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 1892, 1907, and 1923 publications.
In addressing methods used by criminals known as "check raisers," an 1892 book states: "While it is true that many men fill in their checks so carelessly as to aid the forger, yet care in this regard is not a prevention against check raising. It is an easy matter to change a six, a seven or a nine dollar check to sixty, seventy or ninety, respectively. It is an easy matter to change twenty to seventy." A man reportedly "gave a check for two hundred dollars. In a few weeks it was charged to him, at the bank, as five hundred dollars. The forger had made the f 's cross on the stem of the capital T and removed the last line of the 'o' in the 'two' [so the 'o' could be changed to 'e'] and dotted the first part of the 'w' [so it appeared to be 'iv']. Even the tinted paper used by many...is not a safeguard against check raising, for the forger removes the lines or letters with chloride of lime and, after raising the check, supplies the tint by the use of crayon or water color and a fine pointed pen. The check is then subjected to the calender machine and comes out seemingly perfect. Even the check punches which are coming rapidly into use are not preventives, for there are instances where the figures cut out of the check by these machines have been filled, and by the use of great pressure rendered almost proof against detection. The checks are then altered and a similar check-punch used to perforate the raised amount." (John B. Duryea, A Practical Treatise on the Business of Banking and Commercial Credits, 1892, pp. 176-77)
According to a book published in 1907, drafts "are skillfully altered or
raised by the addition of the word hundred or thousand and of the necessary
ciphers. Where the writing or figures of a draft are to be altered, the
original is obliterated by the use of chemicals, and where sensitive paper is
used the proper color is returned. Even when fine lines are made by the
lithographer upon the draft as a protection against alteration and they become
partially destroyed in the alteration, they are replaced by the expert penman in
so skillful a manner as to almost defy detection. Even the punched-out
holes, giving the amount, are most skillfully filled up by pieces of the same
size, and by the use of paper pulp, the whole being afterwards ironed so as to
completely obliterate the former punchings, and new punchings are made to
correspond with the raised figures." (Albert B. Barrett, Modern Banking
Methods, 5th ed., Bankers Publishing Co, New York, NY, 1907, p. 298)
Three pages from a 1923 publication are provided below:
William J. Burns, Stories of Check Raisers and How to
Protect Yourself, 1923, pp. 13, 19-20.
Click on the images to enlarge.
Bank Checks Designed to Prevent Alteration
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.
Check used in 1837 (left).
Wells Fargo & Co. money order (right, see left end of the top money order).
(Wells Fargo Museum, San Francisco, CA)
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:
Image from U.S. Patent No. 68,448, awarded
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:
Murphy's Unalterable Stereographic Bank Check, 1858 (left)
Check printed in 1860s and used in 1878 (middle)
Check with Mendel's Patented Protective Tint, 1881 (right).
Mendel was awarded U.S. Patent No. 216,625 in 1879 for Improvements in Ink for
Printing Protective Tints on Commercial and other Blanks.
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.
Berolzheimer check protector, patented 1869
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
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
"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
||Check Protector Models
We have seen checks dated 1874-83 and 1917 with quilted patterns. The 1874
check above left has the quilted pattern over the dollar figure, which was
typical. The 1883 check above right has the quilted pattern over the
signature, which was less common.
|Embosses over dollar figure
||Top left: Security
Top right: B. B. Hill, Pearl, Grabler,
We have seen checks with perforated numerals dated 1873 (above left) and
1889-1908. We have also seen a check dated 1875 that was perforated with
the word "PAID" (above right)
|Numerals formed by small round perforations
||Abbott, Acme, Chicago, S&P
||Perforations are indelibly inked
We have seen checks with punched numerals dated 1871 (above left,
scanned against red paper) and 1887-1910. Checks with punched numerals are more common
than checks with perforated numerals throughout the years 1887-1910.
out of paper
|Automatic Bank, Lightning,
Standard, US, and Williams Check Punches
1900 check with inked numerals
|Cuts but does not remove any of the
paper & inserts indelible ink into the fibers
The 1898 check on the left is protected with "LESS
THAN ONE DOLLAR," which may have been written with a hand
stamp. The 1912 check on the right is protected with "NOT MORE
THAN FIFTEEN DOLLARS $15." We have seen protection similar to
the latter on checks dated 1909-16.
|Printed line setting upper limit
1915 check with macerated words in black and red ink. We have seen
similar protection on checks dated 1914-24.
|Macerates words in check & inserts black
& red ink
||Protectograph (1913 model) (top
specimen at left), Peerless Junior (bottom specimen at left)
||Macerates words in check & inserts red ink
1918 check with macerated words
and numerals. We have seen similar protection on checks from 1918-38.
|Combined words & numerals
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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