Bank Post Bills and Post Notes

Peter Symes

Today the most commonly recognized form of paper currency is the ‘bank note,’ but other forms of paper instruments have been in use over many years, such as bills of exchange, letters of credit, cheques and promissory notes. Some are payable on demand, some payable after sight and others at a particular date. Some are payable to a specific person, some are assignable and others are payable to the bearer. Some of these features were used in ‘bank post bills’ and ‘post notes,’ obscure forms of financial instruments that were favoured – or infamous – in the several places they were used. Originally intended as a means of transmitting money, they soon circulated as currency.

            Bank post bills were used in limited places around the world, becoming popular in England and Ireland from the 1730s, and in the United States and Australia around the 1840s, although not limited to those times. Although the origins of the bank post bill are clear, it is difficult to be precise in the definition of a bank post bill as different authorities have used post bills and post notes in slightly different ways. The bank post bill was introduced by the Bank of England and was simply a bill designed to be transmitted through the post, bearing a sight clause that meant they could not be immediately cashed if stolen. The definition of post notes issued in the United States was: ‘a note made and issued by a bank, payable not to the bearer, but to order, not on demand, but at a future specified date.’[1] It is the payment at a future date, rather than on demand, that came to distinguish bank post bills and post notes from banknotes. In some locales, interest is paid on the post bills and post notes, due to a time delay in payment, but this is not universally found.

            In some countries, because bank post bills were to be paid after a fixed period, they became a convenient form to accept fixed deposits. Bank post bills of this type were usually, but not exclusively, for large amounts and paid interest. This corruption of their original use and other variations in the use of post bills is illuminated with examples discussed in this study.

Bank Post Bills in England

In the act of 1708, which enlarged the capital stock of the Bank of England, it was forbidden for any other ‘Body Politick’ to engage in ‘notes payable on demand or any less time than six months from the borrowing thereof.’[2] The bank did not avail itself of its right to issue notes payable at ‘any less time than six months’ until the bank post bill was introduced.[3] Bank post bills were introduced in an effort to frustrate thieves and robbers who were attacking mail coaches in England and the events leading to their introduction were as follows.

On April 26, 1722 the Court of Directors [of the Bank of England] requested its Committee of Treasury to consider ‘a method to prevent the inconveniences that happen by robbing the mail of Banknotes,’ but nothing appears to have been done by the Bank for over six years. In March 1724[5], as a result of an increase in these robberies, the Postmaster General in a lengthy announcement in the London Gazette recommended ‘all persons who shall hereafter have occasion to send any Banknotes in their letters to write upon the back-side of every note the name of the post-town where they put in their letters, with the day of the month at length and not in figures when they are put in, and also the addition of these words, viz. Per Post to ... naming the town to which they are sent.’ A memorandum was to be kept of every note sent by post and immediately a robbery took place notice had to be sent to the Postmaster General so that any loss could be advertised and a list of missing notes together with the name of the town to which they were posted could be sent to the Bank. The robberies, however, still increased and ultimately in 1728 the Directors resolved to advertise that they had decided to give out sola bills[4] of exchange payable at three days sight.[5]

            The Bank of England’s ‘Sola Bill of Exchange’ was introduced in October 1728. The text of the note forms read:

‘At three days sight I promise to pay this my Sola Bill of Exchange to _____ of _____ or _____ Order _____ Sterling. Value received of _____
For the Governor and Company of the Bank of England.’[6]

Paying no interest, these notes simply imposed a three-day sight condition, attempting to lessen the incentive for robbery.

            The strategy did not work. Robberies continued and ten years later, from January 1, 1739, the Bank of England modified the notes to be payable after seven days sight.[7] During 1739, the term ‘sola’ was dropped and the term ‘post’ introduced. The first record of this term is found in the Court Minute Books of the Bank of England for December 6, 1739, where the phrase ‘Bank Post Bill of Exchange’ is used.[8] The Bank’s Copper Plate Book refers to a bank post bill in the following manner:

Bank Post Bill
[Britannia Medallion] No. London 17__
At seven days sight I promise to pay this my Sola Bill
of Exchange to __________________
or Order TWENTY ___________
Sterling Value received of ________
For the Govr and Compa of the Bank of England[9]

            The earliest surviving example of this type of note in the archives of the Bank of England is a bank post bill dated July 26, 1792, although earlier examples exist in private collections (see Figure 1).

