Bradbury Wilkinson’s Argentinean Rip-Offs

Posted on 6/16/2020

The banknote printer in England borrowed designs used in South America for its Printer’s Advertising Notes.

Sometimes, notes come into the grading room at Paper Money Guaranty (PMG) that make the graders do a double take. This happened recently when PMG authenticated and graded an 1870-dated Bradbury Wilkinson & Company (BWC) “La Banca Irlanda” 100 Lire Specimen Printer’s Advertising Note with a plate design that looked remarkably familiar.

BWC 1870-dated “La Banca Irlanda” 100 Lire Specimen Printer’s Advertising Note
Click image to enlarge.

After some contemplation, the PMG research team figured out the doppelganger to this BWC Printer’s Advertising Note. In comparing it to the BWC-printed 1867 Argentina, La Provincia de Buenos Ayres 100 Pesos issued note (Pick# S476), one can see that the Printer’s Advertising Note blatantly commandeered the main plate design of this Argentinian note.

Argentina 1867 La Provincia de Buenos Ayres 100 Pesos, Pick# S476
Click image to enlarge.

In the latter half of the 19th century, competition between rival printing companies for a share in the exploding market for paper money was intense. Major printing companies such as BWC, the American Bank Note Company (ABNC), Waterlow & Sons, as well as many smaller local printing companies were all actively soliciting business.

One way to demonstrate the quality of the printing company’s products to prospective clients was through beautifully engraved Printer’s Advertising Notes. PMG defines a Printer’s Advertising Note as a sub-category of Test Notes. In addition to demonstrating the print quality of the printer's work, they were used to promote the products and services offered by the printing company and often feature the company's name and address.

Typically, these are vintage notes created when printing and watermarks were the common security features — unlike today's Test Notes that showcase numerous security features. To view PMG’s full list of terms and definitions, go to

This 1870-dated BWC Printer’s Advertising Note is among the earliest examples and was produced in the “Wild West” days of competition, when rival printing companies actively spied on each other (and worse) to gain the upper hand. Imagine the uproar that would follow today if a printing company copied a bank’s circulating note design for use as a Printer’s Advertising Note!

Things were quite different back in 1870. It is unlikely to be a coincidence that BWC produced this look-alike Printer’s Advertising Note in 1870 just after they lost their Argentinean printing contract with La Provincia de Buenos Ayres to ABNC to produce the new 1869-dated series of banknotes (Argentina Pick# S481-499).

As the look and style of this Printer’s Advertising Note is similar to BWC-produced Italian private bank issues of the time period (for example, the 1869-72 Banco di Napoli 100 Lire notes, Pick# S837), often this 100 Lire La Banca Irlanda Printer’s Advertising Note is thought to have Italian note design origins. However, clearly the design mirrors that of Argentina S476.

The known examples of this Printer’s Advertising Note have been observed printed in different colors (blue, green and orange), and are seen with BWC’s address “12 to 14 Fetter Lane” printed at the bottom right.

BWC 1870-dated “La Banca Irlanda” 100 Lire Printer’s Advertising Note - Fetter Lane Address
(Image courtesy of Archives International Auctions)

Sharp-eyed readers may have noticed that on the Specimen example submitted to PMG, unlike issued examples seen in the market, BWC’s address printed at the bottom right is “Farringdon Road.” We know from historical records that in 1874, BWC finished construction on their new six-story workshop for engraving printing plates in Holburn, London at 25 and 27 Farringdon Road. Prior to that, BWC was located on 12 to 14 Fetter Lane. Thus, the original 100 Lire Printer’s Advertising Note with the Fetter Lane address was printed circa 1870, and it is thought that the Specimen example was printed circa 1874-1875 after BWC had moved to their Farringdon Road location.

Evidently, BWC decided to modify this Printer’s Advertising Note design into a less obvious Argentinean rip-off with a newly designed 1875-dated Printer’s Advertising Note that sported a different central vignette and other plate design modifications – as well as the new Farringdon Road address.

BWC 1875-dated “La Banca Irlanda” 100 Lire Printer’s Advertising Note - Farringdon Road Address
(Image courtesy of Spink and Sons Ltd.)

Argentina was a recurring target for BWC to borrow issued note designs from for their Printer’s Advertising Notes. Another example is the following black-and-white Front Proof of a Printer’s Advertising Note that was recently submitted to PMG for grading.

BWC “5” Units Printer’s Advertising Note – black-and-white Front Proof – full address.
Click image to enlarge.

The final issued version of this Printer’s Advertising Note is normally seen as a 2-sided color note, with BWC’s address simplified to “Farringdon Road” instead of the full “25 & 27 Farringdon Road” address seen on the black-and-white Front Proof version.

BWC “5” Units Printer’s Advertising Note - shortened address - final colorized version, printed both sides.
(Image courtesy of Dix Noonan Webb)
Click image to enlarge.

In comparison to the BWC-printed 18xx-dated Argentina, El Banco de Cuyo 5 Pesos Fuertes Specimen (circa-1870), Pick# S1641s, one can see that the main plate designs of this note were likewise blatantly used to produce the BWC "5 Units" Printer’s Advertising Note.

Argentina, 18xx-dated El Banco de Cuyo 5 Pesos Fuertes Specimen, Pick# S1641s.
(Image courtesy of Robert Bauman, author of The Paper Money of Argentina)
Click image to enlarge.

As can be seen, the back design of this Printer’s Advertising Note is unchanged from the issued note, and the front design even goes so far as to retain the “Serie C” inscription at the top left, as found on the Argentinean note. It was common at the time that printing companies recycled vignettes from one note to another; however, it was most unusual for them to re-use full plate designs from a specific bank issue for other purposes.

Given the Farringdon Road address and the style of the note design, it is surmised that this "5 Units" Printer’s Advertising Note was likely printed in the latter half of the 1870s. As El Banco de Cuyo was still in business at the time BWC issued this Printer’s Advertising Note, and went on to issue banknotes as late as an 1892-dated 50 Centavos Pick# S1633 (printed by Kraft, an Argentinean printing company), one can only wonder what management at El Banco de Cuyo thought when they saw this knock-off!

The cutthroat competition among printing companies led to consolidations in the industry. ABNC acquired BWC in 1903, and BWC operated as a wholly owned ABNC subsidiary out of their Farringdon Road location until 1917, when they moved to New Malden in Surrey, still operating as Bradbury-Wilkinson.

If any collectors have other examples of Printer’s Advertising Notes that use plate designs borrowed from issued notes, we would love to hear from you. Happy collecting!

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