Paper Money

Mormon notes among lots in Kagin's auction

Obsolete currency, one piece issued by an arguable nutcase and a stellar collection of Mormon paper money, outshine the federal issues in the paper currency portion of the Kagin’s Sept. 21 West Coast auction, held in conjunction with the Santa Clara Coin Expo in California.

The auction house says the Mormon paper currency is among the finest offerings of this series ever. Included are a number of issues from the Mormon’s Kirtland (Ohio) Safety Society Bank. The bank had a short life, only from January to November 1837. After it collapsed, Latter Day Saints founder Joseph Smith was fined by authorities for operating an illegal bank.

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Bidding starts at $7,500 for a very rare uncut sheet of four Kirtland Safety Society Bank notes ($1-$1-$2-$3) graded About Uncirculated 50 Exceptional Paper Quality by Paper Money Guaranty. The sheet is the better of the two graded by PMG. 

Individual Kirtland notes in the auction include finest known Gem Crisp Uncirculated 65 $5 and $10 notes as well as some of the finest $20, $50 and $100 denominations. The auction also offers three “Anti-Banking” notes and two high-grade “countersigned” $5 and $10 notes hand signed by both Joseph Smith and Brigham Young. The $10 note is tied for the second finest certified. 

Other offerings include rare Bank of Monroe notes signed by Oliver Cowdery (second in authority to Smith), a set of the 1849 “White or Valley Notes” from Utah including three that are the finest certified, and a rare Deseret Currency Association note. 

A Series 1882 Deseret National Bank of Salt Lake City (Utah) $10 Brown Back note (Friedberg 487) signed by Joseph Smith in PMG Fine 15 will be sought after more for its signature than its rarity.

The arguable nut was Joshua Norton, who came to San Francisco from South Africa in about 1850. He quickly made a lot of money in real estate but soon went broke in a failed effort to corner the market in Peruvian rice. He disappeared. Upon his return, on Sept. 17, 1859, he proclaimed himself Emperor of the United States. The public clearly indulged him in his long list of grandiose peculiarities, and 20,000 people attended his funeral in 1880.

A biography of Norton in American History magazine by Patricia Carr reads “on the whole the citizens of San Francisco adopted the eccentric ex-merchant and actually afforded him the royal treatment he commanded. He was allowed to eat in restaurants as the guest of the owners. As his fame spread, the restauranteurs actually vied for his royal patronage and approval. Transportation was provided free of charge. At one point the city provided an annual sum for the Emperor’s trappings. To take care of any other physical needs of his royal person, Norton was even allowed to issue bonds, collect taxes from his subjects, or cash his own scrip (payable ‘by the agents of our Private Estate, in case the Government of Norton the First does not hold firm’), printed free of charge by local printers.”

Between 1870 and his death, Norton issued nine types of notes in denominations from 50 cents to $100. 

The 50-cent note issued by The Imperial Government of Norton I being offered is estimated at $20,000 to $30,000, graded by PMG as Very Fine 30. It was printed by Chas. Murdoch & Company, is hand-dated and signed Aug. 1, 1878, by Emperor Norton himself. It promises that the bearer will be paid 50 cents in 1880 with interest at 5 percent per annum. 

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