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Grolier Club NY - Images of Value: The Artwork Behind U.S. Security Engraving 1830s-1980s

decoration22 Feb. 2017|29 April 2017
Curated by Mark D. Tomasko

Paper money has been much in the news as discussions focused on which woman’s portrait should be the face of the $20 bill, with Harriet Tubman being the final choice. However, surprisingly, it should be noted that from 1886 to approximately 1900, the first named woman’s portrait, that of Martha Washington, appeared on two different examples of US federal paper money. The first lady’s engraved image (and its likely source) is included in the first exhibition to take a comprehensive look at the artwork for engravings that appeared on paper bank notes and securities produced by US bank note firms.
The exhibition surveys 150 years of images in watercolor drawings, prints, photographs, and oil paintings that were used as engraving subjects by US bank note firms. America became the world leader in security engraving by the 1860s, a result of the antebellum banking system. Picture engraving was the key defense against counterfeiting. From beautiful genre and Civil War watercolor drawings of the nineteenth century, to large allegorical oil paintings of the twentieth century, to a range of prints and photographs of the nineteenth and twentieth centuries, the art that graced currency and securities can be seen, paired with the bank notes and securities on which the resulting engravings appeared. Original works by American artists such as F. O. C. Darley, Henry Inman, James D. Smillie, Walter Shirlaw, Alonzo E. Foringer and others are in the exhibition. The exhibition is curated by and largely from the collection of Grolier member Mark D. Tomasko, a private collector and researcher who documents the engravers, artists, designers, and the bank note firms. He is the author of The Feel of Steel: the Art and History of Bank Note Engraving in the United States. An illustrated catalogue and various events will accompany the exhibition.


22 Feb. 2017|29 April 2017
47 East 60th Street
NY 10022
New York
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