique serial number. The note was printed in black ink by James Adams who had once worked alongside Benjamin Franklin in Philadelphia

Image 8_20170301_17340981

Image 9_20170301_17352566

Comparison of these notes to contemporary ones issued by Bank of England in Britain shows they are arguably more accomplished in terms of their complex engraving, letterings, use of coloured inks and range of security features. Although less iconic than the modern currency they do display the technical brilliance which helped develop the United States into the world’s leading economic power and banknote printers.

 

By Richard Scott Morel

Curator, Philatelic Collections

 

Further Reading Eric P. Newman: The early paper money of America, (5th Ed, Krause Publications, 2008)

Farley Grubb: Benjamin Franklin and the birth of a paper money economy (Reserve Bank of Philadelphia, 2006)

Images are taken a volume containing a collection of paper money (The British Library, c. 143.d.5)

 

 

 

03 April 2017

PhD Opportunities in the Americas Collections

As a research library, we regularly create opportunities for students to work more closely with our collections.  There are currently two collaborative AHRC funded PhD places being advertised in the Americas: the first working with Caribbean collections, and the second with political ephemeral materials from the USA.

Future Pasts: British-Caribbean Popular Culture and the Politics of History, 1948-1998 is a collaborative PhD with the Institute of the Americas at University College London.  This project explores the articulation of ‘reconstructed pasts and anticipated futures’ (Scott, 2004) by the British Caribbean community in post-World War II/post-Windrush Britain. Engaging with recent scholarship on the Black Atlantic, urban cultures, and ‘Black globality’, the project will analyse the cultural forms that evolved within the British Caribbean community in the last half of the twentieth century.

WP_20170329_019
BL shelfmark x.709/10382

The project offers a unique opportunity to draw on significant but underused resources in the British Library collections. These resources include, for example, newspapers, periodicals and journals such as The Voice, South London Press, Race Today, Pan-Africa, Caribbean News, West Indian World, and West Indian Gazette; the publications of Bogle L’Ouverture Publishing, Hansib Publications and New Beacon Press; the papers of significant artists and writers (such as Andrew Salkey); and the Sound Archive, which includes interviews with migrants, carnival music and performances, and recordings and interviews from Black underground radio stations from the 1980s and 1990s.  The project also offers the potential to work with new materials such as the interviews and poetry from the ongoing Black British Poetry CDP project.  

The succesful applicant would be co-supervised by Dr Kate Quinn at UCL and Dr Elizabeth Cooper, Curator for the Library's Latin American and Caribbean collections.  The closing date for applications is 5.00pm on Friday 14 April 2017.  To find out more visit the Institute of the Americas webpage.

American Political Pamphlets 1920-1945 is offered in collaboration with the University of Sussex.  Together with access to the British Library's extensive holdings of American political pamphlets, the researcher will also benefit from access to the extensive collection of US political pamphlets at the Marx Memorial Library, a partner of the project.  The project aims to study and contextualise the writing, printing, distribution and dissemination of political pamphlets produced in the years preceding and during the Second World War.

 

WP_20170330_025
BL shelfmarks LD.31a.671 and YD.2007a.1642

The Library's collection of American pamphlets from the interwar period contains publications by different anti-fascist, anti-capitalist and pacifist societies. These include the Socialist Party of America, the Young People's Socialist League, the American League Against War and Fascism, the Jewish People's Committee, the War Resisters League, the World Peace Foundation, as well as anti-imperialist societies such as the United Aid for Peoples of African Descent, among many others.

The succesful applicant will be co-supervised by Dr Sue Currell at the University of Sussex, and Dr Mercedes Aguirre, Lead Curator Americas at the British Library.  The closing date for applications is 1 June 2017.  To find out more visit the University of Sussex webpage.

Future Pasts: British-Caribbean Popular Culture and the Politics of History, 1948-1998 – with Dr Kate Quinn, University College London. - See more at: https://www.bl.uk/news/2017/march/ahrc-phd-studentships?ns_campaign=higher_ed&ns_mchannel=social_media&ns_source=twitter&ns_linkname=phd_opportunity&ns_fee=0#sthash.Mas2HkkH.dpuf
Future Pasts: British-Caribbean Popular Culture and the Politics of History, 1948-1998 – with Dr Kate Quinn, University College London. - See more at: https://www.bl.uk/news/2017/march/ahrc-phd-studentships?ns_campaign=higher_ed&ns_mchannel=social_media&ns_source=twitter&ns_linkname=phd_opportunity&ns_fee=0#sthash.Mas2HkkH.dp

29 March 2017

Did you know about the Museum of French Art in New York?

The “Museum of French Art” in New York, founded as a society in 1911, was a subsection of the French Institute in the United States dedicated to arts. It was housed with the French Institute in the United States on 599 Fifth Avenue, New York City, had a Gallery with permanent French art collections, a library and a reading room. It held temporary exhibitions of French art loaned by private collectors. The Museum of French Art was most active until the 1930s, at a time when the opening of museums and art galleries was booming in New York.

French Museum plan

Plans for the building of the French Art Museum in the United States, 1919 from Répertoire de l'art français aux Etats-Unis dans des collections particuliÚres et au Musée d'art français. ([New York], 1919) British Library RB.31.C.836.

When the Museum of French Art was created, Fifth Avenue was already home to the Metropolitan Museum of Art which opened in 1872, and for the Henry Clay Frick House, built in 1912-1914, whose collections were opened to the public in 1935. The Museum of Modern Art also opened on Fifth Avenue on 7 November, 1929, nine days after the Wall Street Crash. The Museum of French Art was inspired not only by fine arts museums but also by institutions like the “South Kensington Museum” (founded after the 1851 Great Exhibition, now the Victoria and Albert Museum) and the more recent MusĂ©e des arts dĂ©coratifs de Paris created in 1905. It was never built as a distinct monument, though its trustees tried to raise funds for this purpose: in 1919, plans for such a construction were published at the end of the catalogue of its first official exhibition.

