Paper Money

Declaration of Independence signers also signed notes

Editor's note: The following is the second of a three-part series on autographed notes that appears in the Nov. 2, 2015, issue of Coin World.

Collecting autographed notes is a solid access point to begin collecting paper money, just as these notes provide a way for an experienced collector to delve deeper in the hobby. 

Typically, what comes to mind regarding signed notes are modern U.S. notes with a handwritten autograph, a “courtesy signature,” of the treasurer of the United States or the Treasury Secretary above the plate signature that is printed on every note. 

In Colonial times, notes were signed individually. Some of the men who signed Colonial currency also signed the Declaration of Independence and the signed notes are the primary way to collect their signatures today. 

Colonial Autographs

While the treasurer and Treasury secretaries are known to numismatists, some notes carry signatures from those who have achieved more mainstream recognition. 

In U.S. Colonial times, notes were hand signed. As Dustin Johnson, director of currency at Heritage Auctions shared, a number of signers of the Declaration of Independence also signed Colonial currency at time of issue. 

He pointed to a 2-shilling note from Pennsylvania, dated April 3, 1772, signed by John Morton. The note, graded Very Fine 30 by Professional Coin Grading Service and sold from the collection of the Eric P. Newman Numismatic Education Society, brought $1,880 at an April auction. 

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Morton was primarily a farmer and surveyor, and he served as a delegate to the Continental Congress. In looking through auction records across different collectible categories, it seems that signed currency like this piece is the most accessible way to collect this signer’s signature. 

Those looking for an entry point to collecting famous signers of Colonial currency may look to John Hart, a New Jersey delegate who signed the Declaration of Independence. On a 15-shilling New Jersey note dated March 25, 1776, Hart’s signature is in the middle of three on the piece, and he would pass away three years after signing this note. Graded Fine by Heritage, this note sold for $440.63 at the firm’s Sept. 30, 2013, auction. 

Occasionally one will encounter autographs of presidents on notes, such as President Harry Truman’s on a Series 1935D $1 silver certificate, graded Choice Crisp Uncirculated by Heritage who sold it for $376 at auction this past September. This note also was signed by Secretary of the Treasury John W. Snyder. The auction price is in line with letters of a political nature signed after Truman was in office as president. 

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