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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

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.

An excellent example would be the famous check used by the United States to pay Russia for the purchase of the state of Alaska in 1869. Featuring two stunning hand cut lithographs this artistic check is now a valuable piece of history in it’s own right. It’s doubtful whether any of our modern electronic fund transfers will be as useful in providing such a beautiful glimpse of history.

Artistic Checks Add Value

The reason that checks and other money have been decorated with art is simple: art increases the perceived value. Imagine a blank piece of paper scribbled with a promise to pay an amount as compared with a properly printed artistic check. Which one would give you more confidence in the financial transaction?

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 Deliver Increased Security

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:

  • A watermark or other semi-transparent marks which only become visible if the check is held up to the light. They are specially created by an artist so they will not be reproduced easily if the check is copied.
  • Holograms are little images etched into metallic foil. They contain what appears to be an artistic 3-D picture which is visible only when held at a certain angle.
  • The third technique is micro printing. A special check inking technique that embeds words that are invisible to the naked eye into the lines that make up the images on an artistic check. These words cannot be read without the use of a magnifying glass.

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.

This article is a brief history of the decoration, both practical and purely esthetic, which is found on bank checks and money in general. Hopefully it will allow you to appreciate the history of and see new possibilities the next time you’re writing or receiving a personal check.