Display of royal portraits on our money includes ‘devil’s head’ banknote

From Victoria to Elizabeth, the faces of royalty have appeared on Canadian government banknotes — and not always in the most flattering light.

A devil’s face grins behind the Queen’s left ear in this 1954 one-dollar banknote.

A devil’s face grins behind the Queen’s left ear in this 1954 one-dollar banknote.

From Victoria to Elizabeth, the faces of royalty have appeared on Canadian government banknotes — and not always in the most flattering light.

Portraits of all those royals — others include Princess Patricia, Prince Arthur, Princess Mary and King George VI — are on display in Royal Generations, an exhibit at the Bank of Canada’s Currency Museum honouring the visit to Canada by Prince William and Kate.

Having royalty on Canadian money “underlines the strength of the currency,” says Paul Berry, the museum’s chief curator.

In the 19th century, even the monarch’s representative in Canada, the governor general, was often shown on the currency, along with his spouse.

In addition to engraved portraits, the exhibit includes samples of banknotes, such as a $25 bill from 1935 showing King George V beside Queen Mary.

As well, there is equipment used in the making of paper money, such as engraving tools and plates. The engraving process goes back centuries and has changed “remarkably little” over the years, the museum says.

Also displayed is the original steel engraving of Elizabeth used for the notorious “devil’s head” notes of the mid-1950s.

“After the notes had been out for about two years (in every denomination from $1 to $1,000), someone happened to notice that if you focused on the highlights of the Queen’s hair directly above her left ear, it took on the appearance of a grinning demon with bulging eyes and a large crooked nose,” said Berry.

The bank subsequently ordered its printers to “tone down” the highlights so the image could not be seen, he said.

There is no legal requirement to put the reigning monarch on banknotes, Berry said.

Designs are developed by the Bank of Canada and approved by the minister of finance. Former prime ministers Robert Borden, Wilfrid Laurier and Sir John A. Macdonald are among those on current notes.

Royal Generations is on display until Aug. 1. The Currency Museum is located in the Bank of Canada buildings in downtown Ottawa. Admission is free.