Monday, 5 December 2011

Bank of Elegance

At the Easter 1842 Quarter Sessions William Colson of the parish of St. Mary in Bedford was prosecuted for obtaining five pounds under false pretences from baker Susannah Skevington, by pretending he had been asked to get change for his master George Dilley and giving her note a purporting to be a five pound note from the Bank of England which was in fact a "flash note" of the Bank of Elegance. A tracing was taken of the false note and has been retained in the file.

The note read "I Promise to Pay on Demand the Sum of Five Pounds if I do not sell Articles cheaper than any Body else in the whole universe". Not very convincing to anybody who actually read it, but the lady - who regularly gave change for George Dilley to pay his men - assumed it was genuine and put it in her purse without looking. She then used it to pay the butcher, Thomas Kingston, who also took the note without checking and only noticed an hour later that it was a fake, or "flash note". Even then Kingston sent his son William to Barnards Bank with the note for confirmation that it was not genuine. The jury was not convinced by Colson's explanation that his small boy found the note in the Ampthill Road and did not know it was not a real one. He was found guilty and sentenced to six months imprisonment.

"Bank of Elegance" notes were produced as promotional material during the nineteenth century - this site shows a number of examples dating from 1821 to 1869. Inevitably their realistic appearance meant that they were often passed off to the unwary or the illiterate as genuine bank notes. In at one example reported in the Carlisle Patriot newspaper, however, the principle was turned on its head. A London policeman was carrying £55 in bank notes, which he accidentally left in the house of a Mrs Plowright. Being illiterate, she assumed the money that had mysteriously appeared must be Bank of Elegance notes, as did her neighbour and his friend Short, a dock porter. Unfortunately by the time the confusion was resolved, one £10 note had been first used to mark tallies by Short, then trampled underfoot and lost in the vaults where he worked. The hapless three were arrested but the authorities soon recognised the note was lost through ignorance not ill intent, and they were simply bound over to produce it should it turn up.

References:  QSR1842/2/5/7/a (depositions against William Colson; QSR1842/2/5/7/b (traced copy of Bank of Elegance note); QSR1842/2/5/7/c (examination of William Colson).

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