The Birmingham Special

Our collections officer Ellie shares some of our favourite Birmingham-based objects.
Published on 10 September 2021


Ellie Paton, Collections Officer

It's Birmingham Heritage Week and I just have to talk about it! I lived in Birmingham for years and absolutely adore the city. For anyone who hasn't been - you're missing out… but not for long. 

Birmingham Heritage Week has incredible events, walks, talks and tours on all things Birmingham. Which is great news for anyone who lives nearby. For anyone who’s not in the Midlands, there are online events too.
The Bank of England has been connected to Birmingham for centuries. Did you know that we used to have a branch there? It was active from 1827 and was based in three different places around the city before closing in 1997. Later, it was replaced by our wonderful West Midlands agency. 
To celebrate, let’s look at the top five objects in our collection (to me anyway) that relate to Brum in all its glory.

Drawings of life in the Branch

Museum Reference number: 1997/076/04

In the early 1900s, an employee from the Birmingham branch took some old ledgers and stuck their caricatures and cartoons in them. The four ledgers that we hold show life both inside and outside of the bank. 

I've included some examples above. Most sketches are titled, but some are slightly harder to identify. Sadly, even though the artist often initialled the sketches, we don't know who created them.

Mutilated notes

Museum Reference Number: 1992/158/008

Now obviously, I had to feature banknotes. Here we have some mutilated 19th-century notes from Birmingham. These were sent to the Bank of England as damaged. They are listed as having been partially eaten by mice, who nibbled their way through seven £5 and £10 notes. These mice clearly had expensive taste.

Ralph Heaton Mint

Museum Reference Number: C558

I really love small details on objects which could easily be missed - and mint marks on coins really hit the spot. For example there is a tiny ‘H’ at the bottom of this coin (above), which tells me it was made at the Heaton Mint (now known as the Birmingham Mint).

The Birmingham Mint is based on the edge of the city’s Jewellery Quarter and used to produce coins and tokens alongside the Royal Mint.

Fun fact: In its early days, the Birmingham Mint used machinery from Soho Mint, which was managed by Matthew Boulton. Boulton was a Birmingham based manufacturer who, alongside his partner James Watt, featured on our last ever paper £50 note.

Dexterity tests

Museum Reference Number: 2001/004A

This test was used to develop the dexterity of staff members so that they could work with banknotes. Although the test may be simple in design, it's very effective. 

To use it, all you need to do is place a peg in one of the slots, followed by a washer and a bead…using tweezers.

I once had the pleasure of counting all the pegs, washers and beads and putting them into zip seal bags (so they didn't go missing or corrode). It’s surprisingly fiddly when you think about how tiny those washers and beads are.

Forged printing plate

Museum Reference Number: 1978/113

This is a copper £2 note printing plate from the 1800s. The plate was made by a counterfeiter who was making fake banknotes from a house in Birmingham. The printing plate was dug up in a garden in Birmingham in early 1884. The forger had, quite literally, buried the evidence of his crime.

Bonus items:

And finally, our archive houses a vast photographic collection, including images of the Birmingham branch. Our archive team kindly found some photos of the branch, and we just had to share them.

Archive Record Number: 15A13/12/1/5

Archive Record Number: 15A13/12/1/1

Happy Birmingham Heritage Week to everyone!