When dealing with obsolete paper money, one of the things that you
usually have to accept is that not many tangible links to the past
other than the bank notes themselves survive.
Unlike today, most banks were located in the most remote
inhospitable areas available. Many times, the “banks” were actually
housed in places like a trunk in someone’s living room. In short, it
was often in a poorly capitalized bank’s best interests to be almost
impossible to find. That way, notes that were “coming home to roost”
could not be easily presented for payment. But not all banks found
themselves in such predicaments.
The State Bank of Indiana began operations in 1834 and eventually
was represented by 13 branches that covered most portions of the
state. The bank was quite conservative and successful, and the branch
offices were located in cities and towns that actually had commercial
significance as the state developed. Based on the three branch
buildings that I am aware are still standing, the architecture tended
toward the Greek Revival style, with imposing pillars a prominent feature.
The State Bank of Indiana branch bank buildings in New Albany,
Terre Haute and Vincennes just exude an aura of safety, stability and
reliability. The Indiana State Museum website makes these comments on
the branch bank building that still stands in Vincennes in southwest Indiana:
“Construction of this building was begun in July 1838. The State
Bank moved into this building upon its completion in November 1838.
The bank’s facade is an imitation of the front of a Greek temple,
known as the Greek Revival Style. …”
The website continues, “of interest in the main room is the
original hand-riveted steel vault. The vault measures 6 feet by 8 feet
and is 7 feet high. It is encased in stone walls 2.5-feet thick. Two
keys were required to open and lock the vault. ... The room directly
behind the main room was also used in conducting bank business. The
bank’s charter allowed it to take furs and produce in exchange for
cash. This room may have been used for those transactions.”
Visiting these historic sites can give you great insights into
banking as it was practiced in antebellum America.
Why not see if there are any surviving sites in your state? Your
state historical society can undoubtedly aid your search.
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 email 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.