Paper Money

Heritage auction focuses on macerated currency

Among the popular themes in the macerated currency auction held by Heritage Auctions on Sept. 26 were cats. This one, about 4 inches tall, sold for $114.

Images courtesy of Heritage Auctions.

Macerated currency is neither widely collected nor well-recognized, but it occupies enough of a niche that Heritage Auctions devoted an entire sale to 223 pieces of it on Sept. 26.

The combined macerated currency collections of the late Wade Boughton and Heritage’s own Len Glazer contained the holdings of two of the four main collectors of it in the last 15 years.

Macerated currency has an interesting history. The websites StreetsofWashington.com and BuildingCollector.com offer a succinct summary. After the introduction of Federal currency in 1862, the Treasury Department destroyed old notes in a furnace. This was not ideal, because too many fragments escaped through the chimney and were resubmitted for redemption by opportunists who found them on the ground. From 1874 to 1942 a new method was devised that chopped the old money up and soaked it into a pulp that essentially became papier-maché. Souvenir companies in Washington began buying the stuff by the ton after they realized it could be molded into souvenirs of the city for sale to tourists. The output included postcards, shoes, hats, axes, a menagerie of animals, medallions, miniature Washington Monuments, U.S. Capitols, White Houses, and busts of George Washington and Abraham Lincoln. Advertisements said they were made from $10,000 to $20,000 worth of currency.

The Heritage sale ran the gamut of these and more. Seven Washington Monuments were sold at prices from $84 up to $168, the latter for a 7.5-foot-tall example. Eight renditions of the Capitol building ranged in price from $99 for a round paper plaque to $168 for a regular model. A 5-inch-tall George Washington wearing a red, white, and blue sash topped three other models of the first president with a $156 knock-down price. The 11 busts of Abraham Lincoln were led by a $264 5-inch by 4.5-inch piece. Shoes and hats were usually priced in the $80 to $100 range. Axes started at $132. Cats were slightly more popular than dogs, and origami men’s dress shirts, of more recent vintage, sold for around $60 each.

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