Paper Money

Taking a hands-off approach: Collecting Paper

An 1862 private issue $2 scrip note from Texas exhibits damage created when an owner used tape to try to “fix” imperfections on the note.

Image courtesy of Heritage Auctions.

In the course of any given month I look at hundreds of obsolete bank notes, scrip, and Confederate notes. 

I am frankly appalled by the actions of some misguided collectors and dealers, both past and present, who feel compelled to repair or reinforce even the smallest edge nicks, fold separations, and tears with adhesive tape (in one case I saw, someone even used masking tape!).

As a result, notes that have survived the ravages of perhaps two centuries instead fall victim to latter-day would-be conservators who know not what they do. Over time, many adhesive tape formulations will turn bank note paper translucent or leave a brown gooey mess. 

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Once this stage is reached, removal and restoration become problematic and often expensive. Instead of being described for potential purchasers as having a “minor edge tear” the note is now branded as having “a minor edge tear that is tape repaired.”

I’m sure you’ve gathered by now that I hate tape. It’s unnecessary (left in modern holders, tears are protected from getting worse), severely impacts the long term safety and stability of the note, and has a significant negative impact on the note’s value (many collectors avoid repaired notes, and notes suffering from end-stage tape damage look absolutely terrible). 

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There are other more benign ways of sealing tears and separations like using stamp hinges, which were favored for years for this role, or archival tape, which at least will not destroy the paper. The problem with stamp hinges is that careless people seem to enjoy removing them without any care whatsoever. Then the note is saddled with paper thins, where part of the paper surface is removed along with the hinge. And there’s usually some evidence of the stamp hinge adhesive left behind, which must be mentioned in any description of the note intended for future buyers. 

I hope my message is clear. If you have a note with minor tears, nicks, missing pieces, and the like, just leave it alone! Enjoy it for what it is, imperfections and all. Put the note in a holder and everything will be protected from further deterioration. 

If you have a note that has been attacked by some hack repairman and it is a rarity or valuable, consult with your state or local historical society to see if there is a professional conservator who can remove the tape before things get worse, and they usually will.

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