            The use of bank post bills became quite prevalent in England and Wales during the nineteenth century. For example, the Bank of Manchester, while not issuing banknotes, did issue post bills. Payable seven days after date, the Bank’s post bills were issued in denominations from £50 to £100 and were used by the bank to remit funds to London (among other means, such as drafts drawn on a London bank).[10] Similarly, the North and South Bank of Wales prepared bank post bills, and a £50 proof is known to have survived. The text includes ‘Seven days after Date pay this my Sola bill of exchange to ...’ Yet another recorded example is a proof £50 bank post bill prepared for Williams, Brown & Co, Leeds.[11] It is probable many other English and Welsh banks issued bank post bills, and the following are known to have prepared such items: Huddersfield District Bank, Northern and Central Bank, Wakefield Banking Company, Yorkshire Agricultural and Commercial Bank, Wiltshire and Dorset Banking Company, Taunton Bank and the Mirfield and Huddersfield District Banking Company.[12]

            It is noted, in cases where bank post bills were not issued, banks sometimes issued sight notes which were very similar to bank post bills. Among the English provincial banks, an interesting instrument prepared for the Craven Bank has all the appearances of a bank post bill, but lacks that specific title. A printer’s proof of this form dated ‘187_’ reads:

Mess Dinsdale, Fowler and Compy Bankers, London
Seven days after date pay to the order of
Ten Pounds. Value Received.
For John Birkbeck, Wm. Robinson, Jos Birkbeck
Geo. Stansfield, Wm. Alcock & Henry Alcock

Without the designation of bank post bill, this simply becomes a sight note, even though it is payable ‘seven days after date’ rather than ‘seven days after sight.’

            Payable to order, the bank post bills of the Bank of England could be transferred from person to person by endorsement. A 1792 bank post bill held by the Bank of England shows several endorsements whereby transfer of ownership was undertaken (see Figures 4 and 5). Because bank post bills could be transferred from one person to another, they were able to circulate as currency. The Bank of England’s post bills accounted for a small but consistent amount of circulation in eighteenth- and nineteenth-century England, according to James Grant, writing around 1837[13]

From parliamentary documents recently published, I am enabled to give the following statement of the issues of the Bank, in notes and bank post bills, for upwards of a century past. It is of importance to premise, that the amount of bank post bills is not above a twelfth of that of the notes.

Although the amount of post bills issued by the Bank of England was small as a percentage of paper currency in circulation, they remained an important method of transmitting money for many years.

            If a bank post bill was stolen or lost, it could be stopped by the bank on notification of its loss by the sender or recipient. However, as the notes invariably circulated as currency, notices were often placed in newspapers advising the public of lost and stolen post bills so that tradesmen and merchants would not take bank post bills that had been stopped. Most advertisements offer rewards for the lost or stolen bank post bills, even though payment was stopped by the bank, with a lost £10 bank post bill typically being rewarded 10/- for its return. This suggests there was a pecuniary interest to be obtained by securing the lost instrument and returning it to the issuing bank, which probably imposed a penalty for the loss.

            The use of bank post bills in England is still, to a certain extent, a mystery. Their original use is known and it is recorded they were used specifically to remit money from provincial areas to London; as in the case of the Bank of Manchester (Figure 2). Their use as a circulating medium is also known, but yet another use is described in a pamphlet entitled ‘Plan of the Circular Notes and Credits of Mess. James and James Lockhart, Bankers, No. 36, Pall-Mall, London’ where the following is stated:

… the Circular Notes answer the purpose of Bank Post Bills in England, and although they are drawn at seven days sight, yet the Agents are instructed to pay them to the Traveller on demand.[14]

            This extract suggests travellers took them from town to town in England and used them in a similar manner to a travellers’ cheque, but further detail on this use not plentiful. It is noted Robert Herries, who established Circular Notes for use by travellers to the Continent, issued ‘Circular Post Bills’ which were for traveller’s use in the British Isles.[15]

            Despite their use for two centuries and high popularity for well over a century, bank post bills seem to have fallen victim to the development of cheques and modern banking systems. Bank post bills ceased to be issued by the Bank of England in September 1934,[16] although surviving examples from the twentieth century are almost unknown.

