New Mexico national bank note sold in recent auction has great back story
- Published: Sep 28, 2020, 8 AM
Among the many reasons national bank note collecting is such a popular field of specialized collecting is that, of the 14,348 chartered national banks between 1863 and 1935, 12,635 of them are reported to have issued paper currency. Each of those banks has a story to tell, not just of itself, but also of the people who signed the notes.
One example is a very rare Territory of New Mexico First Charter Period, Series 1875 $20 note issued by the Second National Bank of Santa Fe (Friedberg 432) and signed by Lehman Spiegelberg as president and John Watts as cashier. One sold for $18,000 with the buyer’s fee in Paper Money Guaranty Very Fine 20 at Lyn Knight Auctions’ Sept. 19 sale. This was a considerable increase from the $4,800 it realized when the Knight firm last sold it in 1997, as well as the $4,700 one in damaged Fine 12, ex-Eric P. Newman, sold for in 2015.
The note had a lot going for it. All territorial national bank notes are desirable, as are all New Mexico notes. It is one of the top 10 scarcest states, with fewer than 2,000 examples known from 68 banks.
Only four banks in New Mexico issued $20 First Charter Period notes and all of them were territorial issues. Two are known from the First National Bank of Albuquerque and two from the Santa Fe bank. The Second National Bank of Santa Fe existed only from 1872 until 1893 and only issued First Charter notes, of which only 12 are known. The other known examples are in denominations of $1, $2, and $5. The $10, $50, and $100 notes were issued but are unknown today.
The story of the people behind the bank, the Spiegelbergs, Jewish immigrants from Germany who ended up in New Mexico, may be as extraordinary as the notes bearing their signatures. The Jewish Museum of the American West and the Southwest Jewish Archives at the University of Arizona devote a lot of attention to the family.
Solomon Spiegelberg was born in Germany in 1824, came to America in 1842, and was the first Jewish merchant to travel the Santa Fe Trail. He worked for a trading company as a traveling salesman, so he had to learn Spanish to deal with his Mexican customers. In 1846, he set up his own trading business in Santa Fe and began bringing family members from Germany to help him — first Levi, then Elias, Emanuel, Lehman, and Willi, and sisters Hannchen and Mindelchen.
Solomon and Levi opened the Spiegelberg Brothers store in Santa Fe, across from the governor’s palace, to sell groceries and dry goods. They expanded beyond New Mexico Territory in 1850, added wholesale to their retail operation, and became one of the largest such ventures in the West.
The other brothers, initially clerks, became partners. They did so well that Willi’s house was the first in Santa Fe with running water and gas appliances.
During the Civil War coin shortage, Spiegelberg Brothers was one of the first western business given the authority to issue its own money, which was in the form of 10-, 20-, and 50-cent scrip.
By the 1870s, the business had expanded so much that to control their cash and credit amid the absence of real banks, the brothers essentially became unofficial bankers. In 1872 that banking role was formalized when they were given a charter as the Second National Bank of Santa Fe, with Lehman as president, Willi as cashier, and Solomon and Levi as shareholders in New York, where they had moved.
Among their other ventures at the time were mining, insurance, mail route contracts, land speculation and construction. In 1886, the retail business was liquidated to concentrate on wholesale.
Despite their success in building New Mexico and making a fortune there, the family eventually all, one by one, made their way to what was for them the more favorable cultural environment of New York. They liquidated the bank in 1893. Stock records show that the shareholders did very well upon termination of the charter.
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