Banking with sealskin

On September 12, 1933, a customer made an unusual request at the Bank of Montreal’s Waterloo Place branch in London. While buying seal furs from a trapper in Spitzbergen, part of the Norwegian Svalbard archipelago in the Arctic Circle, Lieutenant R. Greenwood had found himself without cheques – or, in fact, any paper at all. There, in one of the world’s most northerly inhabited areas, and with no means to pay the trapper, Lt. Greenwood was forced to improvise, and wrote a cheque upon a piece of sealskin.

An article about the incident in the December 1933 issue of the BMO Staff Magazine noted that endorsing the cheque “presented some difficulty,” as the furry back of the sealskin proved to be a challenging surface to write on. Branch staff solved the problem by placing a barb in the sealskin, and attaching a slip of paper to it. With that, the sealskin cheque was endorsed!


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