A lesson to be learned: If you want to sell something at auction, no
matter how rare, a reasonable estimate and a fair reserve price are
the surest ways to avoid disappointment. Such was the fate of a “short
snorter” bearing the autographs of nearly two dozen world leaders once
owned by Frank Sawyer, Winston Churchill’s valet during World War II.
It went unsold after a high bid of $6,750 did not meet the reserve at
a sale conducted by Lion Heart Autographs of New York City on May 24.
Its estimate was $15,000 to $20,000. Failure to sell was not for a
lack of interest, as the lot started at $5,000 and was bid eight times.
Gold coin resistance at U.S. Mint and a
deceptive but detectable counterfeit Indian Head cent:
Another column in the June 12 Coin World details the discovery of
what seemed to be a rare 1917 French Indo-China 10-cent piece.
Short snorters are among the more esoteric of paper money
collectibles. They are part of a tradition started by Alaskan bush
pilots in the 1920s and soon extended into the world of military
aviation, where they were embraced by pilots and many illustrious
passengers, including presidents, prime ministers, generals, and
ambassadors. They are notes signed by a group of people traveling or
meeting together. If a person signed a short snorter and at a later
meeting could not produce it when asked, they owed the requester a
dollar or a drink (a short snort).
Dealers usually pay little for them when offered. They are mostly
common notes in terrible condition, and usually sell anywhere from
under $50 to $250, but their value can change considerably if you take
the time to see who the signers were.
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That was the expectation for Sawyer’s snorter, a very common Series
1935A silver certificate with 22 fountain pen signatures on both sides
that list nearly a who’s who of the Allies. Among them: Harry Truman,
Bernard Baruch, Francis Cardinal Spellman, Joseph Stalin, Gen. Bernard
Law Montgomery, and Edward R. Stettinus Jr.
Based on the presence of Truman’s signature, the note can be dated
to about 1945, perhaps from the Potsdam Conference, which was held
from July 16 to Aug. 2.