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Vignettes Part of Story of Checks
By Robert F. Lemke, Bank Note Reporter
May 09, 2013

This article was originally printed in Bank Note Reporter.
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In recent months I’ve been helping an old friend and long-time paper money collector sell off his 50+ years’ accumulation of collectible stocks, bonds, checks and related fiscal paper.

In the process of researching some of the pieces I have rekindled my own interest in these areas, especially as it relates to the vignettes found on the pieces.

In my own collecting days during the 1970s and 1980s, I generally acquired this type of item based on my interest in their vignettes, rather than on considerations such as geography or industry.

Thus the vignettes are what I first focus on when I work my way through this old-time collection.

With that in mind, I thought I’d share a couple of interesting late 19th-century checks on the Union Bank of Winchester, Va.

The earlier check is dated 1882. The lithography work was by A. Hoen & Co., of Baltimore. The check is large (about 8-3/8” by 3-1/2”) and colorful, with lots of ornate typography.

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The vignettes of a pair of little girls, however, are just creepy.

The moppet at upper-right isn’t too bad, the child just has a melon head.

It is the little girl at left that sends a chill down my spine. She is positively demonic. I don’t know what sort of potion she has dipped her index finger in, but the look in her eyes dares you to remonstrate her for it. The fact that there is some sort of gargoyle supporting the table she’s leaning on just underscores the dark nature of the engraving.

By 1900, the bank had switched printers to the Milwaukee firm of J. Knauber Litho. Co. The 1900 check is similar in size and general format to the 1882 instrument, but has a different pre-printed orange two-cent U.S. Internal Revenue stamp at center. (You used to have to pay a tax on every check written. The two-cent tax on a check from 1900 is equivalent to about 52 cents today.) Also different on the 1900 Union Bank check is the vignette. The spooky kids are gone, replaced with a large view of a multi-story stone building identified as the issuing bank.

If you look closely at the vignette, however, it becomes evident that the building is wildly disproportionate to the people and horses in the street. The man on the bank steps generously measures about 3.5 mm.

Assuming he was of typical height for that era, say 5’9”, the front doors on the bank would be just under 20 feet tall. The building would be about 90 feet tall, or more than six stories.

The bank building still stands in Winchester, and now houses a cafe. A recent visitor reports that the building actually stands about four stories tall, but has only two floors.

The 1882 Bank of Winchester check shown here sold in an eBay auction for $22; the 1900 example received no bids when it was offered simultaneously.

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