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This blog is a behind the scenes look at the Roman Baths in Bath. We hope you enjoy reading our stories about life surrounding the Roman Baths.

Wednesday, 6 March 2013

I Promise to Pay: early bank notes

We have recently added to our collection, six 18th and early 19th century bank notes, which mark an interesting point in the development of modern money.

Bank notes in Britain are a comparatively new type of money. From Iron Age times onwards coins were circulated as money. Their value was determined by the value of the metal they were made of, so a silver coin was made of the amount of silver you could buy for a denarius in Roman Britain or a penny in Medieval Britain.

By the late 17th century banks had introduced standard receipts for when you deposited money with them. On presentation of this receipt to the bank you could claim your money back.

Unused Bath and Wells Bank 5 guineas bank note

The movement and quantity of money became an issue in the 18th century as more people were travelling around the country and more commodities were being made. For example, if you wanted to take £100 from London to Bath when you travelled down for the season, would you really want to carry that amount in bags of silver or gold coins? Not with the fear of highwaymen! So you went to your own London bank who wrote a bank note and you presented this to the bank acting as their agent in Bath who would give you the full amount. These first banknotes would have your name on them, so only you could receive the money, so they acted more like our cheques.

Gradually their use changed: printed on them they had the words “I promise to pay the bearer….” This meant that as well as presenting it to a bank you could use it to pay for items in shops or pay someone for doing a job.

Commercial Bank £1 note: signed and  countersigned by members of the Shaw family

All the early banknotes were filled in by a bank clerk who wrote the number of the note and the amount it was worth. Each note was then countersigned individually by one of the bankers.

Next time you pick up a bank note in your purse or wallet, see how similar they are to these early ones!


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