Bank Note Duty - Congreve Compound Plate Printing
IntroductionTHE ADOPTION OF THE CONGREVE BI-COLOURED DUTY STAMPS
In 1818, Sir William Congreve Bart, a pioneer in the military use of rockets, was a Member of Parliament, Comptroller of the Royal Laboratory at Woolwich, and a member of the Royal Commission appointed for enquiring into the mode for the prevention of forgery of bank notes. C.R.Jossett in his "Money in Britain" stated that in 1817 no fewer than 31,000 forged bank notes were detected.
Sir William was hardly a disinterested party on the Royal Commission. He had invented a process for the manufacture of bank note paper (Patent No. 1819/4,419) and was also working on a machine for printing complex patterns in several colours (Patent No. 1820/4,521). In the end, the Congreve machine was not adopted for Bank of England notes but was widely used for notes issued by provincial banks.
The machine initially printed in two colours but a later adaptation allowed both two colour printing and part of the design to be embossed in colourless relief (Patent No. 1824/ 4,898).
The "14th Report of the Commissioners of Enquiry into the Collection and Management of Revenues", 1826, drew a most unfavourable picture of the functioning of the Congreve machines at Somerset House. Evidence was presented that one man in the "dry stamp" (embossing) department could strike as many stamps in a single day as two Congreve machines could achieve with six or seven men. Banks were reported to be prepared on occasions to have their £5 notes struck with higher value dies intended for £10 notes in order to allow them to receive them in good time. The Congreve stamps also failed to provide the necessary level of security against forgery.
In short, Sir William's machines had failed on the three points that he had proposed: safety, expedition and economy. The Congreve machines, which had come into use in March 1821, were rarely used for English notes after about 1827, although they continued to be used for bank notes issued by Scottish banks until about 1850.