One of the things that new collectors of obsolete notes quickly
learn is that “You can’t collect everything!”
The field is simply too broad and, increasingly, becoming too
expensive to take the scatter gun approach. My advice has always been
to narrow your field of interest, wait a few days, and then narrow it
For example, my primary collecting area is the obsolete notes and
scrip of the state of Ohio. I started the state when I moved there in
1993. At first, I wisely limited my scope to issues from the State
Bank of Ohio, a mammoth 41-branch institution that issued lots of
different designs and denominations.
But then, well, you know how it happens; there were all of these
other neat notes with stories of their own to tell. Unfortunately, I
discovered after writing the state catalog, which ballooned to over
1,000 pages, that this was probably a (big) mistake.
One way to do-what-I-say rather than do-what-I-did is to collect
topically. We’ve talked about this before, but topical collecting is
the way to go — just pick a theme.
Since there is no catalog on topical collecting per se, you can
also avoid excessively rare notes trying to chase “completion,” a
sometimes elusive goal.
One of the neat areas to collect is, believe it or not, bank notes
issued by fire insurance companies and notes that feature fire
equipment. Not a lot of different examples exist, but enough to put
together a neat little collection.
One of my favorites is scrip issued by the city of Lafayette,
Ind., in late 1862. The notes state that they are “payable to the
bearer on account of steam fire engine” and were “receivable for city taxes.”
Just to emphasize the point, a steam pumper pulled by two horses
is shown thundering off to a fire. The same vignette appears on each
of the six denominations which range from 5 cents to 75 cents.
I cannot conclusively prove, but have good reason to believe, that
the portrait that also appears on each note is that of the mayor,
Thomas B. Ward, who served as mayor from 1861 to 1865.
So browse some catalogs or online listings to see what will fit
your topic. Along the way, perhaps you’ll find something else that
interests you and learn some things as well!
Wendell Wolka has been a paper money collector and educator for
more than 40 years. If you have questions or suggestions, you can
email him at firstname.lastname@example.org.