Protection of Checks Against Fraud
By the early 19th century, various methods were used to attempt
to prevent raising of the
monetary figures and altering the payee on checks and other financial
documents. Some background on various methods used to reduce the ability of
people to raise the amounts on checks and the ways criminals responded is provided immediately
below, based on 1907 and 1923 publications.
Both before and after the introduction of mechanical check protectors, some checks were protected in one of a great many other ways. One method was to print upper limit dollar amounts along the edge of the check, with lower limits closer to the body of the check and larger limits farther away, and then to cut off all but the lowest of the printed amounts that exceeded the value of the check. Two examples are provided below.
A second method was to print numbers on the check and then mark or punch those numbers. An example from a patent is provided below:
A third form of protection was use of paper that facilitated detection of alterations. There were many approaches, e.g., paper was impregnated with chemicals, made of fiber layers with different colors, or printed with patterns. Two early examples are provided U.S. Patent No. 4,143 awarded in 1845 and U.S. Patent No. 5,171 awarded in 1847.. Three examples from the second half of the 19th century are shown below:
Antique Mechanical Check Protectors
In 1869, Max Emanuel Berolzheimer of New York, NY, was awarded US Patent No. 97,344 for a check protector that was designed to punch holes in checks that had been printed to be used with this particular machine. This is the earliest evidence of a mechanical check protector that we have found. We do not know whether it was actually marketed. The illustration below left shows the machine. The illustration below right shows the pattern that was printed on the checks as well as another image of the machine and an image of the female die.
Leffingwell reports that "The patent office records show the first form of mechanical protection to have been a 'check puncher,' patented in 1870. Soon the master 'scratchers' discovered that anything which is punched or cut out of pieces of paper can be restored." While that may have been the case, check punches were the most common form of check protector used in the late 19th century. A perforating machine for checks, which may have been a check protector or a check canceler, was exhibited by John R. Hoole of New York, NY, at the 1876 Centennial Exhibition.
"One of the earliest models of check protectors introduced the fundamental principle of forcing into the paper the words representing the amount, making them part of the fiber. The first machine operating on this principle was fitted together in 1899. This early model [made by G.W. Todd] embossed the approximate amount of a draft into the paper, using black ink, in the form of a 'Not Over' or limiting line. The succeeding years, up until 1913, were experimental variations on the 'shredding principles.' The result was the perfecting of a check-writing machine shredding the amount of checks."
"In 1914 a figure-writing check writer was placed on the market [by Hedman]. This machine printed the amount line of a check in figures, stamping the imprint through the paper of the check. In 1917 a new model appeared on the market [made by Hedman, with another made by Safe-Guard] which had diagonal writing and perforation over the payee's name. In 1919 a check protector [made by Checkometer] which printed the amount in numerals and at the same time perforated an uninked design over the payee's name appeared on the market." (W. H. Leffingwell, The Office Appliance Manual, 1926, pp. 185-89.)
Following the present page, the Early Office Museum's first exhibit covers check punches and perforators from 1870 through 1899. The second exhibit covers check protectors from 1900 to the 1920s. The third exhibit covers simpler check protectors, including handheld devices and ones that embossed fine quilted patterns over the writing on checks. The fourth exhibit covers canceling machines, and the fifth covers revenue stamp mutilators.
Ways in which Check Protectors Attempted to Prevent Alteration of the Amounts on Checks
For additional photographs of check protectors, see Michael A. Brown, Antique Check Writers: A Collector's Guide from A to Z, 1998, and Thomas A. Russo, Office Collectibles: 100 Years of Business Technology, Schiffler, 2000.
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