February 7, 2008

A Visual History of Artistic Checks

Posted in finance tagged , at 11:43 am by Jon Symons

Financial transactions have been tracked on paper documents like checks and various types of notes for hundreds of years. Our obsession with money makes it easy to miss the historical, archaeological and artistic value that checks can provide. This article will present a brief look at the world of artistic checks as more than just a simple bank balance transfer record.

Artistic Checks Throughout History

The history of money has always been meshed with art and artists. Even centuries ago artists were commissioned to decorate money and other currencies like checks, notes and coins.

For example, the check used by the United States to purchase Alaska from Russia in 1868 was a very artistic check. Decorated with fine cut lithographs, it featured perfect calligraphy and even the endorsements are historically very valuable and interesting. I wonder if, in a couple hundred years, we’ll be looking back on our credit card statements with the same reverence?

Increased Perceived Value with Art on Checks

Artistic checks also serve a need beyond pure decoration. Art imbues value into the financial record process. Can you imagine a simple blank piece of paper serving as a bank check? It simply wouldn’t express the perceived value that check needs to instill confidence.

Decorating money and checks with art is actually quite necessary. With the exception of gold and silver coins, money doesn’t have any real value. Artwork, symbols and decoration are used to create a feeling of trust in the value of the individual or institution that is backing the check or note.

Artistic Checks offer Higher Security

Our current artistic checks take the combination of decoration and security to new levels with all sorts of embedded features like watermarks, holograms and micro printing. All three of these methods have been developed to make checks much more difficult to counterfeit, thereby reducing fraud.

  • Watermarks are transparent markings that are only visible when the check is held up to the light. They are specially created by an artist so they will not reproduce if the check is copied.
  • Holograms are a more recent security innovation attached to checks on metallic foil. They contain an artistic 3-D picture which is visible only at a certain angle of viewing.
  • Micro printing is a special check inking technique that embeds words as simple lines that make up the images on an artistic check. Only when these lines are viewed with a magnifying glass, can someone read the words.

Current Day Artistic Checks

The Internet has given rise to an explosion in artistic checks. These days the security features remain, but it is not uncommon for check printing companies to offer thousands of images, patterns, designs, and scenic elements for consumers to use to decorate their personal checks.

I hope this article has provided a new view into the rich history and the value of the artistic checks beyond the simple exchange of funds between two people’s bank accounts. They provide a look at the society of their time and even into the personal style and interests of the issuer.


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