“The Devil’s Hair” Canadian Banknote Controversy

Official currency printed by the government can be prone to mistakes – or, in the case of the 1954 ‘Devil’s Hair’ Canadian bank note, prone to accidental hidden images.

In 1952 the Bank of Canada asked George Gundersen from the British American Bank Note Company to design a bill featuring Queen Elizabeth II. Gundersen based his design on a photographic portrait of the Queen, only changing it slightly to remove her crown and add detail to the top of her hair.

Straightforward enough, right? But the illustration turned out a little different than expected.

All seemed fine until the government put the bill in circulation, when someone complained to the Bank of Canada that they could see the devil’s face in the Queen’s hair. Soon multiple complaints poured in.

Seeing patterns, especially faces, in random data is an almost universal human trait called ‘apophenia’.

They saw the image just over the Queen’s left ear: a grinning demon with horns embedded in the Queen’s hair, the threatening shape formed by the coiffed curls and highlights of her hair. Was this some kind of conspiracy?

The image in question, showing a grinning face with horns.

The image in question, showing a grinning face with horns.

Of course this alarmed the bank, and in 1956 they modified the design to NOT show a devilish grinning face, by darkening the highlights of the hair.

Though some looked for an explanation of the occurence, most attributed it to coincidence. Some suspected the bill designer of planting the face, but he denied any claims.

Years later, some claimed Her Majesty’s portrait photographer, Peter-Dirk Uys, (who took the offending ‘devil’s hair’ portrait) as a follower of Aleister Crowley, an acclaimed devil-worshipper. However, there is no concrete evidence to that claim, and so any conspiracies to that point cannot be proven.

The light probably just so happened to fall on the Queen’s hair in such a way in the original photo, which Gundersen engraved in exact detail for the note.

Now, thanks to a few citizens’ observant eyes and the resulting short issue period of the bill, the “Devil’s Face” banknote is a valued collector’s item. After all, it’s not every day that you find a demon grinning at you from royalty’s hair.


With a closer detail outlining the face

A more detailed account


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