A numismatic quest

Does Ohio borough note exist?
Published : 05/06/11
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I’ve got a new numismatic quest: paper money printed by the Borough of Columbus, Ohio, in 1816.

In researching a project to celebrate the City of Columbus’ bicentennial next year, I’ve been reading just about everything I can get my hands on about the city’s history.

On Page 469 of the second volume of the 1,800-page, 1892 History of the City of Columbus Ohio, I found a one-paragraph mention of the Columbus bills. I found no other mention of the issue in earlier or later histories and have just begun the search of contemporary documents.

Columbus was on the edge of the frontier in the early 1800s. Money was scarce, and much commerce was carried on by barter, with whiskey being especially prized.

On Aug. 12, 1816, the borough council appointed a committee to “procure a suitable print or engraving for small notes to be issued by this corporation,” Alfred E. Lee’s history states. Three weeks later the committee reported that it had provided an issue of 120 75-cent notes, 464 25-cent notes, 836 12½-cent notes and 212 6¼-cent notes for a total of $555.75.

On May 24, 1819, Lee reports the borough had redeemed $331.75 worth of the bills. Nothing more is said about the bills, though the implication is they were called in.

I’ve never seen one. They’re not listed in Wendell Wolka’s wonderfully detailed A History of Nineteenth Century Ohio Obsolete Bank Notes and Scrip. Wolka says he’s never heard of the bills.

Because the bills were produced quickly, it’s likely they were printed locally. Columbus had two printers in 1816; one of them produced small-denomination bills for Ezra Griswold, a nearby tavern keeper, about that same time.

Griswold’s bills, which are readily available for just a few dollars each, are entirely typeset. Printers dingbats form borders and the denomination is set in extra large type. I suspect the Columbus bills looked much like them.

The Columbus public library has copies of one of two newspapers that were printed in Columbus in the 1810s, but not every issue is represented.

The library has only a couple issues from The Columbus Gazette of 1816, and none from August or September. Spring 1819 issues make no mention of the Columbus notes, though one long article listed 29 counterfeit notes and a handful of Ohio notes that were redeemable in specie.

The May 27, 1819, issue also has a brief item taken from a Philadelphia paper about the laying of the cornerstone at the Second Bank of the United States building. The cornerstone had a lead case that housed “a glass vase containing several of the gold, silver and copper coins of the U. States.”

If I can’t find a Columbus bill, I wouldn’t mind having that vase.

Gerald Tebben is an editor for the Columbus (Ohio) Dispatch.

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