• seperator

Inscribed bank notes evoke history

By Mark Hotz

This month, continuing in my series on inscribed currency in my collection, I am including a group of evocative notes. Inscribed currency does not have to be of the “short snorter” class to illustrate history or provide interesting information. By inscribing a piece of currency, the writer is imparting information about the note that we would never have known. I hope you will enjoy.

The first item is not a piece of currency at all but rather a so-termed “advertising” note. Advertisements for merchants, companies, fairs and tourist attractions were printed on the backs of facsimile Confederate notes circa 1890-1930. This subset of currency collection has a large fan base. People collect “ad” notes based on the location, occupation or graphics on the item.

Fig. 1. This inscribed advertising note from the author’s collection was sent in 1898 by a member of the 3rd Regiment, Pennsylvania Volunteer Infantry, en route to the Spanish-American War, to a young relative back in Mt. Gretna, Pa., from the Lookout Mountain Battlefield in Tennessee.

I picked up an advertising note featuring a large advertisement for Lookout Incline Railway No. 1, the “Historic and Scenic Route” to tour the battlefield “above the clouds.” This refers to the Battle of Lookout Mountain, Tennessee, part of the Chattanooga Campaign. The battle took place on Nov. 24, 1863. By the late 1890s, the battlefield was already a tourist attraction. This particular note was intriguing not only because the advertisement was in the shape of a railroad spike but also because it had an inscription winding its way around the note.

The Confederate side is a facsimile of a $20 note of the issue of Feb. 17, 1864 (T-67). Along the top is inscribed: Joseph P. Mehring to John S. Vile, May 21, 1898, a Saturday. The back of the note gives more information: Relic from Lookout Mountain of Mt. Gretna of Pa to Chickamauga May 18, ’98, was sent to me by Joseph P. Mehring of Co. G, 3 Reg. Penn Volunteers 1 Brigade. Received by me May 21/98 on a Saturday. John S. Vile. [Fig. 1]

Fig. 2. This particular Series of 1899 $1 Black Eagle Silver Certificate was obtained personally at the Treasury Dept. in Washington, D.C., on May 7, 1913. It is most satisfying to know where your bank note was on a given date in history. From the author’s collection.

I assumed that Joseph Mehring was a Civil War veteran who took part in the battle and had gone for a reunion or visit. But a search of Civil War soldier records turned up no one by that name. So I thought that perhaps he was a soldier in the Spanish-American War. Sure enough, a search found that Pvt. Joseph P. Mehring, of Philadelphia, was mustered into the 3rd Regiment, Pennsylvania Volunteers, on May 10, 1898. He was mustered out with his company on Oct. 22 of that year. So, it would appear that one week after mustering in, the 3rd Regiment, Pa., Vol. Infantry found itself in Chattanooga, en route south. Private Mehring had the opportunity to visit Lookout Mountain battlefield and sent this souvenir “note” to John Vile.

Our second note is a very nice grade Series of 1899 $1 Silver Certificate, “Black Eagle” type, with signatures of Napier and McClung (Fr. 230). Inscribed on the back is : Obtained at the Treasury building May 7th 1913 – while seeing Washington in company of Dr. J. Brettcomer. E. Meyer, [unintelligible signature]. It is interesting to know what signature combination was being turned out at the Treasury in 1913 and to know that visitors could just go up to a window and obtain currency. [Fig. 2]

Our third note is really interesting, and it took me a long time to figure this one out. On the back of a relatively nondescript Series of 1914 Federal Reserve Note, Blue Seal, Chicago District, was a penciled inscription along all of the back margins. The problem was that the inscription was in jumbled English, of the quality one might have seen from a newly arrived Eastern European or German immigrant. It reads The 5.00 ey gaut 21 January 1928 for zins for the jeahr 1927 Stefan Vielbig.

Fig. 3. A favorite from the author’s collection, this Series of 1914 $5 Blue Seal Federal Reserve Note was apparently used to buy the sins of young Stefan Vielbig for the year 1927.

After thinking about it for a while, I realized that this note represented money received by Vielbig for selling his sins for the year 1927. Apparently, an old world custom was that you could sell your sins to someone else at the end of a year and get a clean slate for the new one. I found this particularly evocative. Given that the writing is all in pencil, it would have been very easy for the dealer to have just erased it and gotten more money. I’m glad it was preserved. [Fig. 3]

Fig. 4. It is hard to get much more evocative on currency than this Series of 1923 $1 Red Seal note, which was received by the unnamed prisoner as pay for one week’s work in the Bridgeport, Conn., jail in 1925. From the author’s collection.

