Norges Bank's Printing Works--190 years of banknote production.

Author:Ravnsborg-Gjertsen, Peter

At the end of June 2007, Norges Bank's Printing Works was shut down and banknote production in Norway came to an end. The decision to discontinue operations was made by the Executive Board in 2002. The first banknotes were delivered the year after the establishment of Norges Bank in 1816. Thus, banknotes have been produced in Norway for 190 years. As of 2008, Norwegian banknotes will be delivered by commercial security printers in France and the UK. Closures or transferral to private operators have previously been implemented among state-owned/central bank-owned printing works in the UK, Germany, Sweden and Finland, and there are signs that other countries will follow suit.

The first banknotes

Norges Bank's Printing Works started its activities in 1816, using manual printing presses and private printers to perform the task on the Bank's premises in Christiania (now Oslo). Initially, only the printing of the form took place here. Numbers, dates and signatures (3-5 depending on denomination) were written by hand at the Bank's head office, which was located in Trondheim at the time. Transporting these notes with military escort was a complicated and time-consuming operation, using horse and carriage along the roads of that time, over the Dovre Mountains--and back when the signing was completed and the forms had become notes. It often took twelve days one way. In the first years, the quality was not always up to standard--neither when it came to the print, nor the paper. Norway lacked experience in banknote printing and replacing the old notes was a matter of urgency.

The first notes had the denominations 1 and 5 speciedaler and were issued in 1817. 10, 50 and 100 speciedaler notes were issued the following year. In 1822, 1/2 and 1/5 speciedaler notes were also issued as a result of a shortage of coins--the last of these were withdrawn in 1850. The notes were simple printed material with one-sided, black print on coloured paper and without any particular security features. However, the watermark was already in place and has kept its position to this day. The main colours on the notes have also remained virtually unchanged from that time through all the later series: 100 notes (speciedaler and the krone) red, 50 notes green, 10 notes yellow and 5 notes blue. (The exception is the 10-krone note from 1972, which was printed in blue tones when the 5-krone note was discontinued.) The small denomination notes were printed on white paper. From 1822, banknote printing was transferred to Trondheim and production became more efficient with a new, in-house press.


Two-colour and multicolour printing

The next banknote series, from 1841, had two-coloured print (i.e. one colour in addition to black), but were still only printed on one side. The design had been improved, partly in order to combat counterfeiting (counterfeit notes were largely hand-drawn) and partly for artistic reasons. Numbers, dates and signatures were still written by hand, but printed numbers were eventually introduced.

In the 1860s, when Norges Bank wanted to produce notes with better paper quality and more modem production techniques (based on galvanoplasty and mechanised engraving), Saunders, a paper and banknote manufacturer in London, offered to print the notes. The two parties entered into an agreement and in 1866 a new banknote series was introduced. The notes were printed and completed in London, with two colour prints, on both the obverse and the reverse, in addition to black intaglio print on the obverse. The obverse had a vignette with four men symbolising the main industries in Norway: mining, fishing, farming and shipping. However, after a short period, Norges Bank procured new equipment and all colour printing was gradually transferred to Trondheim, while the intaglio printing for this series continued to take place in London.


Krone banknotes

In 1875, the Storting (Norwegian parliament) decided to join the Scandinavian monetary union, which was based on the gold standard and the denominations krone and ere. One speciedaler was converted to NOK four. The first krone-notes were issued in 1877 with six denominations: 5, 10, 50, 100, 500 and 1000. The 1000-krone note was quite a fortune at the time--corresponding today to about NOK 50 000 when using a consumer price index. This series has later been referred to as Series I. The same colour code was used, but the new denominations 500 and 1000 included rainbow printing...

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