Souvenir cards offer an affordable way to collect rare notes

BEP introduces long-running series to numismatists at 1969 ANA convention
By , Special to Coin World
Published : 05/24/16
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If a collector mentions souvenir cards from coin shows, you probably think of American Numismatic Association conventions and the special commemorative cards printed by the Bureau of Engraving and Printing — and you would be half right! The problem — or challenge — is that virtually every statement you can make about them has a “but” attached.

Most of the cards were printed by the Bureau of Engraving & Printing — but many were also printed by the American Bank Note Co. and some by smaller printers.

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Many of the cards were printed for ANA summer conventions (now known as the World’s Fair of Money) — but some were printed for the ANA’s Mid-Year Conventions (a.k.a. a half dozen other official and unofficial names) starting in 1980.

Most of the cards printed for ANA conventions were prepared by the BEP — but ABNCo. also prepared special souvenir cards for ANA conventions starting in 1979.

Most of the souvenir cards printed for the ANA were “mass produced” (meaning they were available in large quantities) — but the BEP also printed limited edition proofs (with different designs) on its spider press taken to ANA Conventions starting in 1984.

Many of the souvenir cards were sold at the coin or stamp show they commemorate — but many were also sold by mail order or at the BEP facility in Washington, D.C. Some of these can be easily spotted, as they bear stamps or a “postal” cancellation denoting location. They can be a challenging sub-collection for the specialist who enjoys the quest.

Sound confusing? Only a little — and this is a most rewarding hobby if you enjoy visiting coin (or stamp) shows, collecting paper currency and vignettes, being able to complete a diverse collection (with many cards selling between $5 and $15), a modern tradition with roots more than a century old, and cross-over collecting with philatelic themes.

Background of Modern Cards

The modern era of souvenir cards started in 1969, when the BEP printed a special card for the SANDIPEX Stamp Show (featuring three scenes from Washington, D.C.). These new souvenir cards were a blend of several concepts, some old and some new: 

(1) Bank note engraving companies, starting in the early 1800s, printed proof specimens on card stock (as well as on bank note paper and “India” paper); these proofs were rarely encountered until the ABNCo. archives were dispersed late in the Twentieth Century). (2) Postage stamp proofs were likewise produced. (3) In the 1930s and 1940s, the BEP produced many souvenir stamp sheets (on thin paper) for collectors and show attendees. If you are old enough to remember Ye Olde Stamp & Coin Shoppe, you have almost certainly seen some of these from the International Philatelic Exhibition, Chicago Century of Progress, Yosemite, and perhaps the most often encountered — the visit of the Philatelic Truck! (4) In 1951, a souvenir card was produced by/for the International Plate Printers, Die Stampers and Engravers Union (1893 to 1951) of North America.

The 1969 SANDIPEX issue was cataloged as B1 in the (regrettably out-of-print) 1989 reference Souvenir Card Collectors Society Numbering System for Forerunner and Modern Day Souvenir Cards. 

It was soon followed by B2, printed by the BEP for the 1969 ANA convention in Philadelphia — and for most numismatists, the first souvenir card encountered. The B2 card featured three views (one large, two small) of the “Jackass” eagle vignette from the $10 U.S. notes of Series 1869, 1875, 1878 and 1880. For many coin collectors, this was also an introduction into some of the more intriguing aspects of currency design.

Educational Note cards a hit with collectors

In a stroke of inspired marketing, many of the BEP cards prepared for the following ANA Conventions featured the exquisite designs of the 1896 “Educational Note” silver certificates: the $1, $2, and $5 notes, and the proposed $10 note. Many collectors had never seen the $10 note before, and a magnificent proof printing on card stock could be had for a pocket change.

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