Michele Orzano

Paper, Ink and Steel

Michele Orzano

Michele Orzano, senior editor, paper money, is responsible for the vast majority of Coin World’s paper money coverage and edits Paper Money, a section of the monthly Coin World. She joined the Coin World staff in 1985, and in addition to paper money, has written extensively on legislative and legal topics, including Coin World's ambitious coverage of the 50 State quarters circulating commemorative coin program.

 

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    Recalling the 'grand old lady' of bank notes: Ruth Walden Hill

    October 10, 2014 1:12 PM by

    Paper money aficionados are attracted to bank notes like ants scurry to a lollipop dropped on a sidewalk.

    The sweetness of finding just the right note to expand or start a collection is irresistible.

    But the notes are more than just a physical record of a country’s economic existence. The designs often tell a story, and the printed dates on the notes nail down a specific time in world events.

    The story of the humans who’ve designed, used and saved these bits of history can become especially sweet memories.

    A collector who seemed to understand the human aspect of collecting was Ruth Walden Hill. She died in 1995 at the age of 96 and spent almost half a century collecting paper money from around the world.

    In an article published by Coin World in 1979, Mrs. Hill said:“Frankly, I have no favorite note. It is the excitement of the many facets of paper money that interest me.”

    Heritage Auctions began offering some of her abundant collection of world bank notes at the April 2014 Central States Numismatic Society convention, and is continuing with sales at future Signature Auctions and Tuesday Internet sales.

    Plain, exotic and historic notes all rub elbows, so to speak, in these sales.

    Some examples include a 1934 Soviet Union 5-ruble note with a bland design. But it’s not the design that attracts the eye, it’s the bold, hand-signed autograph of entertainer Bob Hope across the center of the note. Imagine the stories told about how the autograph was obtained by a member of the armed services before it came to reside in Hill’s collection.

    Hope’s first overseas USO tour was in 1943, and Russia is mostly likely where this portion of a short-snorter was signed. This note, along with an Iranian note also bearing Hope’s autograph, sold for $56 Sept. 8, 2014, at the Heritage Auctions Long Beach Expo World Currency Signature sale.

    A short snorter is a note signed by various persons traveling together or who met up at different events, and the note records the meeting, according to the website for The Short Snorter Project. The website tells the story of the tradition, which started in the 1920s, and that once involved alcohol and IOUs. The notion of creating and collecting such monetary remembrances spread throughout the U.S. armed forces and was particularly popular during World War II.

    Plain would not be the way to describe the design on the face of a very rare 1905 Bank of Portugal 50-mil-real-ouro note with a connection to one of Portugal’s far-flung possessions. The auction catalog described it as “a masterpiece of engraver’s art depicting ships navigating about rocks in rough seas,” with busts of Portuguese explorers Perode Alenquer and Diogo Cao at lower left and right foreground with an anchor between them.

    An exotic design from an exotic place. The Azores, a group of nine volcanic islands in the North Atlantic Ocean, are one of two autonomous regions of Portugal.

    The note, graded by PCGS Currency as Very Fine 25 Apparent for a minor stain on the face near the bottom center, sold for $3,525 by Heritage on April 24, 2014, during the Central States Numismatic Society convention.

    A note from the short-lived nation of Katanga provides current and future generations with a tangible piece of history.

    The design on the face of a National Bank of Katanga 100-franc note, dated Aug. 15, 1962, shows a woman hold ears of corn that appear to be freshly harvested.

    The State of Katanga was a breakaway state from 1960 to 1963. It proclaimed its independence from the Republic of Congo-Leopoldville during a coup. A few short months after the note illustrated here was placed in circulation, the leaders of the breakaway state surrendered. The state was absorbed into its former homeland.

    The Katanga note, graded Very Fine by the auction firm, sold for $99.88 at the Long Beach Expo World Currency Signature Auction Sept. 4 to 8, 2014, by Heritage Auctions.

    So who was this woman who amassed such a fascinating collection?

