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Artistic Checks - What Checks Are Really Saying

Feb 7, 2008
Since the beginning of modern banking, financial transactions have been recorded on checks and notes and various other types of paper documents. Besides the obvious transfer of money between two parties, there is another easily overlooked, aspect to these important pieces of paper. They have an artistic and historical value that can be, at times, even more valuable than the financial record. In this article we'll take a look at the value of artistic checks and see how it has changed over time.

Artistic Checks Throughout History

Money has been decorated with art since currencies first came into wide use. Cultures around the globe have commissioned artwork to emblazon their coins, treasury notes and bank checks with symbols of beauty and meaning.

As an example, take the very artistic check that was used by the United States treasury to purchase Alaska from Russia in 1868. The check was decorated with two artist produced lithographs and it featured the highest quality calligraphy to present the terms of the sale. Even the fine hand writing used to endorse the check speaks of a time when people spent many hours practicing fine penmanship as a necessary life skill.

Artistic Checks Add Value

Why bother create checks with art on them? There is actually a very practical reason: artistic checks are instilled with a higher sense of value. Can you imagine a large banking transaction being transcribed onto a piece of ordinary blank paper? There would be a lack of trust due to the lack of perceived value. Artistic checks, and money in general, create a sense of value.

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 as Fraud Protection

Fraud protection is another important aspect of artistic checks. Banks use artistic markings to make checks and other financial notes much more difficult to reproduce or forge. Three important security features are:

1. 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.

2. 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.

3. 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

In the past few years artistic checks have undergone a transformation. Rather than the banks and institutions dictating the styles and decorations on the checks, now these decisions are being made by consumers. Modern check printing companies offer thousands of artistic check designs and an almost endless ability to customize check printing.

I hope you'll see that artistic checks and decorative money have a rich history and provide value beyond the simple notation of money moving between accounts. They demonstrate personal expression, beauty and the link between your deeper values and your money.
About the Author
Having studied many aspects of personal finance, William Gordon writes about artistic checks and many other types of artistic personal checks for a variety of online publications.
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