A 1927 Christmas Gift Guide

How did a Christmas gift guide lead to a criminal investigation?
Published on 17 December 2021

Blog

By Ellie Paton, Collections Officer

Even though this year has felt longer to me than any other year in living memory, somehow Christmas is only one week away. Yet again, all of my best efforts of getting organised have failed and I am panic buying anything that can be delivered the next day.

You can only imagine the sheer relief I felt when I discovered this advertisement in our collection: ‘Presents that can be purchased with one or more £5 notes.’ Exactly what I am looking for, consider my friends and family sorted!

Museum reference number: E55/030

Flashnote for Watson Prickard Ltd. clothing shop in Liverpool, 1927. Accession: E55/030

This advertisement was created in 1927 by Watson Prickard, a clothing store based in Liverpool. It’s a ‘flashnote’, which is a fancy way of saying an advertisement or coupon that looks a bit like a banknote. 

As I read through the suggestions, my confidence in the list’s suitability for this day and age faded. Some thoughts ran through my mind:

  1. Why do they think everyone needs so many types of gloves? Should I own more than one pair of gloves?
  2. Who thought it was appropriate to sell reindeer at Christmas? I’m sure Rudolph wouldn’t approve.
  3. How did they manage to gender and stereotype so many items? I'm oddly relieved that rugs can be seen as an appropriate gift for anyone.
  4. What in the world is a bed jacket and why didn’t I buy one during lockdown?!
  5. ‘One or more £5 notes’ is a very vague price range.

Now as jovial as this all is, the company that issued this advertisement ended up getting in a fair bit of trouble, which is why this advertisement became part of our museum’s collection. An important memo was tucked behind the flashnote which gives a bit more background to the case.

The note reads:

B/E letter to Watson Prickard Ltd 16 North John Street, L'pool Outfitters 10.12.27

Reply recd [received] 13. Dec 27 with rem[ittances] of copies & block for printing came returned to Sec[retary] of Bank by the Printers AW Duncan & Co Printers & Lithographers Fleet St[reet] Liverpool (ignorance pleaded, no name on audit).

This matter appears to be in the hands of the Public Prosecutor as £1 Treasury notes were also involved.

Clearly Watson Prickard were trying to think of ways to share their extensive range with the public that wasn't a boring old catalogue. After all, imagery from a banknote certainly catches the eye of the consumer! But the Bank of England wasn’t tickled with the reproduction so closely resembling a banknote. I can’t imagine HM Treasury was too chuffed either, as apparently Watson Prickard also copied £1 Treasury banknotes, although we sadly don’t have examples of these in the collection. In the end, the matter was passed to the Public Prosecutor.

Now you might be saying, hang on, the advertisement was not intended as a forgery! It certainly wouldn’t convince anyone if you tried to use it in a shop. But according to the Bank at the time, it did copy enough elements of a banknote to be considered risky. 

I don't know what happened next with the trial, but the company made it through this hiccup. It continued as a family business and liquidated in 2017. Regardless, what I can say is, if you are currently panicking and need a last minute gift idea, might I suggest a dumb valet or motoring gloves?

Happy holidays from all of us at the Bank of England Museum! Now go enjoy your bed jacket!

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