    Mrs. Adolf B. Hill Jr. III, as she liked her letters to be addressed, was widely considered to be the “grand old lady” of paper money collecting in North America, according to the biography for her induction in 2010 into the International Bank Note Society’s Hall of Fame.

    Her interest in paper money began in the 1950s shortly after the death of her husband, Adolph. Her friends remember her as generous with her time and knowledge.

    Paper money dealer Dusty Royer of Missouri said she was “first of all a collector, so condition [of the note] was secondary.”  

    Royer remembers Mrs. Hill as always being willing to help other collectors and especially researchers.

    In his Note-ables column published in the May 25, 1998, issue of Coin World, Gene Hessler reflection on his quarter century friendship with Hill.

    “Ruth Hill was an extremely good friend and she had considerable influence on me.  At American Numismatic Association conventions and the Memphis International Paper Money Show, we always spent time together talking paper money and socializing. Ruth’s extreme generosity included invitations to her many friends to join her for dinner during numismatic gatherings.”

    The notes the gracious “grand old lady” collected have been preserved for future generations of collectors. They are a tangible reminder of a time and place not many of us will ever experience.

    The notes are available to collectors who treasure the story behind the note as much as the note itself.

    Paper money errors can make a collector's day

    September 9, 2014 4:05 PM by

    Errors are the headache of the manufacturing world. But paper money errors can sometimes make a collector’s day.

    As with any production process, errors will occur and the processes used at the Bureau of Engraving and Printing in paper money production are no exception.

    Error dealers and collectors have always told me the types of errors that can be clearly spotted by anyone tend to draw a higher price than errors that are more subtle.

    That’s what makes a Series 1935E $1 silver certificate with a portion of the third printing missing so interesting.

    This eye-popping error note sold for only $470, during the Sept. 3 to 9 Heritage Auctions Currency Auction during the Long Beach Expo in Long Beach, Calif. (All prices cited include the buyer’s fee.)

    In addition to the partial missing overprint error, the face of the note was scribbled on with a blue wax marker by a BEP inspector clearly indicating it should be pulled out for destruction. In addition, someone at the BEP attached to the face a vivid red- and white-striped BEP rejection sticker.

    Those two actions individually but certainly together should have alerted someone down the line to pull this note.

    But to some collector’s delight it didn’t happen and the note has a new owner. That note was graded Choice About New 58 Premium Paper Quality by PCGS Currency.

    For those with deeper pockets, the auction also sold a double-denomination error – known as the King of Errors.

    A Series 1974 Federal Reserve note with a $20 face and $10 back sold for $32,900. The note graded Choice About New 58 Premium Paper Quality by PCGS Currency.

    Heritage sold another double-denomination Series 1974 $20/$10 FRN for $28,200 during its Currency Platinum Night Auction Aug. 6 during the American Numismatic Association World’s Fair of Money in Rosemont, Ill. That note was graded Choice About New 58 PPQ by PCGS Currency.

    Another collector was happy to be seeing double in winning the auction of a Series 1976 $2 Federal Reserve note with doubled overprint of the serial numbers and the Treasury and Federal Reserve seals. The note was graded Gem New 65 PPQ by PCGS Currency and realized $15,862.50.

    BEP employees and inspection equipment have definitely improved through the years. That has reduced the number of errors coming into the market today. But it has not eliminated them. So keep your eyes open.

    Check those paper notes in your pocket, you never know what you might find.

    A room filled with paper money is no dream

    August 7, 2014 10:41 AM by
    ​For some people being in a large room filled with paper money for as far as the eye can see is only a dream.

    Well, wake up, dream no more, because that is pretty much what it feels like to be in Memphis, Tenn., every June.

    That’s when that city becomes the center of the paper money universe and Lyn Knight and crew host the International Paper Money Show.

    The 2014 show did not disappoint and once again dealers and collectors from around the world gathered to talk, buy, sell, exhibit and enjoy the hobby. If U.S. paper currency is not yet your thing, consider the “international” aspect of the show. You can always find something new and different on the bourse floor.

