Although these pages usually explore ‘folly’ in the sense of an ornamental, quirky, or extravagant building, the word has of course another definition: what the Oxford English Dictionary describes as ‘foolishness or deficiency in understanding; lack of good sense’. Such was the ethos of the short-lived Bank Of Folly, established and closed down within a day.
In 1847 a ‘banknote’ appeared in circulation of which only a few survive today. The promissory note did not offer great riches, being issued by that august institution the Bank of Folly, and offered instead a ‘Promise to make you or any other Person an April Fool on reading this’. The Bank of Folly traded for only one day – or in fact for only a morning if you are one of the purists who believe April Fool pranks expire at noon.
There was a fashion in the 19th century for such ‘skit notes’ and they became very collectable. This example is from the Herbert Art Gallery in Coventry, but there is also one in the Special Collections at Nottingham University Library, and copies also appear occasionally at specialist numismatic auctions. Many skit notes were issued as a form of marketing, and advertised shops or entertainment. Others, such as the two featured here, were only ever intended as jokes to be circulated amongst friends.
The copy in the Nottingham collections differs slightly from the one pictured above in that it substitutes the word ‘Spooney’ for ‘person’ (look underneath the number top right). ‘Spooney’ is an archaic term for a silly or foolish person: the word was unknown to the Folly Flâneuse, but will surely now enter her vocabulary. The image shows a man carrying out a gesture known as ‘thumbing his nose’, or ‘cocking a snook’, a phrase with seemingly vague origins but meaning to openly show contempt.
Probably produced by the same hand was a more romantic banknote issued on Valentine’s Day 1847:
To conclude, all of this has nothing whatsoever to do with architectural conceits. By way of apology for this April Fool’s Day frivolity, the main image is the absolute delight that is the Museum at Enville in Staffordshire, photographed when the bluebells were out in April 2022.
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