Hidden Messages in Banknotes: Part I - The Devil's Face

Posted on 9/23/2014

Banknotes sometimes contain hidden graphics or messages. Often times no one except the artist knows if these were accidental or intentional inclusions or if they even exist at all.

Image credit: www.CDNCoin.com

Any numismatist worth their salt will know that Queen Elizabeth II appears on many banknotes around the world because of Great Britain’s colonialism. However, some of the colony’s currencies feature some very curious hidden messages. Whether these are intentional or not is up for debate, but this is still a fascinating topic nevertheless.

This is the first installment examining the hidden messages on banknotes, and the note discussed below has one of the most notorious errors in the history of paper money.

In 1952, the Bank of Canada began to work on its third issue of currency to reflect the newly crowned ruler of Great Britain and her colonies. Queen Elizabeth II had recently ascended to the throne in the wake of the death of King George VI. The Queen had sat for a portrait the year prior, and this image was to be used as the basis for Canada’s updated currency.

The only change made by engraver George Gundersen of the British American Bank Note Company was to remove the Queen’s tiara due to spacing issues. The notes were approved and released in the fall of 1954 to little controversy, if any at all. It would appear that it was not until 1956 that anyone noticed anything sinister. The Toronto Daily Star reported that a “devil’s face” could be seen “leering from the Queen’s curls.”

Image credit: www.CoinBooks.org

Accusations were leveled at numerous subjects, from a prankster at the Bank of Canada to an IRA sympathizer, but no substantial evidence of wrongdoing was found, and the scandal faded. In 1984, the flames of controversy were stoked once more with the death of Peter-Dirk Uys, the photographer who captured the Queen’s portrait three decades prior. His memoirs were posthumously released, in which he claimed to have had a relationship with the Queen’s hairdresser, and that he was supposedly a disciple of noted Satanist Aleister Crowley. While these revelations undoubtedly set the tabloids afire, George Gundersen had merely followed the photograph, and the “devil face” notes had been modified in 1957, one year after the demonic discovery was made.

Image credit: www.moneymuseum.ca

In conclusion, there are many questions surrounding the design and the controversy that resulted, but apart from a few outlandish claims, there appears to be no tomfoolery with this banknote. However, the next installment of this series features a note with a much more suspect story.


  • R.J. Graham, ed., Canadian Government Paper Money (Toronto: The Charlton Press, 2013), 245.
  • http://www.cdncoin.com/Articles.asp?ID=279
  • http://www.coinworld.com/numismatic/paper-money/devils-face-specimen-set-grabs-16-000.html
  • http://www.coinbooks.org/esylum_v17n01a23.html
  • http://canadacurrency.com/bank-of-canada/bank-of-canada-currency-from-1954/value-of-1954-devils-face-20-bill-from-the-bank-of-canada-2/

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