Just about the time you’re convinced that the good stuff doesn’t
get listed anymore, wham! There it is — a wonder note!
About a month ago I was plowing through the search I have set up
for Ohio and Indiana obsolete notes on eBay when I happened across a
$5 note issued by the Forest City Bank of Cleveland in 1859. A scarce
note in that it was actually issued (versus a proof), but not quite a
Then I took a closer look at the scan in the listing and realized
that the “wrong” person, none other than Thomas Jefferson, was peering
out at me from the note. Now the listing had my undivided attention.
What was this? Some clever alteration? A botched counterfeit? Or
(hopefully) a brand new design that has just surfaced?
State records indicate that the Forest City Bank was organized on
Sept. 25, 1851, and continued in business successfully until its
closing during the course of 1865.
Its reported outstanding circulation in 1860 was around $46,500
and its remaining unissued notes were destroyed on June 12, 1865.
The bank issued a $3,000 bond to secure its remaining outstanding
circulation. When it was apparent that redemptions had trailed off to
nothing and that this minuscule number of notes could be written off
as lost, destroyed or otherwise not available for redemption, the
bank’s bond was released on Aug. 27, 1868.
Through the years, this bank’s issues have been known primarily
from proofs that were issued during a major design change that
occurred in 1853 to 1854. All of the known notes feature a portrait of
an unknown male. My suspicion is that he may have been associated with
the bank, but that remains an unsolved mystery right now.
I was fortunate enough to win a rather spirited bidding battle for
the eBay note and immediately closely examined the note when I
received it. The note was clearly genuine, the portrait was perfect;
in short the note was completely legitimate in every respect.
What had obviously happened is that a decision was made to change
the male portrait from the local personage to the well known likeness
of Thomas Jefferson sometime between 1854 and 1859 when this note was
issued. We may, however, never know why. Perhaps a death, change in
leadership, scandal or some other situation dictated the change.
Now there’s a new mystery to investigate. So it goes with obsolete
Wendell Wolka has been a paper money collector and educator for
more than 40 years. If you have questions or suggestions, you can
reach him by e-mail at email@example.com, or by mail at
Box 1211, Greenwood, IN 46142. Send a self-addressed, stamped envelope
if a written response is required.