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British Banking History Society

Jonathan Backhouse and Co

One of the earliest articles written in the Society's journal gave a very lucid and interesting history of the private bankers, Jonathan Backhouse & Co, who ran a small range of branches in the north east of England from 1774 onwards, eventually becoming part of Barclay & Co in 1896 which later became the major network Barclays Bank plc of today. This short article tries to focus on what we have seen with regard to Backhouse cheques over the last 20 years - for those wishing to know more, A History of Barclays Bank should be required reading. In a sentence, this private bank well demonstrates may of the good points in cheque collecting but equally, it has to be said, also gives the collector both new and advanced numerous difficulties when trying to put together a meaningful collection.

When cheque collecting first became a reality in the late 1970's and early 1980's, a large group of Backhouse cheques were among the first series for any of the private bankers to appear, so for a year or two there was a good range of material priced perhaps at 5 or so per item which kept coming onto the market. Alas, it seems that this was to be short lived and it has to be pointed out to any prospective collector that 90%+ of all Backhouse cheques available to the enthusiast of today were the same ones around 20 years ago. Sadly it is a case of little advance in two decades but perhaps there will be more available next week, next month or next year - who knows? We simply have no idea what is still out there and it is not like the wine merchant re-stocking the shop for the following week, we cannot magically order any replacement stocks. This is a big problem for the novice who sees something attractive, thinking it will go on and on, sadly, all too often the river runs dry very quickly.

Backhouse cheques can certainly make an attractive little series as a sideline to the more general Barclays items (or those from the North-East for those who wish to work on a geographical basis) - who would failed to be impressed by the work of art "Engraved on steel by W H Lizars" illustrated below? The 1849 cheque is light years ahead in terms of the plain appearance of the link through to Barclay & Company sixty years later (the 1911 cheque still has a Backhouse signatory) - does this design exist at any other branches?

Further progress has still to be made on tracing the missing 'links'. One of the favourite parts of cheque collecting which isn't yet sufficiently developed to be anything more than hit or miss depending on how lucky you are with your own choice of bank. For example you would think that overprints of the original Backhouse & Company cheques for Barclays & Company would be reasonably plentiful for such a good supply of earlier material, yet nothing appears to have surfaced. The example illustrated below is from 1899 and is fully printed as one title - not an overprint.

Finally, as a taster to his catalogue of English Private Bank Cheques, Mike Veissid has very kindly produced a printout of what is already known for this Bank and its various partnerships. If you can add to the listings here with a new design or type or indeed have any comments on the ease of identification or other topics, please do contact us.

David Shaw

Click here for pictures of Backhouse cheques.

Copyright 2010 BBHS