    I always have fun looking at exhibits and chatting with dealers about interesting notes. One such chat this year was with St. Louis dealer Dusty Royer. He usually brings or buys at the show something worth chatting about.

    This year he showed me and Coin World Editor in Chief Steve Roach some German paper notgeld depicting the sport of golf.

    The “golf” notgeld depicts the club house, the golf course and a group of golfers — in golfing attire from the 1920s. The notes were issued by the city of Oberhof to promote its nine-hole golf course.

    The pieces were issued in 1922 in 75-, 80- and 90-pfenning denominations. According to Dusty, these were the first bank notes to feature golf. The set of three notes retail for $80 to $100.

    Quick tutorial on notgeld. There are metal and paper (even porcelain) examples of these emergency pieces issued in the 1920s in Germany and other European nations. Following World War I economic hardships became more common and the need to make change was supplemented by notgeld. These emergency issues, literally translated as “not money” spread across the nation.

    States, towns, merchants, banks, private firms, organizations and individuals issued these pieces. The designs on these items range from agricultural scenes to German fables or fairy tales involving goblins to satirical commentary to the Pied Piper of Hamelin.

    Notgeld are fun to collect and you do not have to be able to read German to enjoy the designs. Many of the references are in German but there is an English-language book, Guide & Checklist World Notgeld 1914-1947 by Courtney Coffing, which can be purchased at online bookstores. Next time you are at a show consider looking for these colorful notes and start your next adventure in collecting.

    Engravers' art is more than just a pretty face

    May 9, 2014 8:59 PM by

    Paper, ink and steel are the basic components used to produce the paper notes in our wallets.

    Unfortunately today’s Federal Reserve note designs are so well known to most people that it seems no one spares a moment to really “see” the designs.

    But there’s one type of cash even non-collectors cannot help but see: the Series 1869 Legal Tender (United States) notes, best known by their nickname: rainbow notes.

    (Be honest, when you read that phrase could you almost hear Judy Garland singing the song Over the Rainbow from the 1939 motion picture The Wizard of Oz?)

    Unlike the fantasy place called Oz, rainbow notes are very real and very rare in higher grades. 

    Long before the U.S. Treasury issued the first series of Federal Reserve notes featuring subtle background colors in the fall of 2003, Americans were introduced to nine denominations of Series 1869 Legal Tender notes. These notes are nicknamed “rainbow notes” because of the use of red, green, blue and black inks used to print the notes.

    One of the most charming designs can be found on the $2 notes of this series and type. These large-size notes offer a great canvas to display a portrait of Thomas Jefferson on the left side of the face of the note accompanied by a vignette of the U.S. Capitol in the center of the note. A large, decorative red seal of the Treasury department is on the far right side of the face.

    The back of the notes pay homage to the engraver’s art with five large components – each displaying guilloche - a geometrical lathework technique that repeats intricate, decorative patterns. The designs are similar to what could be made with a 1960s-era Spirograph drawing toy. 

    There are three references to the denomination on the back – the Roman numeral two, the Arabic numeral for two and the word itself, “two.” In between each intricate design feature are two panels. The first explains the penalty of counterfeiting or passing a counterfeit. The other contains the redemption clause.

    There were 25,255,960 of these Series 1869 $2 notes issued. On April 25, 2014 Heritage Auctions sold four such notes in various grades. 

    A Paper Money Guaranty Choice Uncirculated 64 Exceptional Paper Quality example sold for $11,162.50. The auction house noted that this type of note is common in low grade, “but far scarcer at Choice and above level.”

    Another Series 1869 $2 Legal Tender note, graded PCGS Currency Very Choice New 64, sold for $8,225.

    A Very Fine 20 PMG graded note sold for $851.88.

    The fourth example, graded by PCGS as Apparent Very Fine 20 for small edge tears and a replaced corner, sold for $705.

    So, depending on the depth of your pockets, you can select a colorful American note authorized for issuance more than 140 years ago.