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Famous war figures signed silver certificate

World War II snorters bearing famous names have long been a popular collecting item. Boston-based RR Auction had a humdinger in its sale ending Nov. 8: a series 1935 $1 Silver Certificate with 22 signatures. Many were notable WW II figures.

 Face and back of World War II snorter bearing the signatures of both Truman and Stalin that was sold for $14,649.78 by RR Auction this past November. (Images courtesy RR Auction)

Face and back of World War II snorter bearing the signatures of both Truman and Stalin that was sold for $14,649.78 by RR Auction this past November. (Images courtesy RR Auction)

Signatures on the face include: [unidentified]; Harry S. Truman, President of the United States P; Bernard M. Baruch, Special Adviser to Director Office of War Mobilization, U.S. NP; Frank Lauro; [unidentified]; Francis Cardinal Spellman, Archbishop New York NP; [unidentified].

On the back are: [unidentified]; John A. Marshall, General Counsel U.S. Delegation Potsdam, Allied Commission on Reparations P; Michael McKeogh, Sergeant, Eisenhower’s orderly ?P; Leslie Hollis, Major-General, Senior Assistant Secretary Office of British War Cabinet P; Iosif Stalin, Generalissimo, Chairman Council of People’s Commissars of the Soviet Union P; Joe Biddle, Captain, U.S.; [unidentified]; [unidentified] Major, U.S.; Bernard Montgomery, Field Marshal, C-i-C British Occupation Forces in Germany P; ?Robert Sinclair, Chief Executive Ministry of Production, U.K. P; Anthony Biddle Jr., Colonel (later Major General), Eisenhower staff ?P; Edward R. Stettinius, Jr., Secretary of State (to June 27, ’45), Personal Representative of the President (from June 28,’45) NP; [unidentified]; T. Taylor, Flight Lieutenant.

RR Auction considered the presence of both Truman and Stalin pointed to the snorter originating in 1945, “perhaps from the time of the Potsdam Conference, which was held from July 16th to August 2nd.” While this is possible in respect of these two signatures, there are two major difficulties.

Firstly, not all those who signed the snorter attended Potsdam. The U.S. Office of the Historian lists the principal members of official country delegations who attended the 1945 conference as well as those who were present in some advisory capacity. In the above two paragraphs, a P has been used to indicate the names of those appearing in the Historian’s record.

A “?P” appears alongside two of Eisenhower’s staff. They are likely to have attended along with the general, but no record has been found indicating they definitely did. A “NP” designates those not known to have been at Potsdam.

The identification of Robert Sinclair as a signatory is tentative. The chief executive of the U.K.’s Ministry of Production was at Potsdam, but this may not be his signature.

Secondly, the signature of Cardinal Spellman cannot have been added anytime in 1945. Spellman was created a cardinal by Pope Pius XII on Feb. 18, 1946.

The snorter then was once the property of someone who collected a diverse range of signatures from, presumably, the time Truman became president in mid-1945 through to 1946. Many may have been gathered at Potsdam, particularly those on the back, but others are of a later or earlier vintage.

And all those signatures are something of a mixed bag. They range from two heads of state through one field marshal and one general, to assorted politicians, middle-of-the-range officers, a junior office and a sergeant. Senior military personnel are outnumbered by politicos and, among the latter, U.S. figures dominate.

Of passing interest are the signatures of those who aren’t on the bill: Eisenhower, for example. If most of the signatures had been sourced largely at Potsdam, more signatures of prominent political and senior military personnel would have been expected. At the conference, such folk were two-a-penny.

It is possible that Truman’s signature was added pre-Potsdam. The fact that Bernard M. Baruch’s signature immediately follows it suggests this. Baruch does not appear to have gone to Potsdam. At that time, he had other fish to fry stateside.

The position of Stettinius signature toward the base of the bill’s back would be consistent with it being added after Truman had replaced him in June 1945 with Byrnes as Secretary of State prior to Potsdam.

All of which makes it intriguing to deduce the likely original owner. It was clearly someone who had no qualms about asking for the signature of Stalin but was also happy to add the John Hancock of lesser lights such as McKeogh.

Speculation aside, a little more clarity could be forthcoming if some of the remaining signatories were to be identified. Any reader recognizing one or more is asked to drop of a line to BNR Editorial Director Maggie Judkins.

What is known is that the snorter went to the block graded Fine although with some signatures, such as Truman’s, having faded in part. Nonetheless, on a pre-auction estimate of $10,000+, it had no problems being bid-up to $14,649.78 including buyer’s premium.


Thanks are due to Mike Graff of RR Auction for images and information.

This article was originally printed in Bank Note Reporter. >> Subscribe today.

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