Saturday, May 26, 2012

Reduce contrast to reveal a hidden underprint

What is an underprint ?
When two different designs are printed over one another, then we speak of a design with an underprint. 
image of a share of 50 Rupees in the Indian Malabar Forests and Rubber Company
Malabar Forests and Rubber Company
Shares of 50 Rupees (10 Rs. paid up)
Bombay, 1921
double-click to enlarge

On the example above, we can distinguish two printing designs : an elephant (the underprint design) and the main design containing the share's text that was printed on top of the underprint.

Some underprints may look hazy or even be hidden
Not all underprints are so clearly recognizable as our fierce elephant shown above. A good example is a certificate of the Charbonnages André Dumont, a Belgian coal mining company.

image of World War II emergency note issued by the Belgian coal mine Charbonnages André Dumont
Société Anonyme des Charbonnages Andre Dumont
English: André Dumont Coal Mines company
Kasbon 10 Frank, unsigned
17 May 1940, Waterschei (Limburg province, Belgium)

Well, you actually can't call this a bond, though the word 'Kasbon' (English: savings certificate) is printed on  the certificate. From Schwan-Boling's World War II Remembered, we learn that it is a local Belgian emergency note printed between the initial German attack, 10 May 1940 and the Belgian surrender on 28 May 1940. Due to the initial chaos several communities were forced to issue emergency currency.

So far for history. The image shown is not a bad scan. The actual piece is just printed in such subtle colors. Reducing contrast is the trick that will result in an image with a more recognizable underprint, as you can see here.

Image of the same certificate, but with strongly reduced contrast settings.
Double-click to enlarge.

For the record, I am not in favor of embellishing images of scripophily papers. Images should represent the true look of the certificate. However, I see no problem in editing images for researching purposes.

What is contrast ?
In digital image editing, the word contrast stands for the difference between dark and light. When increasing contrast, the darker pixels are pushed towards black and the lighter pixels towards white.  Otherwise said, the difference between the tone of a darker pixel and a lighter pixel is increased. The opposite action, decreasing contrast, yields more visible shades of darker and lighter pixels.

image of a bond issued by the Agricultural and Industrial Company of Egypt
Société Anonyme Agricole et Industrielle d'Egypte
4% Bond for 500 francs, Cairo, 1905
Printed by Imp. VVe. Monnom, Bruxelles 

Hard to tell at first sight and even at second sight : 
there is an interesting underprint present.

How can you decrease the contrast ?
You need a digital image editor which is a piece of software that you use to edit digital images. I have tried the following software products : MS Digital Image 2006 Standard  Edition Editor and Picasa 3, both locally installed on my desktop, and Pixlr Editor an online photo editing software, see here . The latter allows you to upload your image, edit and share it to other social platforms or download it back to your desktop.

Something that struck me was that each of these softwares handle a different name for the contrast editing function. In the mentioned products, this is the function that you should apply for decreasing contrast :
  • MS Digital Image 2006 : in the Touch-up menu, decrease Contrast 
  • Picasa 3 : in the Tuning tab features, increase Shadows (yes 'decreasing contrast' has the same meaning as 'increasing shadows')
  • Pixlr Editor : in the Adjustment menu, increase Contrast in combination with a decrease of Brightness

Société Anonyme Agricole et Industrielle d'Egypte
detail of the underprint of the bond listed above
After reducing contrast in Picasa, the remnants of an ancient temple appear.
Double-click to enlarge.

What if the underprint is still not clear ?
To illustrate this topic, I'll use the Japanese bond depicted below.

This  patriotic WWII bond was issued by the Japan Hypothec Bank in 1942.  Between Dec 1937 and Aug 1945 this bank sold over 4.2 billion Yen in war bonds, most of them in denominations of  15 Yen or less. This particular bond shows a falling bomb with the Japanese name 大東亜戦争 which means Greater East Asia War. The term was introduced to mark the period when Japan extended the war from a regional conflict in China to a wider war all over South-East Asia and the Pacific. The red rays behind the bomb are derived from the Japanese military flag and represent the sun.

Schwan-Boling's book mentions that the bond was printed by the Toppan Printing Company from Tokyo. As an anti counterfeiting measure, the large red serial number was printed on the face and back of the certificate. The number on the back was the mirror image and aligned perfectly with the one on the face.  Extremely difficult to reproduce.

image of a patriotic war bond issued by the Japan Hypothec Bank for the Greater East Asia War 

5 Yen patriotic wartime bond 1942
issued by the Nippon Kangyo Ginko (English: Japan Hypothec Bank)
The blue round logo of the bank is printed at the top
and is repeated several times as a watermark.
double-click to enlarge

There is also an underprint but it is hardly noticeable. So, as I did before with the other certificates, I scanned the certificate and reduced the contrast in the image. This was the result : no significant improvement. The underprint was still unclear.

