Saturday, June 30, 2012

How Claude Lorrain influenced scripophily !

Claude Lorrain 1605-1682: French artist of the Baroque era
I start off this article with a little task for you. Below, two old shares are listed. I want you to double-click the images and take a good look at their enlarged versions. For the moment don't spent any time checking out the other images from this post which are discussed later. So, take a deep breath, forget what is happening around you and focus on these first two certificates. Try to identify what these two shares have in common. I am not talking about any similarities in geographical, historical or economical terms, but in terms of visual experience. 

share of the Sugar Company of Annam (French Indochina)
Société Sucrière d'Annam, in English : Sugar Company of Annam
 Share of 100 Francs, Saigon, French  Indochina, 1929
Printed by the French printer Imp. B. Arnaud
double-click to enlarge

a 10 share certificate of the Helouan (Egypt) Development Company
Helouan (Egypt) Development Company
10 Ordinary Shares of 1 Pound Sterling, 1907
Note the art deco elements in the border design : early for the date.
double-click to enlarge

What do these shares have in common ?
When looking at the Sucrière d'Annam share, my eyes immediately perceive the printed borders, the company's name and  the 100 Francs denomination. But then, something else happens, unknowingly. After that first glance, my eyes are guided right into the underprint design. I'm not focusing anymore on the flat surface of the share. No, I'm peering .. deeper into the design. It sounds silly, but my eyes come at rest on a point a few meters further into the open space between the sugar canes. The same happens when looking at the share of the Heloun (Egypt) Development Company. When you see it, you'll first notice the title, its denomination and the border. But also here, the next blink of your eyes sets your focus on a spot maybe a 100 meters further into the design, behind the palm trees but before the sphinx. Magic ?

3D shares
Here are two other examples of such 3D shares, that's how I call them, although they are not true 3D images. When the underprint draws your attention, you feel like stepping through a door and entering another world.
a Moroccan share of the Société Immobilière et Financière Chérifienne

Société Immobilière et Financière Chérifienne 
pour favoriser le développement de la construction au Maroc 
English: Real Estate and Financial Sharifian Company 
for the promotion of the development of construction in Morocco 
Share certificate, Casablanca, 1954, printed in Paris by Imp. Lafayette 
double-click to enlarge

One can keep staring at such sceneries. Once I just stayed looking into that courtyard depicted in the Moroccan SIFICHÉ share, see above, and waited for something to happen: a snake that crawls over the place, a camel that enters through one of the gates, .. but I guess I was not looking long enough. Ha ha.

a share in the French Mourier company with northern traders and snow dogs
Mourier company
Share of 100 Francs - series B, Paris, 1927
double-click to enlarge

Making 3D into 2D
How did the designers of antique stocks and bonds succeed in giving us an illusion of distance and depth when we look at the products of their creativity? Well, they mimicked the natural world by using a few clever techniques :
  1. diminishing scale : The larger of 2 similar objects seems to be closer than the smaller one. On the Mourier share, on the left, we see large and smaller trees. On the right, we note large tents and smaller ones. The smaller depicted objects appear to be further away. 
  2. overlapping objects : If an object overlaps another object then it appears to be in front of the other. On the  Moroccan share above, a tree overlaps a wall and looks closer to us.
  3. less details and texture :  Objects appear to be further in background of the landscape when they are drawn with less details and texture.
  4. diagonal lines : Objects in a scenery may line up into converging lines. Where these lines cross each other they create a focal point and give us the illusion of depth. You can recognize these lines very clearly in the example of the Moroccan share : top and bottom of the left and right courtyard wall. In the Mourier share, these lines are less pronounced : the tops of the trees on the left, the tops of the tents on the right. I included an edited image to illustrate this.

Objects in a scenery may line up into converging lines,
here indicated with the red lines on this Mourier share.
The crossing of the lines, the focal point, 

creates an impression of depth for the viewer.

Many vignettes show perspective, so what ?
You will probably remark that many securities have vignettes showing perspective and depth by using the techniques just described.  .. Well, most of those securities do not pull you into their design with the same intensity. On those securities the vignette is either printed in the same color as the main print or stands out in a darker color which is mostly black.  A completely different experience to the viewer as you can see in the example here : the vignette, a train in a scenery, is printed in a strong black color and immediately demands attention from your eyes. There is no next moment where you change focus for another scenery.

The difference is made by color tone usage
What distinguishes the certificates in this post from others, is how color tones are applied in their designs. In landscapes, we tend to observe objects in lighter, less saturated colors as being further away. Objects with darker and warmer colors seem to be located more in the foreground. The extra impression of depth in the bonds and shares featured in this article, is achieved by the usage of a lighter color in the underprint in combination with a darker or warmer color in the surrounding borders of the design.

1922 replacement certificate for the 1903 bond of the city of Antwerp
City of Antwerp, Belgium
Bond of 100 Francs 1903 Loan,
1922 replacement certificate
Design by Achille Kas
Printed by Typ.-J.-E. Buschmann
double-click to enlarge
Another good example demonstrating this effect is the bond of the city of Antwerp shown above. When you look at it, you have the impression that you are watching the ships in the distance, printed in a lighter green color,  through a (more nearby) window, represented by the brown border.
But there is more. As the large ship at the left is printed in a much darker green tone, you'll get another visual experience, namely that this ship is actually jumping out of the design. By making clever use of color tones, the printer and the designer succeed in changing your focal point two times:
  • firstly from the paper's surface - "the window" - to the ships in the distance visible;
  • and secondly, then back again, to the nearby dark green ship, to some point in space  between the "window" and yourself.

detail from the certificate above
double-click to enlarge

Check out the detail image above, you will see that the brown text is printed on top of the light green ships in the distance but also on top of the dark nearby ship at the left.  Amazing how colors can trick your eyes, isn't it ?

The method of using lighter color tones for distant objects and more saturated and darker tones for objects in the foreground, was already applied in the 17th century by the French landscape painter Claude Lorrain . In his works the figures and buildings were painted in the corners and borders of the painting. The land, the sea and the sky were the main objects, whereas the figures were "free".

I'll end this article with some more pictures of "3D" shares. If you'd ask me, I would say this could be a collecting theme on it's own.


share in the Messageries Françaises de Madagascar
Messageries Françaises de Madagascar
English: French Shipping Services of Madagascar
Share of 100 Francs, 1898, Paris
Printed by Breger et Nettre

a French share in the Société Industrielle des Textiles de Roubaix
Société Industrielle des Textiles de Roubaix
English: Industrial Textile Company of Roubaix
Shares of 500 Francs, 1920s, Roubaix, France

  • Kunst - Meer dan 2500 werken van de prehistorie tot nu, (English: Art - More than 2500 works from prehistoric times to now), published by Fontaine Uitgevers Davidsfonds/Leuven, 2010, ISBN 978-90-77363-22-5
  • Claude Lorrain, Wikipedia


  1. Saya baru tahu tentang hal ini.
    dan saya akan membacanya lebih teliti.
    terimakasih :)

  2. Hi dark wizard,
    Thank you for visiting the blog.