Counterfeit and imitation notes

Discover the stories behind some of the counterfeit and imitation banknotes we hold.
Features that make banknotes more difficult to copy have always been part of their design. Take a look at these examples of counterfeit notes from the past. We’ve included some novelty imitations that also broke the rules.

1797

Counterfeit banknote

In 1779, gold shortages caused by the French Revolutionary Wars (1792–1807) led the Bank of England to rush to issue £1 and £2 banknotes.

Counterfeiting surged as counterfeiters took advantage of people’s unfamiliarity with the new notes and their poor quality.

This printed counterfeit £1 banknote was seized by Bank of England clerks and stamped with the word ‘forged’.

Unknown, counterfeit banknote, 19 July 1797, S7/001A

Unknown, counterfeit banknote, 19 July 1797, S7/001A

1809

Counterfeit banknote

Most counterfeiters were engravers but it was also possible to create counterfeits by hand.

This hand-drawn counterfeit £2 banknote was produced by a French prisoner of war, held in Chatham, Kent. Many thousands of French prisoners of war were held in England during the Napoleonic Wars (1803–1815).

Unknown, counterfeit banknote, 11 November 1809, I/114

Unknown, counterfeit banknote, 11 November 1809, I/114

1819

Bank Restriction Note

Between 1797 and 1821 more than 300 people were hanged for counterfeiting.

Designed by artist George Cruikshank (1792–1878) and published by William Hone (1780–1842), this imitation banknote highlights the harshness of the anti-forgery laws. The Chief Cashier's signature has been replaced by the infamous former public executioner Jack Ketch (d.1686).

George Cruikshank, Bank Restriction Note, 1819, 1985/015

George Cruikshank, Bank Restriction Note, 1819, 1985/015

1834

Imitation banknote from ‘Bank of Elegance’

Some imitation banknotes were designed as advertisements.

This one was made to promote a barber, who promises to ‘Pay on Demand the sum of fifty pounds if I do not cut any Lady or Gentleman’s Hair in the first Style of Fashion’.

Other imitations were intended to deceive and, for this reason, novelty versions of bank notes were illegal for many years.

Unknown, imitation banknote from ‘Bank of Elegance’, 6 October 1834, 670/002

Unknown, imitation banknote from ‘Bank of Elegance’, 6 October 1834, 670/002

1890

Altered banknote

The denomination, or value, of this £5 banknote has been altered to £50.

The note was discovered when it was used to pay for a cow at country fair in Yorkshire.

Bank of England/Unknown, altered banknote, 1890, E45

Bank of England/Unknown, altered banknote, 1890, E45

1936

Operation Bernhard counterfeit banknote

Operation Bernhard was a Nazi plot to destabilise the pound by releasing millions of counterfeit banknotes into circulation in the UK.

The notes, including this counterfeit £5, were made by prisoners of war in a Nazi concentration camp. The notes were accurate counterfeits and the Bank of England withdrew all notes above £5 as a precaution.

Unknown, Operation Bernhard counterfeit banknote, 1936, 891/001

Unknown, Operation Bernhard counterfeit banknote, 1936, 891/001

c. 1955

Stage money

Theatrical prop money is often used onstage in productions.

This imitation banknote, produced by a theatrical property maker based in Panton Street, London, is intended to represent a blue £5 Series B banknote. It was surrendered to the Bank of England in 1958.

Unknown, stage money, c.1955, E55/047C

Unknown, stage money, c.1955, E55/047C

1971 - 1991

Altered banknote

The denomination, or value, of this £5 Series D banknote has been altered to £50. The counterfeiter added zeros to the number block in the top right and bottom left and altered the inscription from ‘FIVE POUNDS’ to ‘FIFTY POUNDS’.

The £50 banknote at this time featured former Governor of the Bank of England, Sir John Houblon (1632–1712). This was unlikely to have been a convincing counterfeit.

Bank of England/Unknown, altered banknote, issued between 1971 and 1991, 2009/013A

Bank of England/Unknown, altered banknote, issued between 1971 and 1991, 2009/013A

This page was last updated 25 March 2019
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