Our fourth note is pretty self-explanatory. On the back of a rather worn Series of 1923 $1 Legal Tender Note (Fr. 40) is poignantly inscribed: July 3, 1925. JAIL. One Week’s Pay. Bridgeport, Conn. [Fig. 4]

Fig. 5. Equally evocative, and quite sad in nature, is this tattered Series of 1899 $1 Black Eagle, which was the inscriber’s last dollar, that he bet on a “good horse” and hoped that they would “meet again.” We will never know if the bet was a winner or a loser, but the emotion is palpable. From the author’s collection.

Our fifth note is one of my favorites and is pretty equally self-explanatory. A tired old Series of 1899 Black Eagle $1 note (Fr. 229) has one of the most poignant inscriptions I have yet to find on a Large Size note: in oversized and carefully drawn-out hand, it reads My last one. So Long Good By Dear. Its on a good Horse. I hope we meet again. I’ll never know what happened here, other than some poor broke fellow spent his last $1 on a horse race and hoped for a good outcome. This note has so much human spirit in it. We who collect currency usually never have any idea where it has been – sometimes we are lucky and a story is preserved on it. This is one of those examples. [Fig. 5]

Fig. 6. This Series of 1935-A $1 HAWAII overprint Silver Certificate was sent from a sailor aboard the destroyer escort ‘USS Abercrombie’ to his little daughter Sally after he entered the Pacific Ocean en route to battle duty. He admonishes his daughter to “take good care of Mother until I get back.”

Our penultimate note would appear to be a short-snorter at first glance, because the inscription is on a $1 HAWAII overprint note. But it is not. Instead, it is a dollar sent by a father at war in the Pacific to his little daughter back home. Inscribed in very light and faded pen script on the face of the note is: To Sally from her Daddy aboard USS Abercrombie, left Caribbean July 31, 1944, entered Pacific Aug. 2, 1944. Take good care of Mother til I get back. [Fig. 6]

Fig. 7. This wartime photo shows the destroyer escort ‘USS Abercrombie’ at sea.

The USS Abercrombie (DE-343) was a John C. Butler-class destroyer escort in the U.S. Navy, named after Ensign William Abercrombie. It was commissioned on May 1, 1944, with LTC Bernard Katschinski in command. After an initial shakedown cruise, Abercrombie headed to Norfolk July 7-8 and then to Aruba in the Caribbean. On Aug. 1, 1944, Abercrombie entered the Panama Canal en route to San Diego. The Abercrombie later took part in the Battle of Leyte Gulf, screening carriers against submarine and air attack. The ship was not damaged during the war; it was decommissioned in 1946 and later sunk off California in target practice. [Fig. 7]

Fig. 8. This $10 Series 472 Military Payment Certificate was sent home in March 1951 from a US GI who complains to his wife “hon” that he is still in Korea after many months and it was just supposed to be a police action. From the author’s collection.

Our last note is one of the only inscribed notes I have yet to find from the Korean War. It is Series 472 $10 Military Payment Certificate. On the back, in bold but grammatically challenged hand, is poignantly inscribed as follows: This is what we get paid in hon, keep it it’s a 10.00 dollars bill. KROEAN [sic] First pay in 8 months $685.00 dollars. Arrived in Kroean [sic] Jul. 30, 1950 and still here March 3 and this is only police work! Ahahahahahahahahah

I particularly like this one because it explains a lot about what the GI grunts must have felt being stuck in Korea after being told it would just be a short term “police action.” [Fig. 8]

Many thanks for your continuing interest in my articles. I am enjoying presenting many interesting items from my collection to you. It is rewarding to be able to show these items to other collectors who will appreciate them as much as I do. With kind regards until next month. Cheers!

Readers may address questions or comments about this article to Mark Hotz directly by email at markbhotz@aol.com.


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


More Collecting Resources

• The Standard Catalog of United States Paper Money is the only annual guide that provides complete coverage of U.S. currency with today’s market prices.

• When it comes to specialized world paper money issues, nothing can top the Standard Catalog of World Paper Money, Specialized Issues.

This entry was posted in Articles, General News, News. Bookmark the permalink.

Leave a Reply