Sweden is well known as an early innovator in the area of paper money, home to the “Palmstrych notes,” first issued in 1661 as a convenience — receipts for the deposit of bulky copper plate money (large copper coins weighing up to approximately 40 pounds each). While that experience was fairly short-lived, it was memorable. Sweden’s central bank, the Riksbank, chartered by parliamentary (the Riksdag’s) decree and founded in 1668 is considered the world’s oldest central bank. While the poor experience with the Palmstrych notes led to an early ban on issuing paper money, the logic and convenience of paper money eventually led the Riksbank to rescind this ban, and by the early 1700s, paper, in the form of the “transportdsedlar,” was back in use.
By the early 19th century a variety of paper issues, official and not, were in circulation, and the issues of the discount offices (discont kontoret) were phased out, in favor of a more centralized control of the money supply out of Stockholm. This proved inefficient, and despite the creation of regional offices of the Riksbank in Malmö and Göteborg, the need for local financing and paper currency was overwhelming. As a result, the Swedish Riksdag (parliament) enacted a law allowing creation of the so-called “privat-banks.” Even before legally permitted, the banks moved on their own initiative, and began printing and issuing their own currency.

Economic growth facilitated by private banks
Just as the United States experienced a lengthy period of economic growth made possible by privately- and then nationally chartered banks, economic progress in Sweden since the early 1800s was facilitated by the activities of these banks. And, while obsolete and then national currency issued by the United States’ institutions circulated nationwide, so too did the notes of the 31 private banks granted authority in Sweden to do so between 1830 and 1891.
The Swedish private bank system could be characterized as a hybrid of the U.S. obsolete currency and National Currency arrangements. On the one hand, paper currency was designed and printed on a bank-by-bank basis, by engravers and printers selected by the banks. On the other hand, notes were redeemable through the Riksbank, and from the 1840s on followed standard denominational and dimensional formats that were identical to the prevailing riksbank issues.
While the private banks notes share similar dimensions with the national Swedish issues, they otherwise vary richly, and are some of the most elegant examples of the engravers' art ever issued. The vast majority of Swedish private bank notes were supplied by either Jacob Bagge, a domestic banknote producer, or the British firm of Bradbury Wilkinson, although two smaller suppliers (Per Axel Nyman and Carl Axel Nyman) also printed these issues. A few notes of identical design exist as produced with both the Bagge and Bradbury imprints.


An early issue from the first issuing private bank, Skånes Privat Bank, opened in Ystad on April 1, 1831. [Reduced size; all notes illustrated are from the collection of the author]

A second bank, the Wermlands Enskilda Bank, opened in Karlstad in southwestern Sweden in 1832.

The Stora Kopparbergs Läns och Bergslags Enskilda Bank, named after and located in the heart of Sweden’s rich copper mining area, opened in Falun in 1835. The backs of the later issues [of 1894] include a finely detailed engraving of the “Falu Grav,” source of uncountable tons of the copper ore which paid the bills for Swedish aggression for over a hundred years and which provided the roof of Versailles.

The last issuing bank authorized, Norrbottens Enskilda Bank, opened in Luleå in 1891.

Because the notes were redeemable at the Riksbank and its regional offices, and because they were a valuable source of financing (“float") to the issuing organizations, the private banks went to remarkable lengths to increase the life of a note in circulation. Individuals were employed to carry the notes to comparatively remote areas in Sweden and asked to insert the notes into circulation. Notes presented to the Riksbank were not reissued, driving a significant total note issuance volume, but explaining why these issues are rare today relative to their printing and issuance figures.

While the banks took widely differing approaches to their designs, many of the notes display rich allegorical engravings, such as Mercury reclining on the 1893 Norrbotten 10 kronor note, and the spread eagle which predominates on all of the Wermlands issues, both illustrated above. Many have historical vignettes, such as Queen Kristina on the 1881-83 issues of the Westerbottens issues, Gustav Vasa appearing at the left on the Stora Kopparberg issues of 1894, and Carl von Linne in cameo style profile on the reverse of the Småland issues of 1894. Lastly, some of the geographical vignettes offer superb visual insight into the local points of pride, such as the custom engraving of the magnificent Kalmar castle on the Kalmar Enskilda Bank notes of 1894, which also feature Denmark’s Queen Margaret, ruler at the time of the creation of the Kalmar Union in 1397:

In 1897, it was determined that the Riksbank would become the sole bank note issuing authority in Sweden. Privatbanks were allowed to issue notes until 1903 and in 1906 were to begin redeeming circulating notes. Redeemed notes were cancelled in a variety of ways: stamped “Betald” [paid] or “Inlost” [received], round, star-shaped, and small hole perforations in patterns as well as crudely cut four-sided holes in the signature blocks were also used.
By Mark B. Anderson