The Bank was saddened to learn that Harry Eccleston, a distinguished artist and the Bank's first full-time bank note designer, died on 30th April after a long illness. He was 87.
Harry Eccleston joined the Bank in 1958 at the then recently-completed Debden Printing Works. He was recruited on the recommendation of Robert Austin who had been his college tutor and who was the designer of the 1960 £1 'C' bank note, the first Bank of England note to carry the Queen's portrait. Harry's artistic flair combined with his down-to-earth Black Country practicality prompted one General Manager of the Printing Works to write '....he was so imbued with the technical aspects that he was able to make them the building bricks of artistic creations...' . Harry went on to become the Bank's Artist Designer, a position that was created specially for him and which he held until his retirement in 1983, although he was retained by Debden as a note design consultant for a further three years.
The pinnacle of Harry's career at the Bank culminated in his designs for the 'D' Series bank notes which introduced detailed figurative engraving in the form of historical characters to Bank of England note design. The series began in 1970 with the ground-breaking £20 note featuring William Shakespeare and was followed in 1971 by the Wellington fiver, the Florence Nightingale £10 in 1975, the Newton £1 in 1978 and the Christopher Wren £50, the crowning glory of the series, in 1981. For the first time the Bank produced designs for its notes that made provision for the demands of security and yet were entirely consistent, coherent and aesthetically pleasing.
Harry Eccleston was generous in sharing his knowledge and expertise, and patient in explaining the complexities and intricacies of note design. In his Debden studio he invariably wore an artist's smock . His legacy is that he contributed significantly to ensuring a sound currency of which the Bank and, indeed, the country can be proud. His sterling work on note design was recognised in 1979 when he received the OBE. His command and understanding of bank note design meant that every detail on every note he designed was there for a reason: decoration was not used for decoration's sake. He used to refer to his craft not as graphic design, but as industrial design with the prime consideration being to produce a document that was difficult to forge . He proved that good design and function are not necessarily mutually exclusive.
Returning to his command of design detail, the back of the 1978 £1 merits close inspection. Featuring Isaac Newton, apple blossom, the reflecting telescope, the copy of 'Principia' (open at the correct page), and machine-engraved patterns suggesting the solar system, the design also includes a triangular cross-section prism of the same proportions and size as a well-known chocolate bar. Certainly the prism was included for reasons of historical accuracy and rightly so, but there remains the sneaking suspicion that it could also have been a mischievous inclusion. We will never know for certain but it did prompt an executive of Toblerone to write to the then Chief Cashier thanking the Bank for the free advertising.
The Bank will always be grateful to Harry Eccleston. And his influence continues. The inspiration for the artwork in the Adam Smith £20 bank note came in part from the design of the £1 Isaac Newton note. There are similarities in the front sides of the two notes. And the Adam Smith note uses the more vibrant colours that typified Harry Eccleston's note designs. His legacy lives on here in Threadneedle Street, at Debden, and in bank note collections everywhere.