Paper Money

Obsolete notes can feature unexpected designs: Collecting Paper

An obsolete Bank of Louisiana $20 note has a curious scene recalling ancient Greek or Roman themes, but the exact meaning is puzzling.

Images courtesy of Heritage Auctions.

A number of notes end up in my “Whatzzit? File.” 

The inhabitants of this file are obsolete notes whose vignettes step outside the boundaries of subjects considered normal.

Not satisfied with using vignettes of trains, maidens, steamboats and the like, some of the folks in charge of picking art subjects for their notes picked things that were seemingly “out there.” 

I have written about my favorite selection, a Georgia scrip note emblazoned with a realistic depiction of the Spodoptera litura or tobacco cutworm. The question to ask is obvious: why would anyone pick this pest to be the standard-bearer for their business image?

Other inhabitants of the file are a bit more highbrow. Take, for example, the $20 note issued by the Bank of Louisiana in New Orleans for nearly four decades, both before and during the Civil War. 

Connect with Coin World:  

The note was originally printed by Fairman, Draper, Underwood & Co. James Haxby indicates that the work was later picked up by Rawdon, Wright, Hatch & Edson. The note, frankly, isn’t much to look at, because the original design was developed in the mid-1820s as the bank’s first $20 issue. 

Through the years, some “tail fins and chrome” were hung on the design to deter counterfeiting; an ornamental back was added along with a large green script TWENTY protector. But still not your most artistic design; I never looked much at it because it was, well, pretty plain. But then I took a closer look at it and finally realized that the central vignette was not one that you see every day. 

Based on the temples in the distant background, this was obviously supposed to depict some personage, event, or deity from the classic Greek or Roman era. I am still at a loss to describe exactly what is being depicted, however, aside from the obvious observation that it is a horse and rider leaping off of a cliff. Neither the horse nor rider are portrayed as being too happy about what is happening and so I surmise that the horse is not of the flying type, a la Pegasus.

I’m hoping that someone collecting ancient coins or a student of the classics can educate me, and ultimately you, my readers, on what we’re looking at. 

The bank certainly saw fit to use this design for nearly 40 years, so I suspect that the answer will be embarrassingly obvious when it comes.

Community Comments