Paper Money

‘Short snorter’ from World War II falls short in sale

A lesson to be learned: If you want to sell something at auction, no matter how rare, a reasonable estimate and a fair reserve price are the surest ways to avoid disappointment. Such was the fate of a “short snorter” bearing the autographs of nearly two dozen world leaders once owned by Frank Sawyer, Winston Churchill’s valet during World War II. It went unsold after a high bid of $6,750 did not meet the reserve at a sale conducted by Lion Heart Autographs of New York City on May 24. Its estimate was $15,000 to $20,000. Failure to sell was not for a lack of interest, as the lot started at $5,000 and was bid eight times.

Legitimate gold coin resistance from the U.S. MintGold coin resistance at U.S. Mint and a deceptive but detectable counterfeit Indian Head cent: Another column in the June 12 Coin World details the discovery of what seemed to be a rare 1917 French Indo-China 10-cent piece.

Short snorters are among the more esoteric of paper money collectibles. They are part of a tradition started by Alaskan bush pilots in the 1920s and soon extended into the world of military aviation, where they were embraced by pilots and many illustrious passengers, including presidents, prime ministers, generals, and ambassadors. They are notes signed by a group of people traveling or meeting together. If a person signed a short snorter and at a later meeting could not produce it when asked, they owed the requester a dollar or a drink (a short snort).

Dealers usually pay little for them when offered. They are mostly common notes in terrible condition, and usually sell anywhere from under $50 to $250, but their value can change considerably if you take the time to see who the signers were.

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That was the expectation for Sawyer’s snorter, a very common Series 1935A silver certificate with 22 fountain pen signatures on both sides that list nearly a who’s who of the Allies. Among them: Harry Truman, Bernard Baruch, Francis Cardinal Spellman, Joseph Stalin, Gen. Bernard Law Montgomery, and Edward R. Stettinus Jr.

Based on the presence of Truman’s signature, the note can be dated to about 1945, perhaps from the Potsdam Conference, which was held from July 16 to Aug. 2.

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