Bank Post Bills in Ireland

Bank post bills were prolific in Ireland, being issued by many banks and becoming a significant element of circulating currency. The Bank of Ireland was established in 1783 along the lines of the Bank of England and the Irish bank was permitted to issue notes payable on demand and for any period less than six months – just as did the Bank of England. Bank post bills appear to have been issued by the Bank of Ireland from the commencement of its business and records of the Bank’s paper money in circulation from 1797 to 1816[17] show post bills typically accounted for one quarter to one third of notes in circulation.

            The Bank of Ireland’s bank post bills were payable seven days after the date of issue. The first record of a claim being made for a lost bank post bill was in 1785 and the second in 1787. Following the example set by the Bank of England, the money was refunded to the claimants so long as the claim was lodged before the bank post bill fell due and the claimant lodged an indemnity.[18]

            The Bank of Ireland’s banknotes and bank post bills were originally issued in Irish and British currency. The exchange between English and Irish currency was set at a ratio of 13 to 12, so that one Irish pound was worth 18 shillings 5½ pence in English currency and one English pound was equal to £1-1-8 Irish. Consequently, an Irish bank post bill might be denominated as ‘Twelve Guineas’ in Irish currency, but the amount payable was written as ‘Eleven Pounds seven shillings and six pence’ sterling.[19] From January 6, 1826, the Irish currency system disappeared and all banknotes and post-bills issued after this date were in pounds sterling. (See Figure 6.)

            Many private banks issued post bills in Ireland and it is interesting to observe that some banks, such as La Touche’s (Figure 7) and Gleadow’s, never issued notes payable on demand, but they did issue post bills.[20] The laws which established and maintained the Bank of Ireland forbade many banks from issuing banknotes, particularly the banks that confined their business to Dublin, but the laws did not limit the use of post bills. This may be a contributing reason for the proliferation of post bills in Ireland, although there is no specific evidence to suggest banks issued post bills to circumvent restrictions in issuing banknotes.[21]

            With the rise of the private banks in Ireland, a clearing house was established in Dublin and both banknotes and post bills were cleared through this facility. (See Figure 8 and Figure 9 for examples of post bills issued by private Irish banks.) When the Bank of Ireland commenced its branch system in 1825, it authorized its branches to issue post bills, along with banknotes and bills. Forms for post bills were sent from head office to the branch and signed by the agent when issued. In December 1816, the Bank of Ireland had post bills to the value of £1,291,653 in circulation. In the ensuing years this figure fell significantly. Bank post bills were predominantly used in Ireland to remit funds over distances, but with the increasing use of cheques the number of bank post bills diminished greatly. In November 1845 the Bank of Ireland’s post bills in circulation had reduced to £386,300 and by June 1875 this figure had fallen to £60,800.[22]

            While no figures can be assembled on the number of private bank post-bills in circulation, the number of surviving examples attests to the large volume of post bills issued (although their survival in large amounts is also due to the failure of numerous banks). Post bills continued in use in Northern Ireland until the middle of the twentieth century, although by this time their use as a circulating medium had ceased and they were once again simply a means of remitting money.

Post notes in the United States

In the United States, the bank post bill became known as the ‘post note.’ Post notes were first used in the United States for the specific purpose of transferring funds to distant places, mirroring the reason they were introduced in England. In 1791, Thomas Jefferson recorded that he received a post note from his bank, concerning the purchase of a horse. The ‘post note’ recorded by Jefferson was for a specific amount and for a specific transaction; that is, the note was not meant to circulate but rather was used to protect the remittance of money over a great distance.[23]

            As banks were formed through the country and checks and bank drafts became more common, the need to use the post notes of Jefferson’s day disappeared. However, it was not long before the innate characteristics of the post note found a use in another form.

