Insights

Collectors can help build Whitman Encyclopedia of Obsolete Paper Money by contributing

Guest Commentary from the July 14, 2014, issue of Coin World
By Dennis Tucker , publisher at Whitman Publishing LLC, headquartered in Atlanta, Ga.
Published : 06/30/14
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On June 13, I had the privilege of giving a talk with Q. David Bowers at the Memphis International Paper Money Show. (Bowers was the star attraction, of course; Whitman Publishing senior associate editor Caitlyn Mitchell and I were there as backup singers, so to speak.) 

Our goal was to share Dave’s knowledge of obsolete paper money — its history, how to collect it, and observations on the general market, including rarities, supply and demand, and pricing. It was an entertaining hour of colorful images, fun stories, and expert advice, in typical “QDB” style. 

The Memphis show was the ideal venue for this talk; it’s the hobby’s premier annual convention for collectors of paper money, and its free educational programs often include the latest research and announcements of new books. We used this bully pulpit to formally introduce the new Whitman Encyclopedia of Obsolete Paper Money. We invited our audience to pitch in and help us build the best historical and market reference ever compiled in this field. That’s an invitation we happily extend to readers of Coin World.

Obsolete notes are paper currency issued from 1782 to 1866, before the modern era of national banks and the Federal Reserve. Over the course of these decades, more than 3,000 state-chartered banks released their own paper money for day-to-day commerce, in thousands of colorful and ornate varieties.

At the Memphis show, we rolled out the first two volumes of the Whitman Encyclopedia. Volume 1 is an introduction for collectors and historians. Volume 2 is the first of three books that will cover New England. It shines a light on every town and city, and every bank, that issued this uniquely American currency in the states of Connecticut, Maine, and New Hampshire. (Volume 3 will cover Massachusetts, and volume 4 contains New Hampshire and Rhode Island.) We anticipate the entire series will comprise 14 volumes of 400 to 800 pages each.

Each note is studied in detail, and thousands are pictured (in full color), with information on grading, rarity, values in multiple grades, significant auction results, advice for collectors, and other valuable guidance. Dave has observed that the field of obsoletes includes thousands of inexpensive rarities — “good opportunities for today’s collectors,” he says.

We encourage collectors, researchers, dealers, historians, and others in the hobby community to get involved with this important project. The Massachusetts volume is in the works now (summer of 2014), and we’ve already started laying the foundations for the rest of New England, the Southern states, the Mid-Atlantic states, the Midwest, and territories. 

If you collect obsolete paper money, I invite you to join the dozens of volunteers who are already sharing their knowledge and expertise. Your images, historical research, market analysis, and general insight are welcome. Each state has a “state editor” who works closely with Caitlyn Mitchell, Dave Bowers, and me to track down facts, look into questions, scrutinize the historical record, gather and examine images, and otherwise act as that state’s expert. Not all of the state-editor positions have filled, so you have a chance to take a “co-starring role,” as C. John Ferreri has done with Connecticut, Maine, and New Hampshire. 

If you have a nice collection of notes, or even just a few favorite pieces, why not share scans or photographs? You’ll be joining contributors the likes of the American Bank Note Co., the American Numismatic Society, and the Smithsonian Institution, all of whom (among other museums and private collectors) have shared images. If you’re active in the market — buying, selling, or trading — volunteer for our valuations panel. If you’re a history buff with knowledge of a particular state or region, you can review our state, town, and bank histories — fascinating narratives soaked in Americana!

Anyone interested in volunteering is invited to contact Whitman Publishing by email at obsoletes@whitman.com. Volunteers will be credited in the books’ acknowledgments.

To learn more about the Whitman Encyclopedia of Obsolete Paper Money and to meet Q. David Bowers in person, come to the American Numismatic Association World’s Fair of Money. At 2 p.m., Aug. 7, Dave and I will present “Obsolete Paper Money: History, Rarity, and Today’s Market,” including an opportunity for questions-and-answers with the audience.

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