Nearly 10 years ago, Whitman Publishing Co. set me on the Owl Creek
Project, as publisher Dennis Tucker code-named it (from a wise-looking
owl shown on the notes of the Owl Creek Bank of Mount Vernon, Ohio, 1816).
The goal is to list every state-chartered bank that issued paper
money from the late 18th century to 1866, to list all known notes with
estimated rarities and prices, and to give a short history of each
bank. About 17 volumes are in the offing! Today, Caitlyn Mitchell, a
Whitman editor, is immersed full-time in it. Volumes 1 and 2 will make
a debut at the June 12 to 15 International Paper Money Show in
Memphis, Tenn. Details can be found on the Whitman website.
Recently, Caitlyn has been working with John Ferreri and me on the
state of Massachusetts. In the era of obsolete paper money the state
had nearly 300 note-issuing banks. These have been studied over the
years, including by James A. Haxby in his magisterial Standard
Catalog of United States Obsolete Bank Notes, 1782-1866,
published in 1988. Most research by various scholars was done before
the Internet era.
I delved into the Amherst Bank of Amherst, Mass., established in
that town in 1831, and learned of a great scandal when its cashier,
Luther Root, stole tens of thousands of dollars. This was discovered
in 1838 and precipitated the bank’s downfall. It closed in the early
1840s. Today, bills of the bank are very rare, as most were redeemed
In digging a bit deeper on the Internet, I found that the Amherst
Bank had been established under another name, as the Sunderland Bank
in the town of Sunderland, on Feb. 26, 1825.
To house the bank, a Greek Revival-style building was erected to its
order on Main Street and still stands today.
The founding president was Nathaniel Smith and the first cashier was
Luther Root. It was a prolific issuer of notes, printed by Perkins in
On June 13, 1831, the legislature approved a name change to the
Amherst Bank and a move to that town, which offered a larger venue for
business. Smith and Root did this and kept their offices.
Nowhere in numismatics, at least so far, have I come across a
mention of the Sunderland Bank, and it seems that not a single note is
known from it! This was exciting to learn. I did more research and in
time will do an article for Paper Money magazine.
In the meantime, if you can find a nice Sunderland Bank note, it
would probably be worth on the long side of $5,000!