Wednesday, November 25, 2020

Watermarks in Scripophily – part 1 Introduction

This article is an introduction into a lesser known aspect of securities : watermarks. If you don’t know what a watermark is then hold a banknote toward a light source. Against the light a design appears, at least this is the case on many banknotes. 

Watermarks can be seen on official documents, banknotes, stamps, cheques and also bonds and shares. When you investigate a new entry for your collection, you want to look for a watermark. 

However, most certificates don’t show watermarks; no wonder that many collectors overlook this feature. Yet, now and then you will be surprised by what emerges from the dark side. 

image 1a. The shortlived Nira Valley Sugar Co had a factory at Malegaon in Maharashtra, India. It operated a narrow gauge railway at its sugar cane mill. This share was issued to Maharaja Ganshyamsinhji Ajitsinhji of Dhrangadhra, Bombay, 1920.  
image 1b. Viewed against a window on a sunny day, the share reveals in the lower border a watermark of the paper manufacturer "STANLEY". The four black dots in the corners of the ‘watermark’ image are the silhouettes of little magnets used to hold the certificate in place on a semi-transparant screen when photographed. Click image to enlarge

Watermarks were first developed as the paper manufacturer’s hallmark. Early Italian paper manufacturers from the 13th century started experimenting with this idea. Watermarks that were created by the paper makers themselves are a first category of watermarks in scripophily. See image 1a en 1b as an example. 

How are these things created ? Watermarks are drawings created in paper during the paper manufacturing process. They are produced by having a design raised on the rolls through which the paper pulp is passed during manufacture. 

The designs applied on the rolls cause density variations in the produced paper. In turn, these density variations make an image or a pattern appear in the paper in the form of various shades of lightness and darkness.

image 2a. The Tambracherry Estates & Wynaad Gold Mining Co Ltd had mining operations in the Indian state of Kerala but eventually purchased estates for the cultivation of coffee, tea, and the like. £1 shares, London, 1882.  

image 2b. Written upwards along the right border, a watermark shows “WATERLOW & SONS”, the printer of this certificate. The watermark image was taken on a cloudy day, hence the darker appearance.

Printers of banknotes realized that watermarks in notes could be used as an extra anticounterfeiting device. Halfway through 17th century Stockholms Banco was the first bank that applied a watermark in a banknote; it revealed the word ‘BANCO’. 

Later, security printers adopted the technique and occasionally applied tailor-made watermarks that identified the printing house. This type of watermarks forms a second category. See the Waterlow & Sons example, images 2a & 2b.

In addition to watermarks from paper manufacturers and printers, governments and companies have issued certificates that were produced with customized watermarks. In most cases these comprise the name of the issuer, or the latter’s coat of arms or logo. This is a third category of watermarks in scripophily. As an example, see images 3a en 3b. 

image 3a. Some issuers of securities ordered their own watermark. Here is a Reserve Bank of India certificate for Rs100 issued in 1935. 

image 3b. The entire watermark design almost forms a share on its own including the name ‘RESERVE BANK OF INDIA’ in front of large sun with rays, and a triple line border, all around the certificate. Click image to enlarge

There is little scripophily literature that addresses these features. I know of two books : World War II Remembered, by C Frederick Schwan & Joseph E Boling, and Alexander Kipfer’s Historische Wertpapiere der Spanischen Königlichen und privaten Handelsgesellschaften des 18. Jahrhunderts. 

The comprehensive Schwan/Boling volume describes numismatics, in the broadest sense, including bonds, issued by the WW II powers, and where applicable watermarks are described or illustrated. You can find more details on this work here.

Kipfer’s book describes the securities of the 18th century Spanish trading companies. Also here a handfull of these have been identified as bearing watermarks. 

images 4a and 4b. The Real Compañia de Filipinas took over the Real Compañia de Comercio Establecida en Barcelona in 1785. As a result the company obtained a trade monopoly with the Philippines. Depending on the paper that was used, some of its 250 pesos shares from 1785 display a watermark, others don’t. Alexander Kipfer spotted the stylishly elaborated letters 'AF' on some shares from this company. 
The Schweizer Finanz Museum provided the left image. The other one  was taken from the Alexander Kipfer's book with permission of the publisher Haag & Herchen GmbH.

I'm planning some follow-up articles for later to illustratie the variety that exists in these watermarks on bonds and shares : 
  • Watermarks by paper manufacturers
  • Watermarks by printers
  • Watermarks by companies & governments
  • Watermarks that really stand out

image 5a. and 5b. Examples from the third category, custom watermarks used by companies or governments, can be astonishing. 
This Indian Post Office 5-Year Cash Certificate for 20 Rupees, 1935, shows off its watermarks created in several shades of dark and light. You can detect a repeating pattern made up of the words GOVT of INDIA and the Star of India emblem. Joe Boling, co-author of WW II Remembered, identified the dark letters as the British royal cipher, GRI, which stands for Georgius Rex Imperator, or George, King (of Britain) and Emperor (of India). Click image to enlarge

If you have a certificate with a remarkable watermark, then you can email me an image. But be carefull while handling the certificate. You don't want to end up with a torn corner or a heavy fold.


This article was published in Scripophily magazine No. 113, August 2020.
You might be interested to read : Watermarks in Scripophily - part 2 Paper manufacturers 

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