As we enter the new year, the paper money collector and dealer community journeys to Florida for the FUN show. While more widely known as a coin show, there are still a good number of both U.S. and world currency dealers in attendance, and the bourse activity and related auction set the tone for the new year. As in previous years, Heritage will conduct two separate paper money sales, one for U.S. currency (4,854 lots) and one for world bank notes (2,491 lots). The following week will see a bundle of world currency cross the block from both Stacks’ Bowers (401 lots) and Spink, as part of the New York International Numismatic Convention.
Despite the lack of a major show in December, the year ended in a flurry of activity. Heritage held a world paper money auction in Hong Kong which realized a total of nearly $1.3 million. Lyn Knight held an online only sale of U.S. and world paper, and Archives International held a sale of world paper.
SELDOM-SEEN CONFEDERATE CURRENCY ALBUMS UP FOR OFFER
While previewing the upcoming auction activity, two items in particular caught our attention for multiple reasons: their similarity, their differences, and their historical significance. The first is an original album of Confederate States of America currency produced by New York City coin dealer C.H. Bechtel. Just over a decade after the conclusion of the Civil War, Bechtel created an elegant, leather-bound work, titled “Album for Confederate Notes,”
which offered 90 pages on which to mount a complete type set of issued notes. The example being offered by Heritage contains a nearly complete set, including all four of the Montgomery types, which was assembled by a collector-most likely in the 1880s. All of the notes are mounted onto the pages with stamp hinges.
The second item is also a Confederate currency album. Remarkably, just nine days after the Bechtel album is to be sold, Kolbe & Fanning Numismatic Booksellers will offer a Raphael P. Thian Master Album of Confederate Currency as part of their 2017 New York Book Auction. Thian, the earliest and most famous serious student of the Confederate series, produced a number of works on the subject. He was in a unique position as an employee of the administrative arm of the U.S. Army to handle CSA notes and study the Confederate States Treasury records. The Master Albums, as they are known today, go beyond housing a type set of notes and instead have pages to display all known varieties of notes, such as plate, watermark, and imprint differences. Such a study was quite uncommon at the time, as most collectors were only concerned with dates or types. The Master Album to be sold this month is 418 pages and contains 285 Confederate notes, carefully mounted with stamp hinges like the Bechtel album. There are also 12 reproductions, which leads to one of the major differences between the Thian album and the Bechtel album. The first six Confederate types in the Thian album are reproductions while the Bechtel’s are originals. Since the Thian album is hand-dated 1906, it is likely that the reason photographic reproductions were used is because the four Montgomery types were already rare and valuable at the time. Almost all of the notes in both books are in circulated condition, proving their actual use in wartime commerce.
These two albums not only display the enthusiasm that early numismatists had for Confederate currency, but also the impact the Civil War itself had on them. By preserving these notes one cannot help but wonder if there was hope that their memory would prevent such an event to occur again in America. Numismatics have been used in such a way more than once. Their existence surely inspired later works on the subject, including the famous Criswell books of the second half of the 20th century and the current works by Pierre Fricke.
Is it coincidence that two of these albums are coming to market at the same time? It can be said that we are in a period of a generational “turning over” of currency collectors. As they retire from collecting and decide to sell their holdings is when the next generation is given the opportunity to own such pieces. This is the fuel that drives so many collectors, the thought of “what’s next” as new discoveries and long-held items enter the marketplace.
BY PATRICK IAN PEREZ, EDITOR