The underprint is still not very visible after reducing contrast.

Miserable molecule of mildew! The only thing I could think off, was using the edited image, not the originally scanned image, again as input for the image editor software. So I reduced the contrast on that "second generation" image, and that gave a better result. Now, you can see that a map appears in the underprint. Visible is : China, the South Korea peninsula, Japan's major islands Hokkaido and Honshu, and Taiwan as well.

Double-click to enlarge and detect a map of South East Asia.

Summary of the procedure

  1. Scan the certificate with an underprint.
  2. By means of a digital image editing software, see some examples above, reduce the contrast drastically, and save the resulting image.
  3. If the underprint is still not clear, then repeat step two, but instead of using the original scan, use the resulting image from that step.

Another example where I reduced the contrast of an underprint, can be seen here 
I'm sure that some of you have similar certificates.
Were you able to reveal the barely visible underprint ?
Did you follow the same approach ?  


p.s. Concerning the bond with the hidden map: to be honest, I am a bit disappointed that I didn't find a spot on the map marked with an "X".   8)

N.B. More nice examples of underprints can be found here and there .

Wednesday, May 16, 2012

Digest of scripophily readings III

New online scripophily articles and references, 16 May 2012

Flickr Photostream of Museum of American Finance
Images of objects and documents in the collection of the Museum of American Finance, NYC, can be found here . Several rare stocks and bonds are listed.

Commercial overprints of Great Britain
I'd like to refer to a wonderful blog, namely the blog of the COSGB, or Commercial Overprint Society of Great Britain. Commercial overprints are postage or revenue stamps that have been commercially printed with the name of the user prior to being used. " In Great Britain, Ireland, and New Zealand, these stamps were used to pay an excise tax and were applied to receipts of various sorts."  Besides the lovely images of these stamps, each blog post is dedicated to one company. Just to pick one out : here is the link to Imperial Chemical Industries (ICI). You really should have a quick look.

WWII Danzig bonds
A small article - in German - was written by Rollo Steffens on Gdansk scripophily (German: Danzig), see here .

German football league bonds
Are fan bonds a good investment? Find out for yourself in this (German) article , written by Henning Eberhardt for Spiegel Online.

Front cover of scripophily magazine Der AktienSammler April 2012
double-click to enlarge

der aktienSammler 
In addition to the articles above, the latest April 2012 No.2/12 issue of der aktiensammler magazine, contains the following stories (in German) :
  • Vereinigte Dampfschiffahrts-Gesellschaft des Thuner- & Brienzersees , or in English: United Steamship Company of Lake Thun and Brienz (shipping in Switzerland)
  • Die Firmengruppe "Rostock" Elmshorn, or in English: the "Rostock" Elmshorn corporate group  (food trade and processing in Germany)
  • John Law, two contributions on related scripophily
  • Kreditfinanzierung auf English und das erste Papiergeld in Europa, English : Credit Financing in England and the first paper money in Europe  (part 8 in a series on the evolution of money)
  • Florida Panthers Holding: Der "Rat-Trick"  (ice hockey)
  • Die Erste Russische Lokalbahngesellschaft: Kennerblick gefragt, in English : the First Russian Local Railway Company: an expert eye needed
  • Der Spekulation ist nichts zu schwör, or freely translated: No limits to speculation (about the current wave of speculation in Mexican bonds and shares)
  • other periodical topics : Auction Reviews, Collector's Portrait, Events Calendar, Classifieds


Friday, May 4, 2012

The Pilatus Railway

Ascending a mountain with a cog railway is an exciting thing to do. Once I've taken a seat I impatiently await that first bump when the locomotive starts pulling or pushing the train upwards.  Hundreds of meters higher, I hope the trip will reach its destination safely. It is ridiculous to think the car would break from the tracks and run back at dazzling speed down the mountain. Fortunately when more awesome landscapes emerge I forget my irrational fear of heights.

Image source : Pilatus Bahnen

Pilatus Bahn
At the heart of Switzerland, the Pilatus Railway, or Pilatusbahn in German, runs from Alpnachstad, on Lake Lucerne, to a terminus near the summit of Mount Pilatus at an altitude of 2,132 m (6,995 ft). The line started operating 4 June 1889, about 125 years ago. Some details :
  • length : 4.6 km
  • vertical climbing distance: 1,629 m
  • rail gauge : 800 mm
  • downhill speed : 9km/h
  • uphill speed : 10km/h
  • maximum incline : 48%
The railway was electrified on 15 May 1937.

Share of 500 Francs in the Pilatus-Bahn-Gesellschaft from Alpnach
English : Pilatus Railway company
Share of 500 Swiss Francs
Alpnach, 1888
double-click to enlarge