Currency > Intaglio Prints & Souvenir Cards

Intaglio printing is the technique used to create U.S and most foreign currency notes, which is why I am drawn to it.  Intaglio is one of the four major classes of printmaking techniques, distinguished from the other three methods (relief printing, stenciling, and lithography) by the fact that the ink forming the design is printed only from recessed areas of the plate.  Among intaglio techniques are engraving, etching, drypoint, aquatint, and mezzotint.

Intaglio printing is the opposite of relief printing, in that the printing is done from ink that is below the surface of the plate. The design is cut, scratched, or etched into the printing surface or plate, which can be copper, zinc, aluminum, magnesium, plastics, or even coated paper. The printing ink is rubbed into the incisions or grooves, and the surface is wiped clean. Unlike surface printing, intaglio printing—which is actually a process of embossing the paper into the incised lines—requires considerable pressure. Intaglio processes are probably the most versatile of the printmaking methods, as various techniques can produce a wide range of effects.

I was very interested to find a myriad of really beautiful and striking artwork that is Intaglio Printed — including a subset of items called “Souvenir Cards” which are produced and sold by the Bureau of Engraving and Printing (BEP) in Washington, D.C.  A sample is shown above from the “Ideals in Allegory: Democracy” Intaglio Print Series currently on sale at the BEP for $22.50.

Item: State Shields Proof, Green (B-113) – 1988 Fun Show Orlando, FL 
Number Printed: 2,500
Link to Full Size Image: Obverse

State Shields Proof, Green (B-113) – 1988 Fun Show Orlando, FL 


  1. One of my all time favorite Intaglio Prints — it reminds me of currency, probably from the George Washington portrait at the bottom, which is the Official Seal of Washington State.
  2. This print was produced in three ink colors: green, blue, and brown.
  3. There were only 2,500 prints made initially of each color, and the unsold remainder was destroyed, so the actual population is likely less.

Details:  In honor of the 200th Anniversary of the Constitution, the Bureau of Engraving and Printing issued this Intaglio Print of State Shields united in a central design reflecting a rich heritage of US Statehood.  This print artistically depicts the joining of the thirteen original colonies at the center – and surrounding are official seals from states that joined later.  The original die was located in the vault of the Bureau of Engraving and Printing, after languishing there for nearly 100 years, and was used in the production of this exquisite piece of art.  This die, created in the year 1900, was originally used to print the back of consol bonds.  Consol bonds (short for consolidated bonds or annuities) was a name given to certain U.S Government debt issued in the form of perpetual bonds, redeemable at the option of the Government.  The bond was originally issued in 1900, became due in 1930, and was issued in denominations of $50, $100, $500, and $1000.  The individual shields or arms were previously used on first and second charter national bank notes.  Their usage in our society evolved from coats-of-arms used in England.