The 1967 £20 Issue of the National Commercial Bank of Scotland

Peter Symes

The National Commercial Bank of Scotland was formed in 1959 following the merger of the National Bank of Scotland and the Commercial Bank of Scotland. It was an extremely strong and successful enterprise, and ten years later, in 1969, it merged with The Royal Bank of Scotland to form the National and Commercial Banking Group Limited. This organization acted as a holding company, with one of the subsidiaries being The Royal Bank of Scotland Limited (which later became The Royal Bank of Scotland plc).

Despite its short existence the National Commercial Bank of Scotland was prolific in its banknote issues, with nine notes being issued in the ten year period—three 1-pound notes, three 5-pound notes, and one each of the 10-, 20- and 100-pound notes. Initially notes in the denominations of 1, 5, 20 and 100 pounds were issued, and later issues reflected changes in colour, size, design, and denomination.

Of the notes issued by the bank four had varieties—the second 1-pound note, the third 5-pound note, and the initial 20- and 100-pound notes. The 1-pound note issued in 1961 (D.6a-1) was altered in 1967 (D.6b-1) to accommodate sorting marks on the back of the note. (Reference numbers are from Douglas, 1986—see bibliography). This was followed in 1968 with alterations to the 5-pound note (D.7a-1) to accommodate sorting marks on the reverse, and due to the passage of time it also carried a change in signature (D7b-1). These two varieties of the low denomination notes are quite straightforward, but what is more intriguing are the varieties of the 20- and 100-pound notes.

The 20- and 100-pound notes (D.3a-1 and D.4a-1) were part of the original issue for the National Commercial Bank, and served the Bank well for over seven years. However on 25 May 1967 the directors of the bank ordered a second printing of each of the high value denomination notes. What was peculiar about this order, was that the printing was to be undertaken by the security printers Thomas de la Rue & Company—a firm not previously used by the Bank.

One of the characteristics of the notes of the National Commercial Bank of Scotland is that a variety of features from the notes of the constituent banks were used to produce their notes. In addition, both printers of the last issues of the constituent banks were involved in printing the first issue of the National Commercial Bank. The printer used by the Commercial Bank of Scotland prior to its merger was Bradbury Wilkinson & Co. Ld. of New Malden, Surrey, and that by the National Bank of Scotland was Waterlow & Sons Limited, London. In what appears to be a gesture to accommodate obligations to both these printing firms, the 1-pound notes of the new bank were printed by Bradbury Wilkinson, and the three higher denomination notes were printed by Waterlow & Sons.

While the commission for the reduction in size of the 1961 five pound note (D.5-1) went to Waterlow & Sons, all new issues by the bank were printed by Bradbury Wilkinson. When the need for additional 20- and 100-pound notes became apparent, it was decided that rather than introduce new notes, an additional printing of each denomination would suffice. The commission for the additional notes was thus placed with Thomas de la Rue & Company as successor to Waterlow & Sons. De la Rue had taken over the security printing business of Waterlow & Sons in January 1961 and since de la Rue now held the printing plates for these notes it made sense that they should reprint the notes.

What has been an enigma with the de la Rue printings is that no notes were known to have survived, although it is certain that they were printed. While lacking details on the 100-pound notes (it appears 15,000 notes were printed), it is known that 100,000 20-pound notes were printed with the serial numbers ranging from A350001 to A450000. The notes were identical to the Waterlow printing in all respects except for the date of issue (1st June, 1967), the printer’s imprint, and the typeface for the serial numbers.

James Douglas in his 20th Century Scottish Banknotes—Volume 2 makes the following comment on this printing:

“Although the records show that 3b-1 [the de la Rue 20-pound] was printed and issued in the number shown, no dealer or collector has seen it. Perhaps the notes were recalled and destroyed when the Bank became the Royal Bank Limited within a short time of the printing.”

Douglas acknowledges the existence of a specimen note of this variety, and a specimen is held in the archives of The Royal Bank of Scotland. This note has the serial number “A00000” and the word “SPECIMEN” overprinted. The 1967 de la Rue varieties are not acknowledged in the Standard Catalog of World Paper Money, Volume 1 published by Krause Publications.

At least one example of a surviving note of this exists, and it would seem likely that there may be one or two more hidden away. The serial number of the known note indicates that this note was some 21,000 notes into the print run and it seems unlikely that it was plucked out by a souvenir hunter prior to destruction, (although this theory cannot be rejected).

Within the archives of The Royal Bank of Scotland there is no record to suggest that these notes were especially withdrawn, or destroyed. What seems likely is that the directors of the National Commercial Bank of Scotland were planning ahead when they ordered the extra notes, but still had sufficient stock to last them for some time. In all probability they had sufficient to last them until 1969 when the merger with The Royal Bank of Scotland was completed.

Thus the expected need for the new notes was not met (or only just met), and at the time all notes of the National Commercial Bank were withdrawn, the de la Rue printings were also removed. If this was the case, then the 20-pound notes did circulate, but for the shortest possible time, in the smallest quantities, (although it would seem likely that the 100-pound notes may never have hit the streets). While the history of this printing may never be absolutely complete, it can now be recognized that at least one note has survived.


This article was completed in October 1998
© Peter Symes