            Alexander Hamilton was an advocate of notes that might be redeemed after a fixed period. In his first bank plan of 1780 he suggested some of the continental currency be issued as notes which would be payable to the bearer after three months, and paid 2% interest. The theory became practice some years later. From when it was established in 1791, the First Bank of the United States issued post notes, payable at 30 days. The notes were approved by Hamilton, as the Secretary of the Treasury, for paying duties and he also allowed them to be renewed at the discretion of the bank. At this stage, post notes were for odd amounts, but before long they began to be issued in even amounts.

            After some time, the concept of a post note as a means of remitting payment with a sight clause to protect them disappeared – post notes became interest-bearing deposits. However, American post notes did not always attract interest. Needless to say, there arose confusion in the circulation of the notes, as the public was not always certain of the nature of the notes. Typically, but not universally, smaller denomination post notes were not interest bearing, but circulated as banknotes; possibly with an intention of using the protection of the sight clause to frustrate a run on their issuer. Post notes in larger amounts were usually interest bearing and were more like a bond than a banknote. In both forms the post note was a fixed deposit, to be used by the bank until the post note matured. American post notes were payable from one day to one year. Some of the earlier post notes had the denomination engraved on the notes, while others had a blank space, allowing the amount to be entered by hand.[24]

            Post notes in the United States flourished after the war of 1812, notably in the northern sates, and during the depression of the 1830s and 1840s, predominantly in the southern states. In 1818, the New York City banks were issuing post notes at 60 and 90 day’s interest and in 1825 interest-bearing notes were being issued in Rhode Island. Evidence exists they were also issued in Connecticut, Indiana and Ohio around 1820.[25] The control of post notes was a state matter and their use and abuse were controlled by each state. While evidence is scant, according to Redlich, post notes were permitted

in Connecticut in the North, and Alabama in the South. In other states, such as New York in 1829 and Ohio in 1819 and 1820, they were completely forbidden. In Louisiana, they were adopted only as a temporary emergency measure. Massachusetts wavered. The legislature forbade post notes, i.e., ‘notes or other credit instruments payable at a future date or bearing interest,’ in the session of 1829; permitted them in the session of 1835; and again withdrew permission in 1837.[26]

            Although post notes were fixed deposits, they circulated in the same manner as banknotes because they were transferrable. In the Massachusetts act of 1835, the notes were payable to a specific individual or ‘bearer,’ which allowed the post notes to circulate as banknotes. The banks were not shy in using post notes to their advantage; and in Ohio, the Bank Commissioners of 1839 accused the banks of issuing these notes to increase their circulation. The Ohio Bank Commissioners were against post notes and believed they were an imposition on the community. The banks were forcing loans on the community, usually for no interest. The proliferation of post notes in small denominations ultimately led authorities to take action. In Massachusetts post notes were finally banned from 1850.

            As in England (in the case of the Craven Bank), the title of the document was sometimes dropped and post notes were not always designated ‘post note.’ An example can be seen in a post note issued by Marble Manufacturing of New York (see Figure 11), carrying no interest. The text reads:

At their Office in William St. The Marble Manufacturing Compy. Of the City of New York will pay __________ or order ______ days after date Fifty Dollars.

Dated 1826, there is no mention of ‘post note’ anywhere on the document. (Other examples of post notes issued in the United States of America are at Figure 10, Figure 12 and Figure 13.)

            Post notes for large amounts became very popular after the financial crisis of 1837, when a depression hit the United States. Just before the financial crisis, numerous American drafts on England returned protested because of the failure of three of the largest so called Anglo American merchant bankers in that country. A committee of New York bankers applied for help to Nicholas Biddle, then president of the Unites States Bank of Pennsylvania. He agreed to issue $5 million in 12 month post notes (bonds), payable in London with the Barings or in Paris or Amsterdam. Three of the leading banks of this country then followed his example and issued similar post notes; viz, the Morris Canal and Banking Company, $1 million; the Bank of the Manhattan Company, $2 million, of which $1 million was payable in America and $1 million in London; and the Girard Bank, $500,000 payable in London. It was understood that these post notes would be traded in Europe. Consequently the American merchants, who could not get any foreign exchange at that time, acquired them by discounting their receivables and used them for remittances: that is, these post notes fulfilled the function of money in international commerce. In England they were traded on the stock exchanges, and these operations of Biddle highly impressed British capitalists.[27]

            The use of post notes in the United States shows the development from post notes intended to be transmitted over distances to protect remittance, to instruments that were delayed in payment as an interest bearing deposit. This later use of post notes was soon apparent in Australia.

