Paper Money

Small book bound in $1 note: Numismatic Bookie

There are many numismatic books about dollars, but as far as The Numismatic Bookie knows, only one book that is a dollar, or more precisely, is bound within a dollar bill. It’s not “big bucks,” though, for this volume measures only 3 inches by 2.625 inches, about half the size of a smart phone, and is exactly 10 pages long. This peculiar miniature book was published in 1978 by The Quoin Press, and its title refers to its binding: WHAT IT’S WORTH …and that’s not much. 

Despite its diminutive size, the book delivers a serious numismatic message, but before sharing it, let’s talk about the meaning of “quoin,” and the puns that invariably orbit this delightfully arcane word. In traditional printing, the printer creates a form (think “page”) of type and places the form into a rectangular steel frame called a “chase.” A quoin is a wooden or expandable metal block used to lock up the form inside of the chase. All of this, of course, has been rendered obsolete by modern printing methods, making quoins, forms, and chases a throwback to earlier days of letterpress printing.

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“Quoin” is pronounced almost the same as “coin,” so it presents an irresistible naming opportunity to a variety of enterprises, including a bank in Sioux Falls, S.D.; a software company headquartered in Boston; and an industrial company located in Golden, Colo. Perhaps inevitably, the pun plays in Peoria, where the Golden Quoin Press was established in 2008 at Bradley University. This latter press is not be confused, however, with The Quoin Press, which published WHAT IT’S WORTH exactly 30 years earlier, in 1978.

This little book’s unnamed author made a satirical point about the (formerly) almighty dollar both visually and textually. Visually, the book is bound in a Series 1977 Federal Reserve note for Dallas. Textually, the scribe assails the decline of the dollar, in words that could have been written yesterday: “Now highly inflated, it is threatened as the one standard currency on the world’s money markets.” Unlike most such jeremiads, however, this one fixes the precise day when the dollar began its inexorable decline: Oct. 1, 1957. 

Until that fateful date, says the author, the Bureau of Engraving and Printing had made all U.S. currency on flat-bed cylinder presses, using moistened paper, a process that required 15 days to complete. Afterwards, bills could be printed on British-made, high-speed, sheet-fed rotary presses using the dry intaglio process requiring only three days, making it cheaper and quicker to literally print money. The author facetiously suggests that the rotary press be replaced by a handpress to seriously slow the process. Observing that the 1957 bills also were the first to carry the motto “In God We Trust,” the writer ruefully comments that, “Since then, we have been able to trust in little else, certainly not a stable dollar.”

The colophon (closing note) of this buck-bound book records that it was “Set, folded and bound by hand, and printed a page at a time, on a small handpress, in an edition of 200 copies.” Few other volumes, numismatic or otherwise, take so little room on a shelf, and are guaranteed to always be worth at least one dollar.

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