Paper Money

Monday Morning Brief for Feb. 3, 2020: Numismatic literature

New numismatic literature by David Fanning and William Bierly shed new insights on the study of Confederate Treasury notes and the introduction of the motto “In God We Trust.”

Original images courtesy of Whitman Publishing and Kolbe & Fanning Numismatic Booksellers.

Every so often, Coin World receives review copies of books and other publications. Some are simply the latest edition of previously published works. Others are completely new. Two such publications crossed my desk lately, both with connections to a troubled era of history — the American Civil War.

David F. Fanning’s lovely monograph Thian’s Masterpiece and the Early Literature of Confederate Paper Money is a brief (40 pages) but fascinating review of the “development of the study of the Treasury Notes issued by the Confederate States of America and outlines the literary history of the subject.” William Bierly’s new book In God We Trust: The American Civil War, Money, Banking and Religion traces the history of the motto that now appears on all U.S. coins and paper money.

Fanning’s study is concise and falls into that speciality within a specialty — numismatic literature about numismatic literature. 

As reported in a press release announcing the publication, scholarly study of the Treasury notes issued by the Confederate States of American began just two years after the end of the war, with articles in the most important hobby publication of the day, the American Journal of Numismatics. 

In his new publication, Fanning “discusses the various publications devoted to the collecting and study of Confederate paper money in the 19th century, culminating with the publication in the early 20th century of Raphael P. Thian’s The Currency of the Confederate States of America.”

The publication is filled with images of journal articles, early price lists, photographic plates and more, all reflecting the interest collectors had in Confederate Treasury notes in the years and decades after the war.

Fanning’s short work is nonetheless full of details about his predecessor researchers, including Thian, John Haseltine and Thomas Addis Emmet, and dealers in the notes, like Lyman H. Low. Collectors of Confederate notes would do well to add this volume to their shelf of numismatic literature, for it provides valuable insight into the history of the Confederacy’s paper money.

Similarly, Bierly’s new book traces the development of what became the nation’s new national motto in the 1950s — In God We Trust, replacing the original motto E Pluribus Unum.

The motto was born during the Civil War, as Bierly explains in detail, tracing how a Northern minister persuaded the government to add language acknowledging God on the nation’s coinage. 

Bierly writes, “I had collected pattern coins beginning in the 1970s and focused on those of the Civil war era, particularly those of 1861, 1862, and 1863 bearing the motto ‘God Our Trust’ and those termed ‘transitionals’ of 1863, 1864, and 1865. I collected them without understanding their origins or historical backgrounds. By the mid- to late 1990s I began to realize there was a story behind these coins.”

In his new book, Bierly traces the development of the motto, several versions of which were used on pattern pieces struck during the first couple years of the war. The book reproduces official correspondence between Treasury and Mint officials as they discussed how such a motto should appear. He also traces early public reaction to its first appearance on U.S. coinage, the 1864 Shield 2-cent coin.

But the book covers much more. It looks at the people involved in the process of creating the motto and the coinage, and even looks at their extended families, all to paint a picture of an era when life went on even as Americans killed each other on the battlefields. It also looks at the money in use in both the North and South during the war, including the many emergency issues in the North and the emergence of paper money on both sides of the Mason-Dixon Line.

Finally, the book traces the expansion of the motto’s use as it began appearing on more and more coinage (though not all coins even into the 1930s), and its addition on federal paper money late in the 1950s and the 1960s. 

Bierly provides a balanced look at the controversy over the motto and the multiple objections to its use on coinage, from both believers like Theodore Roosevelt and nonbelievers like Madalyn Murray O’Hair.

Bierly’s book is another one that belongs on the shelf of any serious collector of U.S. coinage with an interest in the history behind the pieces they hold in their collections. 

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