Post Notes and Post Bills in New South Wales (Australia)

Founded in 1817, the Bank of New South Wales was the first bank in the colony and it immediately commenced issuing banknotes; although private companies and individuals were issuing promissory notes before and after the bank was established. However, there is no evidence the Bank of New South Wales issued post notes or bank post bills.

            One of the earliest records of post bills in the colony of New South Wales appears in the Australian, a colonial newspaper, in an edition for 1828.[28] The object of the report was to make readers aware John Tawell had issued ‘post bills’ which had an uncanny likeness to the notes of the Bank of New South Wales then in circulation, and the newspaper cautioned readers in accepting the notes. The notes had the following text:

Post Bill
At ____ days sight I promise to pay _______
_________ or Bearer, FIVE POUNDS sterg.
Value recd. SYDNEY _____ day of ______ 18__

            It is of interest the Australian reports this note issue as: ‘A novel issue of Notes, not Banknotes, but the private Notes of an individual has lately taken place in town. The notes are denominated “Post Bills” and are placed in Circulation on the responsibility of Mr. Tawell.’ It is not clear whether the term ‘novel’ refers to the actual issue of notes or to the use of the term ‘Post Bill.’ If the latter, it is probable that post bills were not used to any extent prior to this announcement.

            Post notes were notoriously used by Benjamin Boyd, a Scottish entrepreneur and adventurer, who established a range of business and investment interests in New South Wales. Prior to his arrival in the colony, he established the Royal Bank of Australia in London, backed principally by investors from Edinburgh. During his sojourn in New South Wales Boyd’s business activities were diverse and grand. His Royal Bank of Australia issued £1 post notes (see Figure 14) that read:

Sydney 184_
I Promise to pay the Bearer on the___________
day of _______ 184__ at Sydney the Sum of
ONE POUND Sterling with Interest to that day at the
rate of Five Per Cent Per Annum.
For the DIRECTORS and COMPANY of the Royal Bank of Australia.

An under print behind the text, in hollow characters, reads:


            These notes appear to have been issued toward the end of the 1840s, but they were not the only notes issued by Boyd. While he issued promissory notes from his store in Twofold Bay, he also issued notes by the ‘Australian Wool Company.’[29] Boyd’s enterprises famously failed and any mention of Boyd’s activities and note issues recall the infamy of his enterprises.

            While it might be considered the use of post bills and post notes in Australia were the tools of the shady entrepreneur, given the examples of Tawell and Boyd, post bills were in fact used by many respectable and successful establishments. However, it is clear the use of post notes and bank post bills in Australia fell into two classes. There were low denomination notes, such as Boyd’s £1 notes, and there were high denomination notes, typically of £100, that were really fixed deposits.

            In 1855, the English, Scottish and Australian Bank was offering 2% interest on bank post bills for a two month term, 3% for three months, and 3.5% for six months.[30] In 1855, the Colonial Bank of Australia was established and the minutes of the meeting recording the presentation of the bank’s prospectus state that fixed deposits would be ‘represented by “bank post bills”, which could be discounted.’[31] In 1856 and 1857, advertisements for the Australian Joint Stock Bank were offering interest on bank post bills in Brisbane and Sydney.[32] When the Commercial Bank of Australia commenced business in 1866, ‘Depositors were offered interest on current accounts, and, for fixed deposits, “post bills” which would be transferable.’[33]

            Although issued specifically as a type of fixed deposit, it is apparent the notes could be discounted and were transferable. Although there is a paucity of evidence, it appears only the larger denomination bank post bills survived into the later part of the nineteenth century in Australia.

