'They are Exactly as Bank Notes are': Perceptions and Technologies of Bank Note Forgery During the Bank Restriction Period, 1797 - 1821
Previous studies of Bank Note forgery in England during the Bank Restriction Period have adopted a highly institutional focus. Thus, much is known about the role played by both the Bank of England and the workings of the criminal justice system in combating both forgers and forged note utterers. The question of how the new system of small denomination Bank Notes impacted upon the day to day lives and understandings of the people that used them has received far less attention. The actual means by which Bank Notes were themselves forged has also been overlooked. This has led to a somewhat two-dimensional view of these notes as material objects. This thesis will engage with common mentalities and perceptions, seeking to write a 'new history from below' of both Bank Notes and their forgery in this period. Its primary aims will be to explore the question of why the English people were so easily imposed upon by forged Bank Notes; the various means by which forged notes could be constructed; and what an analysis of both of these points can tell us about economic and social understandings of non-elite people at this time. It will be argued that by studying instances in which small denomination Bank Notes were routinely exchanged, we can highlight a significant dichotomy of understanding in a society that was starting to engage with a new culture of promise based fiduciary paper money, yet was still deeply rooted in early-modern notions of paper instruments as objects of personal credit and debt. The thesis will show that heavy exposure to Bank Notes at this time clearly equipped some contemporaries with their own personalised sets of aesthetic and material "standards", against which the "goodness" of any monetary instrument with which they were presented would be compared. Others continued to examine the material aspect of Bank Notes via a direct comparison or consultation with others. Neither approach was always successful and indeed whatever method was adopted, the common occurrence of the materials and technologies required to construct a credible imitation of a Bank Note meant that it was not just illiterate persons that were susceptible to being deceived. Even a reading of the Bank Note's literate text failed to provide sufficient defence against the activities of the forger.