Paper Money

Always look for ways to expand and build on your knowledge

The following is the third of a three-part Coin World series about collecting obsolete notes following the tenacious yet patient approach exhibited by the late Peter Mayer, prepared by Michele Orzano for the February 2015 monthly edition of Coin World.

Read the first two parts: 

Fourth step

In addition to independently learning everything you can about your area of interest, the fourth step is to find someone willing to befriend you and act as a mentor. Then as you gain knowledge, look for someone you can mentor.

Mayer had many friends in the close-knit obsolete note collecting community. He made the most of those relationships to learn all he could about his chosen hobby.

But, as with his long career in sales before he became a full-time dealer, Mayer also willingly shared with those who wanted to learn.

Rahul Arora, a close friend of Mayer and a fellow obsolete note collector, said: “Peter lived for these [obsolete notes]. He was possibly the most passionate obsolete note collector.“

He added: “There just are not that many books out there. So collectors, like Peter, had the knowledge in their minds. I talked to him about every other day.”

Arora said Mayer collected notes “from every bank, every denomination, every variety — with overprints and without overprints.”

“He prized vignettes, especially the unique. He loved history, so a vignette of Columbus landing or a battle scene, he loved it,” Arora said. “He was a huge history buff. If a note showed a building from a town and the building was still standing, he loved that kind of stuff.”

Fifth step

Always look for way to expand and build your knowledge.

If you are not already a member, join the Society of Paper Money Collectors. Its bimonthly journal, Paper Money, its interactive website, and its many members, provide a wealth of information.

The SPMC has been involved in the research and cataloging of obsolete bank notes and scrip for nearly 50 years. A large number of state catalogs have been published either directly by the society or in collaboration with others as part of its Wismer Project. The project is named for David C. Wismer, a pioneering cataloger of obsolete notes in the early 20th century.

For information about past and future Wismer books, contact Wismer Project Coordinator Pierre Fricke at Box 52514, Atlanta, GA 30355.

As an added bonus, the society recently announced it would be offering members the opportunity to search an online interactive database of obsolete notes and scrip from across the nation.

The online site is scheduled to debut at the June 18 to 21, 2015, International Paper Money Show in Memphis, Tenn.

The purpose of the online interactive database is to allow participants to search for obsolete notes and scrip from across the nation as well as to report new examples of which they are aware.

The goal of the database is to have every note illustrated with detailed information. Users will be able to determine how many notes of any given design have been reported, how many notes are known, for example, from specific banks, cities, or states and will be able to do highly customized searches.

For more information about the new database, email SPMC board member and obsolete note collector and researcher Wendell Wolka.

The first of several volumes of a new resource began to be issued in 2014. The multivolume Whitman Encyclopedia of Obsolete Paper Money by Q. David Bowers will explore obsolete notes and their issuers beginning on the East Coast and moving west. The entire encyclopedia set is expected to comprise 14 volumes.

Collectors may also be interested in the print or CD version of the four-volume Standard Catalog of United States Obsolete Bank Notes 1782-1866 by James A. Haxby, which provides information about obsolete notes issued by state. The print or CD version is available from the publisher, Krause Publications.

The books were published in 1988 and the CD edition was issued in 2009, but the listings in the books, including the values, were not updated for the CD version.

To have a real appreciation for collecting obsolete notes you have to take time to look at them.

The selection of note proofs illustrating this feature all came from Part I and Part II of Peter Mayer’s collection of obsolete proofs. The final offering of Mayer’s note proof collection will be in March 2015.

Look closely and you will quickly get the sense of history that is displayed in each vignette on every note.

William Penn

Take, for example, a $100 proof for the Union Bank of Philadelphia sold for $22,325 during the Aug. 7, 2014, Stack’s Bowers Galleries’ Rarities Night Auction during the ANA World’s Fair of Money in Rosemont.

The center of the unique proof features a large vignette known as William Penn’s Treaty with the Indians. Above it are profile busts of Benjamin Franklin and George Washington.

The piece, graded by the auction firm as Uncirculated, is on India paper mounted on archive book card. It was the first time the proof had been in auction in more than 15 years, according to the auction description.

Knickerbocker Bank

Take as an example, too, a rare $3 proof for the Knickerbocker Bank of the City of New York, sold for $9,987.50 in the Aug. 7 Stack’s Bowers auction. It was part of a partial sheet of proofs before being cut from the sheet.

The piece was graded Choice Uncirculated by the auction firm. It features a large vignette in the center showing the High Bridge, later known as the Aqueduct Bridge, over the Harlem River connecting the Manhattan and Bronx boroughs.

The nickname Knickerbocker can be traced back to the early Dutch settlers of New Netherlands, later New York City.

This proof was also once owned by John J. Ford Jr.

Zouaves vignette

At the Part II sale offered in the firm’s Oct. 30, 2014, Winter Baltimore Auction in conjunction with the Whitman Baltimore Expo, a $10 note proof for the Salem Bank (Massachusetts), was sold for $21,925.

The proof, graded Uncirculated by the auction firm, features an extremely rare vignette called Charge of the Zouaves, depicting members of the 9th New York Volunteer Infantry.

They received their nickname because their uniforms resembled those used by Algerian mercenaries.

The vignette can only be found on this note and a $2 note for the Hampden Bank of North Castle, N.Y.

Hide and Leather

A $5 proof for the Hide & Leather Bank, Boston, sold for $4,700 in the October 2014 auction.

The printed date, October 1, 1857, is below the bank name and a large and detailed vignette of a tannery depicting many men dressing animal hides.

This proof was graded Choice Uncirculated by the auction firm.


A magnificent vignette of a shipyard with workers and three ships at varying stages of completion is displayed in the center of a $2 note proof for the Manufacturers and Traders Bank in Buffalo, N.Y.

The piece sold for $12,925 in the October 2014 auction. The auction firm graded it Choice Uncirculated.

These note proofs are just a few of the many different themes found on obsolete notes from many different states and banks. Be watching for future sales, do your homework and start enjoying this part of the paper money hobby

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