French Museum Jusserand

French Ambassador Jules Jusserand with Mme Jusserand, 1918 (Image from the Library of Congress)

The idea for the creation of a French Institute in the United States emerged at a council of the Alliance Française of New York. The institute had three subsections: the “Museum of French Art”, whose aim was to promote French Fine Arts and to be a window for French arts and crafts, past and present; the “Entente France-America”, focused on commerce, industry and science; and the “French Union”, a society dedicated to Belles Lettres: Literature, History and philosophy. The French Institute and its art section offered French language courses, technical courses on French arts and crafts, it awarded French language prizes to high school students and organised concerts and lectures for the public and for its members. The British Library holds the programme of a Gala Concert held in 1913 by the Museum of French Art in honour of the French Ambassador in Washington and his American wife, Mr et Mme Jusserand.

French Museum Concert Programme

Programme for a Gala Concert offered by the Museum of French Art to the French Ambassador at the Ritz-Carlton Hotel, December 14th, 1913. (New York, [1913]) d.488.l.(10.)

 

The suna

Advertisement for an exhibition of the Museum of French Art, The Sun, 25 January 1920.  NEWS12364

The first official exhibitions held at the Museum of French Art in 1918, 1919 and 1920, were organised chronologically (“From the Gothic Period to the Regence”, “Periods of Louis XV and Louis XVI”, “The Directoire and Empire Periods”). In 1920, the chairman of the Exhibitions department of the French Art Museum, Mrs Henry Mottet, donated to the British Museum (along with 20 major European and American museums and libraries) a copy of the catalogues for the first two exhibitions, which were published in large format limited editions of 100 copies.

French Museum interior 1

French Museum interior 2

Images from The First Official Loan Exhibition of the Museum of French Art, held in 1918, from Répertoire de l'art français aux Etats-Unis dans des collections particuliÚres et au Musée d'art français.

 

Later exhibitions focused on specific French artists: Henri de Toulouse-Lautrec (1922), Odilon Redon (1922), Picasso, Braque, LĂ©ger (1931), Degas (1931), Renoir (1931), Derain and Vlaminck (1932) and historical characters: “NapolĂ©on and l'Aiglon” (1927), the Marquis de Lafayette (1930). Other exhibitions had a particular thematical, historical or geographical focus: “Fans and handiwork of court and home life, XVIth to XIXth centuries” (1926-1927), “The art and customs of the Basque country of southwestern France” (1927), “Silken textiles of France: Louis XIII to Louis Philippe” (1928), “Ecclesiastical arts of France” (1928), “French prints from the XVth century to the XXth century” (1932).

The Director of the Museum of French Art was Emile McDougall Hawkes, founder and first president of the Institut Français in the United States, a lawyer and engineer from New York who had studied in France and Germany, was active in several Franco-American cultural associations based in New York, including the Alliance Française, focusing on French language teaching outside of France, and he received the French distinction of Commandeur de la LĂ©gion d’honneur. He was a trustee of the Foundation of another Francophile and patrons of the arts, John Sanford Saltus.

86295_0
 McDougall Hawkes, by John Bow?, 1910

 

A portrait of McDougall Hawkes, dated from 1910, and signed l.l., possibly John Bow, was sold in 2015 by Cowan’s Auctions. It bears a plaque inscribed “McDougall Hawkes, First Chairman of the Board of Trustees, 1911-1929, Museum of French Art, French Institute in the United States”.

McDougall Hawkes was also involved in other trade and science organisations, including the French-American Chamber Commerce, “Entente France-America”, a society which aimed “to develop commercial, industrial, economic and scientific relations between the American and French peoples” (New York Times, 11 Aug 1916), and the French-American Medical, Chemical and Physics Society.

Biscuit de SĂšvres tp

Title-page, with McDougall Hawkes’ inscription, from Le Biscuit de Sèvres. Recueil des modèles de la manufacture de Sèvres au XVIIIe siècle ([Paris, 1921]) 7808.s.7.

When McDougall Hawkes visited the British Museum in 1922, he donated to the library a signed copy of Le Biscuit de Sèvres by Émile Bourgeois and Georges Lechevallier-Chevignard, illustrated by many plates.

Biscuit de SĂšvres ill

Plate from Le Biscuit de Sèvres.

 

IrĂšne Fabry-Tehranchi, Curator, Romance languages

References:

Museum of French Art, French Institute in the United States. RĂ©pertoire de l'art français aux Etats-Unis dans des collections particuliĂšres et au MusĂ©e d'art français. Tome I: l’Art gothique. First annual official loan exhibition of French art, January 29th to February 12th, 1918.  Catalogue: Gothic period to the RĂ©gence. Tome II, Le dix-huitiĂšme siĂšcle. Catalogue of the second annual official loan exhibition of French art: periods of Louis XV & XVI, held at the gallery of the Museum in the city of New York, January 14 to January 29, 1919. ([New York?]: Privately printed, 1919). RB.31.C.836 and RB.31.C.837.

 â€œThe French Institute and Museum of French Art in the United States”, The Lotus Magazine, Vol. 3, No. 9 (Jun., 1912), pp. 267-280. [JSTOR]

“To Develop French Trade: Prominent New Yorkers Incorporate Entente France-America”, New York Times, 11 Aug 1916, p. 11.  MFM.MA3