June 03, 2009

American Bank Note Company security printing

Here is a view of the printing department at American Bank Note Company in the late 1860s. There are probably 30 workers visible in addition to the guard at the top of the center stairway.

This factory scene took place in the penthouse of the Merchant’s Exchange Building at 48 Wall Street in Manhattan (55 Wall Street under the later street numbering system.) This location had been the previous headquarters of Rawdon, Wright, Hatch & Edson Co. You can see the penthouse in the view of the building’s exterior.

These images appear in The Story of the American Bank Note Company by William H. Griffiths (1958.) The engraver of the exterior view is unrecorded. The bottom right corner of the interior view is signed "A. H. Jocelyn", probably Albert Higley Jocelyn (1827-1900), an engraver covered briefly in Gene Hessler’s The Engraver’s Line. Albert Jocelyn’s uncle was Nathaniel Jocelyn, one of the founders of the American Bank Note Company in 1858.

It appears that ABNCo occupied its rented space at the Merchant’s Exchange Building between May 1860 and sometime in 1867.

During this period, the vast majority of ABNCo’s business was printing money for both the Federal government and private businesses. Its money printing endeavors increased throughout the late 1860s with increasing numbers of orders coming from other countries.

During the time ABNCo was located in the Merchant's Exchange, its printing of stocks and bonds was probably minimal. My database can identify only 36 extant varieties of railroad stocks and bonds that ABN had printed between 1860 and 1867.

Unfortunately for ABN, the Federal government took over all much of its own currency printing in 1874. By 1877, the government was printing all its own money. This move forced ABN to shift to printing stamps and money for foreign governments as well as stocks and bonds for domestic businesses. This switch can be seen in the number of certificates printed by ABN after 1870.

No one knows how many certificate varieties ABN may have printed during the last decades of the 19th century, but it must have been huge. Counting only railroad certificates, my database shows 277, 1,041 and 725 distinct varieties printed during the 1870s, 1880s, and 1890s respectively. Assuming that the surviving population of certificates is only a fraction of what ABN may printed, the company probably created two to five new varieties of certificates each week. Throw in all the security printing for non-railroad businesses as well as all its foreign business clients and we can see its engraving endeavors were truly staggering!

1 comment:

WVrails said...

The image of the guard standing on the stairs was used in a February 1862 Harper's Magazine article about the American Bank Note Company.

The nineteen page article described in some detail the arrangement of the ABN's facility and processes by which it produced bank notes. Most if not all of them applicable to printing stock certificates as well. There are many engravings described as showing scenes within the company.

This was is third in a series titled "Making Money". All three parts can be found on Google Books.

The first part is subtitled "The Assay Office, New York" and was published December 1861. The Google Books URL is http://books.google.com/books?id=shIwAAAAMAAJ&pg=PA735

The second part is subtitled "The Philadelphia Mint" and was published December 1861. Google Books URL is http://books.google.com/books?id=3X8CAAAAIAAJ&pg=PA16

The third part was naturally subtitled "The American Bank Note Company". The Google Books URL is http://books.google.com/books?id=3X8CAAAAIAAJ&pg=PA306