Whenever most of us happen to come into contact with someone
famous, there’s always the temptation to ask for an autograph.
Most of the time, you’ll end up getting one, sometimes on a
picture. Believe it or not, you will find a number of opportunities to
acquire an autographed picture on obsolete paper money, albeit 150
years or so after the fact.
“How’s that work?” you may be wondering. Well, it’s pretty
straightforward. A number of banks decided to use the portraits of
their officers on notes that they circulated. If the president or
cashier was chosen to be pictured, there was a really good chance that
he also personally hand signed the note, since the vast majority of
such notes were signed by both officers. Thus, on those notes of this
kind you have an autographed picture.
Believe it or not, some banks insisted that the president and
cashier personally sign every note issued. As Hugh McCulloch,
president of the large multibranch Bank of the State of Indiana and
future two-time secretary of the Treasury, observed in his memoirs:
“My self imposed limit was a thousand sheets (four thousand
signatures) a day. For a single day, even with a name as difficult to
write rapidly as mine, this would not be a hard task; but to follow it
for weeks and months, as I did in the autumn of 1856, would, if it
were a punishment, be too inhuman to be inflicted upon the most guilty
A less well known personage is Dr. John Andrews, who served as the
second president of the State Bank of Ohio, which had 41 branches
across the state. He was born on April 12, 1805, in Steubenville,
Ohio. He studied medicine and was a practicing surgeon and physician
for more than 20 years. Andrews retired from medicine, but continued
When the State Bank of Ohio was formed in 1845, he was one of the
largest stockholders of the Jefferson Branch at Steubenville and
served as its president.
Andrews became the second president of the State Bank of Ohio upon
the retirement of Gustavus Swan on Nov. 21, 1854, and served in that
capacity until his death on Nov. 14, 1866. Andrews also served on the
bank’s board of control and executive committee. He, too, signed every
note ($5 and larger denominations) for every branch for over a decade.
You just never know what autograph opportunities may be out there
waiting for you. Take a look!
Wendell Wolka has been a paper money collector and educator for
more than 40 years. If you have questions or suggestions, you can
reach him by email at firstname.lastname@example.org, or by mail at
Box 1211, Greenwood, IN 46142. Send a self-addressed, stamped envelope
if a written response is required.