            While there is no documentary record of the Union Bank of Australia issuing bank post bills, a remainder of this type of bill survives (see Figure 15). The text on the bill reads:

Bank Post Bill.
Union Bank of Australia
At __________ days after date We Promise to
pay to ___________ or Order the Sum of
ONE HUNDRED POUNDS Stg. Payble at the Branch of this Bank ____
For the Directors and Company

            There are several differences to the post notes of Ben Boyd and the bank post bill of the Union Bank of Australia. The first item is a ‘Post Note’ as opposed to a ‘Bank Post Bill’ and the first note is for the small sum of £1, while the second is for the substantial sum of £100. The first note declares an interest rate of 5% per annum, where the second document offers no interest. The first document has an issue date, but no redemption date, allowing the interest to accrue for an indeterminate period. The second document has an issue date and a specific redemption date; i.e. a specified number of days after date. Boyd’s note was evidently acquired for £1 and increased its value over a period of time by accruing interest. It is assumed the Union Bank’s bank post bill was bought at a discount, depending on the prevailing interest rates, and it would never be worth more than the face value of £100.

            It is probable that the proliferation of bank post bills in New South Wales after 1846 was due to British Imperial Regulations governing banks, which were introduced in 1840 and amended in 1846. Under these regulations banks were limited to the type of business they could undertake. They were not permitted to ‘advance money on the security of lands or houses or ships, or on pledge of merchandize,’ but a bank ‘shall confine its transactions to discounting Commercial Paper and Negotiable Securities, and other legitimate Banking Business.’[34] Interestingly, in the legislation there is an example of a ‘Return’ to be furnished for each bank, with one line entry being ‘Bills and Notes in circulation bearing Interest.’ This clearly indicates the ready acceptance of interest-bearing bills such as bank post bills and post notes.

            The amended legislation of 1846 gave a greater impetus to the use of bank post bills. Under the Regulations of 1840, the bank could issue ‘Promissory Notes, or otherwise’ up to three times the amount of paid-up capital of the bank, plus the amount held in deposits. While this condition was repeated in a similar manner in the Regulations of 1846, for ‘Bonds, Bills, Promissory Notes, or otherwise,’ a new clause stated ‘Promissory notes payable on demand, issued and in circulation’ could only be issued to the value of the paid up capital stock of the company. So, in order to reach the threshold of three times the paid-up capital, instruments other than notes payable on demand had to be issued. Bank post bills thus came into their own, as they were not payable on demand.

Bank Post Bills in Singapore

Post bills were issued in Singapore by the Chartered Bank of India, Australia and China from 1859 and post bills were later prepared for use at the bank’s agencies at ‘Thaiping’ and ‘Kwala Lumpor.’[35] When the Chartered Bank of India, Australia and China received its charter, the bank was granted the right to issue notes payable on demand at any of its branches, but not at its agencies.[36] The Chartered Bank opened an agency at Singapore on February 19, 1859, but while Singapore remained an agency it could not issue notes on demand, so the manager of the agency, Mr. David Duff, circumvented the law by issuing post bills payable at three days sight. The post bills were issued in denominations of $5, $10, $50 (see Figure 16), and $100[37] over a short period of time, and by February 1860, some $51,000 had been issued. The bank quickly sought to establish the agency as a branch and this was achieved by a supplementary charter granted on July 20, 1861. After this time it was unnecessary to issue post bills.

            The use of post bills, with their characteristic ‘sight clause,’ was once more contemplated later in the century. In 1888, the Chartered Bank decided to open agencies in Taiping (Malaya) and Kuala Lumpur. Faced with the same problem, of their agencies being unable to issue banknotes, the bank once more sought to issue post bills. To this end their bank-note printer, W.W. Sprague and Co., prepared $5 and $10 notes to be issued in ‘Thaiping’ and ‘Kwala Lumpor.’ Specimens stamped with a date of 1 April 1889 exist, but it is understood these notes were not issued (see Figure 17 and Figure 18).

            These bills prepared by the Chartered Bank were never intended to be used as post bills, to remit funds sent through the post. By the time these post bills were issued, the widespread use of these instruments as currency was well known and they were concocted to circumvent a point in law which denied the agencies a right to issue banknotes.

