Images of Value
The Artwork Behind U.S. Security Engraving 1830s-1980s
Grolier Club – 47 East 60th Street February 22-April 29, 2017
I happened to come across this exhibition by chance. In a previous post I mentioned going to the St. Pat’s parade and finding a 9 ft. Statue of Liberty on East 61st Street. Well. Coming back, on East 60th Street, I noticed that the Grolier Club had an exhibition about money – my grandson has always had a fascination with coin-paper collecting so, it was a must to go inside for a look.
Before the Civil War, banks were chartered by the states, and most local banks issued their own bank notes. This created a large demand for quality paper money and gave rise to a thriving group of bank-note engraving firms, effectively making the U.S. the world leader in security engraving by the late 1850s. Picture engraving was the key defense against counterfeiting.
Exquisite miniature drawings needed to be drawn in the (often very small) size to be engraved.
The exhibition surveys 150 years of images in watercolor drawings, prints, photographs, and oil paintings that were used as engraving subjects by US bank-note firms as well as other. Also, bank notes of 15 countries, from Argentina to China, are represented. Each of which was produced in the United States.
From beautiful genre and Civil War watercolor drawings of the nineteenth century, to large allegorical oil paintings of the twentieth century, to a range of prints and photographs of the nineteenth and twentieth centuries, the art that graced currency and securities can be seen.
Visitors can see a remarkable range of original wash drawings and paintings, period photographs and prints used to engrave the images on documents of value.
The exhibit was arranged very well. It started from the earliest use having to etch engravings on small pieces of metal to the use of wash drawings and then to photography.
I left with a better impression of what miniature etchings artists had to create and to see their finished engravings on actual notes was worth the visit. Even better, it was free.