The Art of Engraving

Have you looked closely at the images and decorative artwork on the money in your wallet, or the artwork on the postage stamp?The engravings used on bank notes and stamps are a beautiful form of art. In an effort to discourage counterfeiters, artists have developed very complex and layered images. Some of Canada’s best artists have been commissioned to create designs difficult to copy.

Counterfeiters have been busy from the time that images of any sort became saleable objects. In Canada, the Edwin Johnson family circulated about $1 million in counterfeit bills until the whole family was arrested in Toronto in the 1880s.

Legitimate engravers developed the ingenious “guilloche,” an expensive mechanism which created looped patterns extremely difficult to duplicate by hand. Hasbro turned this technology into a popular drawing toy called Spirograph.

A more subtle use of colour and shading made reproduction an even greater challenge for the counterfeiter. Layers now include holograms and metallic ribbons which do not show up in a machine-made copy. Special papers and the more recent polymer plastics were developed to counteract today’s sophisticated photocopiers.

In 1851, Sir Sandford Fleming designed the first Canadian postage stamp, the first stamp in the world to commemorate something other than a military or royal subject. It featured the beaver. Other Canadians like poet E. Pauline Johnson, social activist Nellie McClung, MŽtis leader Louis Riel, explorers Cartier and Champlain, and hockey heroes Paul Henderson and Yvan Cournoyer have been immortalized on stamps.

Another first, the travelling exhibition “Voices from the Engraver,” produced and circulated by the Bank of Canada in partnership with the Canadian Museum of History, has its premiere Canadian showing at the Galt Museum & Archives until May 18. For details visit

Your old photos, documents and artifacts might have historical value. Please contact Galt Museum & Archives for advice before destroying them.(Source-

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