A Question of Form

One definition of a post note which omits the concept of interest is: ‘Post notes differ only from demand notes in being payable after a certain time has passed.’[38] This definition is not entirely accurate, as it ignores the clauses whereby bank post bills and post notes are paid. Banknotes are payable on demand and bank post bills are usually not. Importantly, some of the instruments discussed here were payable to order and some were payable to the bearer. When paid to ‘order’ the post bill must be endorsed by the holder and made payable to the recipient when transferred. When paid to ‘bearer,’ no action was required for the transfer of ownership, other than handing over the note.

            Bank post bills issued by the Bank of England were payable to an individual ‘or order’ a number of days after sight. Thus the bill might be paid to the person to whom the post bill was made out, or the post bill could be transferred by endorsement and paid to the last individual to whom the note had been endorsed.

            The notes issued by Tawell in New South Wales were payable to an individual or ‘bearer,’ while those of Ben Boyd were simply payable to ‘bearer.’ In these cases, no endorsement was required and the notes simply passed from hand to hand until they were presented to the issuer. The note issued by the Union Bank of Australia was payable to an individual or order, in the same manner as the Bank of England post bills.

            The post bills issued in Singapore were payable to the order of an individual and could thus be endorsed to another individual and this was also the case with the post bills issued by the Irish banks and the private English banks. Interestingly, for post bills payable to order, the phrasing altered between the forms ‘I promise to pay <individual person> or order ...’ and ‘I promise to pay to the order of <individual person> ...’

            In the United States, several forms of text were used. The City Trust and Banking Company used three forms on a series of post notes they issued. On the $1 post note the text read .’.. will pay One Dollar on demand to the bearer ...,’ while on the $2 post notes the text similarly read '... will pay Two Dollars to the bearer on demand ...’ The same text, apart from the denomination, appeared on the $5 notes, but on the $50 post note, the text read .’..will pay Fifty Dollars to <individual person> or bearer ...’

            While a number of other banks also paid to an individual person ‘or bearer,’ other forms were used. The Bank of Chillicote offered their post notes to be ’... payable to <individual person> or order ...’ and while the Bank of Commerce in Buffalo issued a $5 note that promised ‘to pay <individual person> or order ...,’ a proof post note of this bank promises it will ‘pay on demand <blank> Dollars to <individual person> or <type> ..., where ‘type’ is presumed to offer the issuer the choice of using ‘order’ or ‘bearer.’ (The US post notes also varied in paying notes ‘on demand,’ or so many days or months ‘after date.’)


From the examples illustrated here, it can be seen that bank post bills and post notes formed important functions as currency or quasi-currency for many years in several parts of the world. While they were initially used for remitting funds by post, this role was adjusted in several cases. Certainly, in the cases of Singapore, where they were issued to circumvent a point in law, and in New South Wales, where they became a means of taking term deposits, their original use became forgotten.

            It is surprising that bank post bills and post notes are rarely to be found on the collector market. While they are reasonably available for issues from Ireland and the United States, they are rarely to be found for English issues, where they began in 1728 and finished in 1934. In Australia they are very rare and the high denominations of these instruments means most were processed, leaving none outstanding and subsequently available to later collectors. However, even cancelled or unissued bank post bills or post notes are rarely, if ever, seen. The unissued post bills of Singapore are not easy to acquire, although the issues of 1859 are available.

            There is more to be found on the subject of bank post bills and post notes. For example a specimen post bill prepared for the Bank of Bengal dated 18__ became known in early 2009.[39] However, this note, unlike other known post bills, carries the word ‘DUPLICATE’; i.e. it was evidently not a sola bill, and the text does not indicate a delay in payment; e.g. ‘after 7 days.’ The text reads:

On Demand I Promise to pay to .............. or order the sum of Company Rupees ..................
Value received from ................

This Indian post bill is a mystery and it is probable there are more examples of post bills to uncover, particularly in the former colonies of the British Empire, where it might be expected the British banking system found influence. In the world of paper money, there is more to be discovered, more to learn, and more to study.

Note on Illustrations



This article was completed in November 2009
© Peter Symes