Shamelessly borrowing from the popular fight song of the New
Orleans Saints football team, “Who Dat?” I would modestly suggest that
the song could have been inspired over 150 years ago. If we “fast
reverse” to 1861, we would find a nondescript listing for the American
Bank Note Co. at 12 Royal St. in Gardner’s New Orleans Directory for 1861.
The listing, which probably predates the beginning of hostilities
in April of that year, is one of the few pieces of evidence that an
outpost of the prestigious American Bank Note Co. existed in New Orleans.
Both just before and just after the shooting war began, both
American Bank Note Co. and National Bank Note Co. of New York were
involved in producing bank notes and other fiscal instruments for the
Confederate States of America.
The last shipment of Treasury notes was, in fact, made several
days after Lincoln issued a proclamation of blockade on April 19,
1861. Federal authorities raided both companies in New York on April
25, 1861, and put a permanent end to the firms’ “southern business.”
However, there was still a faint pulse for American Bank Note Co.
Its small three-man office in New Orleans headed by Samuel Schmidt, a
longtime employee, offered its services to the Confederacy. Perhaps
prompted by a letter from the New York office in early May, 1861,
directing him to cease work on Confederate notes, Schmidt apparently
decided to shield American Bank Note Co. from being seen as openly
consorting with “the enemy.”
He accomplished this by dusting off an old name that the company
owned, “Southern Bank Note Company” and using it to produce six
different designs of Confederate Treasury notes before the fall of New
Orleans in April, 1862.
Some latter day skeptics have wondered whether the letter from New
York was merely intended to officially distance American Bank Note Co.
from the continued production of Confederate notes by its cut-off
branch; particularly since the branch entered into a contract to
design and print Confederate notes within a matter of days after
receiving the “cease and desist” letter from New York.
Interestingly, Schmidt remitted $17,000 to New York in 1862,
claiming that this represented the branch’s profits for the years 1861
and 1862. Based on other correspondence, a significant percentage of
this must have been from engraving and printing Confederate notes.
Today, Southern Bank Note Co. Confederate notes are avidly
collected as some of the most attractive early Confederate notes produced.
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 email@example.com.