Nowadays, when we deal with money, it is often done electronically- especially during this past year and a half when most businesses required contactless transactions. However, there is something fascinating and even more satisfying when handling cold, hard cash. With that in mind, we head over to the Museum on the Mound here in Edinburgh, Scotland. Join us as we explore this unique museum and get a wee glimpse into the history of Scottish banking and currency.
The history and use of the building that houses the Museum on the Mound is significant. It currently is the Scottish headquarters of Lloyds Banking Group and has also “served as the Head Office of Bank of Scotland since 1806”. Lloyds Bank and Bank of Scotland merged in 2009 to form part of Lloyds Banking Group.
However, we must start our journey by travelling back in time to Edinburgh in 1695 with the founding of the Bank of Scotland. As the Museum points out, Scotland was an independent nation and Edinburgh was its “political and economic centre”.
The Museum has some noteworthy artefacts reflecting these early days. For example, they have a ‘Grant of Arms’ from 1701 that “provides the earliest description…of the Bank’s coat of arms and corporate seal”.
Interestingly, the Bank’s original location was not on the Mound. In fact, they were in the Old Town and changed their location a few times during their first 100 years due to overcrowding, fire, and the final straw being the smell of chamber pots being emptied in the Close where the bank was situated (for more information on this smelly practice as well as an explanation of what a ‘close’ is, check out our article on The Real Mary King’s Close). By 1796, it was painfully clear that a new location had to be found.
The Museum points out how the “new Head Office was to be the first purpose-built bank in Scotland, and a grand statement of the Bank’s success”. They bought land on the Mound that would ideally situate them between the Old and New Town as well as a site that would help them ‘show-off’ their status.
So, at this point you might be asking- what is the Mound? Well, it is a “man-made hill created from the earth of the New Town foundations”. From an archaeological standpoint it is particularly intriguing as the Museum points out how the Mound also consists of large amounts of rubbish. While doing building work in recent years, they found great quantities of oyster shells. This confirms that the Old Town used the location as a dumping ground before the 1800s because oysters were a food eaten by the poor as they were cheap.
The North side of the building we see today wasn’t how it appeared originally- that version was quite unpopular. Therefore, the Bank hired Edinburgh-born architect, David Bryce and set out to improve the building with renovations in the mid-1800s. Of course, now the building is an established part of the Edinburgh skyline and is greatly admired by visitors and locals from all angles.
The Museum on the Mound covers a wide variety of topics and has numerous artefacts on display related to the history of currency and banking, but we’ll focus on just a few of my favourites in this article.
At various points in the Museum, there are fascinating displays that explain and how currency has been made over the years. For example, there are displays that show how the Bank of Scotland first created paper bills or tickets in 1696. “These were Scotland’s very first banknotes and printed in set denominations of £5, £10, £20, £50, and £100 sterling”. Unfortunately, none of the originals survived, but there are documents that discuss them and how they would also be “expressed in ‘pounds Scots’ as well as sterling”. Pictured below is the earliest surviving example of the Bank of Scotland banknote from 1716.
Since their creation, banknote forgeries were a problem, and the early ones were quite easy to fake. One particularly fascinating forgery story goes back to the time of the Napoleonic Wars when thousands of French prisoners of war were held in Britain, including Scotland. One camp was in Penicuik at the Valleyfield paper mill. The French prisoners decided to spend their time in quite an unusual way- creating banknote forgeries! On display at the Museum are parts of a banknote forgery kit from the camp. They used mutton bones to create a form of stamp that they would replicate the seals and watermarks when pressed into the paper; they would hand draw and write the rest. Eventually, forgeries were spotted in the area and the Bank of Scotland put out notices in French and English offering £100 for more information on the fake notes.
The printing plate process for creating banknotes has evolved over the years, and there are a variety of plates on display as you enter the Museum.
Of course, now the contemporary process for making banknotes involves much more complicated technology. The second of a three-part process involves printing on a nickel intaglio printing plate (pictured below).
We hope you have enjoyed our brief visit to The Museum on the Mound. We’ve barely scratched the surface with this article as the Museum is chock full of artefacts and covers a large swath of banking history. Therefore, we highly recommend that you visit the Museum on the Mound in person. Best of all, admission is free (donations are welcome)! Be sure to check their website for the most up-to-date information on opening hours.
Until next time- Explore & Discover!