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The E-Sylum (4/16/2017)

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Maureen Levine and cataloguer Bruce Hagen submitted this article highlighting three interesting and historically important items from the Eric P. Newman Collection Internet Part 3 relating to the Congreve Method of printing banknotes. Thanks! Great items. -Editor

The Ingenious Congreve Method Used by Abel Bowen of Boston

The Bowen-Congreve proof color backs in the Newman Internet 3 sale are particularly fascinating. Using the Congreve Patent, Abel Bowen of Boston printed eight full-color back proof essays in approximately 1833. They were once part of a display unit, but each stands on its own artistically and historically. More importantly, these represent the brief usage of Sir William Congreve’s patented compound-plate color printing in America.

William Congreve developed his ingenious method in response to an 1819-1820 competition held by the Bank of England for new technology to counteract the dramatic escalation in the counterfeiting of British paper currency. Congreve, a mechanical engineer and military technician proposed his compound plate patent, which featured color security printing in a single pass using movable parts within one plate (as opposed to the multiple passes using separate plates to create multi-color tinting).

Two interlocking plates were engraved as a unit, separated during the inking process, and reunited for printing, thus avoiding registration issues. The perfect color placement and reticulated white line engraving would have been impossible to replicate without sophisticated machinery and technical experts. For an example of the compound plate, please click on this link to visit the British Museum’s website:

Although Bank of England chose not to adopt Congreve’s inspired method, the Congreve Patent was imported to the United States for limited use by the New England Bank Note Company. We cannot be certain whether these proofs were created by Bowen to submit as approvals or if they were produced at the New England Bank Note Company. However, the intaglio quality and color indicate sophisticated, high-level printing.

The Congreve Patent backs were only used on a few titles, most often seen on the Nahant Bank of Nahant, Massachusetts. Notably from the Newman Collection is a Bank of Norfolk, Massachusetts $20 Specimen note on bond paper sold in Newman Part VI: Lot 19132 with the “BANK” style color back offered in this selection.

It has been nearly forty years since these fascinating color essays were last offered to the collecting community, and they are important artifacts and evidence in the study of early American security printing. Three of the eight examples are highlighted below:

“Patent Congreve Check Plate” with “BANK” across in Red and Black 1833

Congreve Check Plate BANK front

Congreve Check Plate BANK back

The first of the eight proof backs is red and black, each richly printed and contrasting superbly. A significant back, and used on the cited Newman Part VI: Lot 19132 Specimen note from the Norfolk Bank. With riveting color and outstanding quality.

Beautiful piece. -Editor

To read the complete lot description, see:
Bowen-Congreve Patent Back Color Tint Essay. "Patent Congreve Check Plate" with "BANK" across in Red and Black 1833. Proof. (*89533)

Congreve Patent Check Plate in Green and Brown Undated (Ca. 1833)

Congreve plte in green and brown front

The third back has three dies across in brown, green and white, with a mesmerizing op-art impression. The center die has the encircling title with a glowing green die in the center. At the ends, the dies have a spoked effect. Green accents are at the corners and in between the dies. The style was used on the backs of the Nahant Bank $2 notes. Another fabulous contrast of color.

Also very cool. -Editor

To read the complete lot description, see:
Bowen-Congreve Patent Back Color Tint Essay. Congreve Patent Check Plate in Green and Brown Undated (Ca. 1833). Proof. (*89535)

Congreve Patent Plate with “CHECK” across in Brown and Red Undated (Ca. 1833)

Congreve plate CHECK front

The eighth and final back essay proof is stunning, with FIVE, corners, and arced strips in patterned red overlaid on a brown tint with floral flourishes and stacked end dies. The bisecting oval has a solid red inset with an outlined eagle and shield emblem. Red oblong lozenges at the ends show the white BANK and CHECK respectively. The colors are rich and contrasting, and this proof has enticing eye appeal. Though technically stateless, this is truly stately and will reward its next caretaker with great enjoyment.

These are all great relics of the golden age of bank note printing experimentation. Important. -Editor

To read the complete lot description, see:
Bowen-Congreve Patent Back Color Tint Essay. Congreve Patent Plate with "FIVE" across in Brown and Red Undated (Ca. 1833). (*89540)


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