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Government Checks: 1919

Government Checks: 1919

Washington, D.C., circa 1919. "War Risk Bureau check writing." From its genesis as a Treasury Department agency at the start of World War I, the Bureau of War Risk Insurance gradually morphed into today's Department of Veterans Affairs. National Photo Co. View full size.


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One more opinion

My interpretation is that the checks are printed on a long roll of paper that advances around the spool from left to right (as viewed by the signer). The woman to the signer's right then separates the checks into sheets of five for later separation into individual checks. To address the issue of writer's cramp, it's likely that they swapped roles every hour or half hour.

Fountain pens

As an old guy who still uses fountain pens, I was fascinated in this machine. It is equipped with 10 of them. The first practical ball point pen was patented in 1938. And they didn't come into mass production until about 1943.

The pens used in this machine obviously did the job. However, fountain pens are, by today's standards, high maintenance. I wonder if they had to be cleaned daily. And filling them might be problematic. In the World War I era, most fountain pens had an ink bladder which was filled by pushing down a lever on the side. In order to do that, the pens would have to be removed from their brackets and filled individually. I cannot see the ends of the barrels clearly, but it seems it would take less time and effort to fill open ended pens with an eyedropper. There must also be some sort of mechanism that keeps the pens elevated when the stylus is not in use. Otherwise, all the ink would flow out, ruining the checks.

[The ink wont't flow until the nibs are pressed against the paper. - Dave]


In Britain the Treasury Department is the Exchequer.

Approved by President Wilson

The checks in the photo look similar to this one.

Two hands

It looks like the check signing machine needs two hands. I think she moves the pens up and down with the stylus thing in her right hand and her left hand turns a crank to move the the paper to the left (You can see gears to the left of her left hand). She has to coordinate the two motions to get something that looks like a signature.

Thomas Jefferson's idea

Ask me what time it is

... so I can show off my wristwatch. I absolutely love it!

Multiple counts of Forgery

Hopefully the lady on the right doing the signing got a "A" in penmanship in school.
At some point she would probably get writers cramp and need to be relieved. Does that mean her replacement's checks had a signature that looked different?

Traveler's Checks

45 years ago I would have loved to have had that gizmo. Wasn't thinking about signing $5000 in traveler's checks in $50 increments when I bought them. That device would certainly have helped.

Wonder how many people in the department were authorized to sign checks. That machine only does 10 at a time.


Yes, that thing is a pantograph, for writing multiple signatures at once, on checks or bonds, for instance.

"Sign on the dotted line"

When I worked for E. F. Hutton (NYC) in the late 1970's, I signed stock in the same way. The woman on the right would sign on a pad with a stylus type pen (no ink). Her signature would transfer to the 10 inked pens. The woman on the left would feed the checks 10 at a time.

Job from Hell.

That poor lady. RSI after the first week of work.

You'd think they might automate the process by replacing her with an etched signature plate or something.

Thanks for the reminder

I need to cash that check. Hmm, where did I put it?

10 pen pantograph!!!

She sure had a lot of signin' to do!


I'm dying to see that gizmo in action. How did it work? Did the the lady on the left "sign" with that stylus and then all the pens copied her?? It's like something out of a cartoon!!

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