Indiana obsolete bank notes may look like the work of charlatans but the state safeguarded the plates

Collecting Paper column from the July 28, 2014, issue of Coin World
By , Coin World
Published : 07/15/14
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I have always had a fascination with altered obsolete bank notes. In the normal course of things, these notes were originally used by banks that later failed.

The bank notes were then bought up by charlatans for the value of the paper and mechanically altered so that they appeared to be the issues of one or more other banks that were still in business.

The success of this deception hinged on two facts.

First, hundreds, if not thousands, of different designs were in circulation, with more being added every day.

Second, information regarding various flimflams was very slow in getting out to the public. By the time an altered note had been discovered and its existence became general knowledge, the damage had usually long been done, and the “artist” had moved on to creating different “masterpieces” for different banks from his stack of worthless notes.

At first blush, that seems to be what happened with the Traders Bank, which is known with common designs from Indianapolis, Nashville, and Terre Haute, all in Indiana.

It might appear that some scalawag altered notes from the Terre Haute location and through the magic of artistry turned them into issues of the same named bank in two other Hoosier towns. Except that’s not what happened.

A cryptic entry in the Indiana Auditor of State’s report of January 25, 1857, sheds light on a highly unusual practice. The following entries appear in a listing of the locations of printing plates for suspended banks as of that date: Traders Bank of Terre Haute 1-1-2-5 plate changed to Indianapolis; Traders Bank of Indianapolis 1-1-2-5 plate changed to Nashville; Traders Bank of Nashville 1-1-2-5 plate held in the Auditor’s Office.

This sequence is borne out by the engraved dates on the notes: Terre Haute notes are dated Dec. 1, 1852; the Indianapolis notes are dated April 14, 1853; and the Nashville notes, April 14, 1854.

There seems to be no common thread between the three locations in terms of officers, and so this was not a case of a bank simply moving twice. It seems the state was willing to work out a deal where plates from a bank that no longer had any need for them could be recycled for use by a new bank.

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