Hunting for Mr. Swan

Peter Symes

Questions with seemingly obvious answers are sometimes the most difficult to satisfy and sometimes the seemingly difficult answers are the obvious. This story, of the hunt for the identity of a banknote signatory, shows how this can be the case.

            The tale commences with the task of identifying the signatories on the banknotes of Iraq. This would, in itself, appear a difficult challenge, as the signatures on the modern notes are written in Arabic and the older signatures are either English or Arabic. While it is often possible to recognize a signature written in English, unless you are knowledgeable in Arabic, the recognition of Arabic signatures is more difficult.

            However, in this instance the names of the Arabic signatories on the modern banknotes were supplied through a contact in Iraq who was a member of the International Bank Note Society. With the modern Arabic signatories identified, the challenge remained to identify the signatories of the notes issued by the Iraq Currency Board – English and Arabic. While the identification of the Arabic signatures appeared to be difficult, surely it would be an easy task to identify the English signatories! This initially proved to be the case, as most signatories were members of the Currency Board. By obtaining copies of the Annual Reports of the Iraq Currency Board, it was possible to identify the members and match their signatures.

            So far the task was relatively easy, even to the extent of identifying the Iraqi members of the Board and thus the Arabic signatures on most of the notes issued by the Board. However, the obvious answers soon ran out when the matter of Iraq’s emergency issue during World War II came to be assessed.

            The notes issued by the Iraq Currency Board were printed in England and nominally issued by the Board in London, although there was a Currency Officer located in Baghdad, who looked after the Board’s interests there. During World War II it became at first unsafe and then impossible to guarantee the delivery of notes to Iraq from Great Britain. In order to secure an adequate supply of notes for Iraq’s burgeoning war-time economy, and to have them safely delivered, the Board decided to order notes from India’s note printing works at Nasik.

            The order of notes consisted of ¼-, ½- and 1-dinar notes. The existing designs could not be used because the original printing plates were in London and, for the same reasons that the notes could not be safely delivered to Iraq, the printing plates could not be delivered to India. The design for each denomination supplied from India was similar to the designs for the existing notes, but they were notably different. The original notes had been designed by Sir. E. Hilton Young, the first Chairman of the Iraq Currency Board, and printed by Bradbury Wilkinson & Company of New Malden, Surrey. These notes initially carried the portrait of King Faisal I, then King Ghazi, and finally the portrait of King Faisal II as a young child. The notes printed at Nasik tried to imitate the style of the design, but the notes were not copied. One of the problems was that the notes printed in India could not include a watermark, so instead of a white area at the left of each note, a patterned area was printed instead. In addition, Nasik did not have intaglio printing presses, so the new Iraqi notes were printed entirely by lithography. However, the end product is very attractive, and there is an amount of detail in the borders and patterns that may even be regarded as improvements on the Bradbury Wilkinson notes.

            The rationale, which dictated that printing plates could not be transported from England to India, also prescribed that specimen signatures of members of the Iraq Currency Board could not be delivered to India, so alternative signatories had to be found. Who were these men chosen to sign the notes in the absence of the members of the Currency Board? The Arabic signatory was identified by contacts in Iraq as Ibrahim Kamal, the Minister of Finance in the Iraqi Government, but there was no indication as to the identity of the second signatory, which was obviously written in English. Reference to the Standard Catalog of World Paper Money showed that the name of the signatory was thought to be ‘Linter’. The first step was to check on the names of the representatives of the Iraq Currency Board in Baghdad. The obvious candidates were the Currency Officers. A check of the names identified Mr. L. M. Swan, Mr. C. N. Towner and Mr. C. E. Loombe. Not a ‘Linter’ amongst them!

            Taking the name ‘Linter’ at face value, reasons were sought as to why a single surname might be used as the signature, instead of the usual style of signature that consists of a forename and surname, or of initials and surname. The obvious answer is that the signatory was a titled gentleman. This was a fairly good assumption, as Viscount Goschen and Lord Kennet both signed the banknotes of Iraq as simply ‘Goschen’ and ‘Kennet’. However a search through reference works on the British peerage elicited no peer with the name ‘Linter’ or any similar name.

            Although the Standard Catalog of World Paper Money had identified the signatory as ‘Linter’, some doubt began to develop as to the veracity of the name. Certainly the signature looked like ‘Linter’, but there are enough mistakes in the standard reference work to suggest that the contributor who nominated ‘Linter’ may not have been certain of his facts. Continued research refused to present anyone associated with the Currency Board with the name of ‘Linter’, or a similar surname, and in the end there was a limit to the research that could be undertaken, as the Iraq Currency Board has not been the subject of many studies.

            Over a period of time, the search appeared quixotic as all avenues of suggestion and research faded. At this stage the whole project of identifying the signatories on the Iraqi banknotes seemed to have stalled with just one signature left to identify. Who would have thought, at the outset of this project, that the exercise would falter due to the failure to identify an ‘English’ signature? Then, in an idle moment, the study of the signature posed a simple question (which should have been asked earlier): ‘Why are there two dots below the leading portion of the signature?’ There are no Latin characters that have dots below the characters and it seemed unlikely that they were both misplaced dots to the letter ‘i’, which might have been the case for one dot. In a split second it became apparent that they were full-stops separating two initials. The signature was quickly interpreted as ‘L. ...’, then ‘L. M. ...’ and finally ‘L. M. Swan’!

            The Baghdad-based Currency Officer was the man being sought all the time. In hindsight the answer is obvious, not just because the signature itself is now so obvious, but because a Currency Officer had been identified as a leading suspect. The obvious answer was in fact the solution!

This article was completed in January 2003
© Peter Symes