Kushan Coins at the ANS

A long-awaited publication from The American Numismatic Society, Kushan, Kushano-Sasanian, and Kidarite Coins, is now available for sale. The 322-page hardcover catalogue  by David Jongeward and Joe Cribb with Peter Donovan presents all of the Kushan coins in the ANS collection with detailed descriptions and commentary, including 79 full-color plates. The Kushan Empire flourished between the 2nd century BC and the 3rd century AD, covering much of modern-day Pakistan, Afghanistan, and northern India.

Kushans

Moving beyond previous publications, there have been major revisions to the organization and chronology of the production system of Kushan coinage. The catalogue is based on the latest coin-based research, including site find analysis and die studies. Introductory essays present the historical and cultural context of the kings and their coins, with the coins classified by ruler, metal, denomination, mint, production phase, type and variety.

The catalogue features two series of coins issued by the Kushano-Sasanian and the Kidarite Hun rulers of former Kushan territory as they adapted and followed the Kushan coinage system. The overall work covers four centuries of Central and South Asian ancient history and contains illustrations of all the ANS gold coins and as well as a selection of copper coins.

ANS, 1967.154.5
ANS, 1967.154.5

Andrew Reinhard, Director of Publications, commented on this newest title, “With a very strong cabinet of Far Eastern issues, we at the ANS were excited to produce material on our Central and South Asian coinage. This catalogue is an incredible tool for academics, numismatists, and collectors, as it will assist in identifying coins and with the general understanding of this significant historical period.”

Kushan, Kushano-Sasanian, and Kidarite Coins is available to order on the ANS website at http://numismatics.org/Store/Kushans

You can also call Catherine DiTuri to place your order at 212-571-4470, ext. 117.

The list price is $150; ANS members may purchase it for $105.

Download a PDF of the introduction at no charge by clicking here.

#TheNew10

I will be on NPR’s All Things Considered today to discuss the announcement by Secretary of the Treasury Jacob Lew that a woman will either be joining or replacing Alexander Hamilton on a redesigned $10 bill scheduled to enter into circulation in 2020.

It will be the first major change to U.S. paper currency since the present small-size Federal Reserve Notes were introduced in 1929 (with allowances for the anti-counterfeiting alterations of the past few years). The full details are on the Treasury’s website here, and the announcement comes on the heels of a popular campaign to replace Andrew Jackson, headlined by the Women on 20s movement that I have written about before here and here.

It seems to me that there are two likely explanations for this decision and the timing of the announcement. The first is that the ten-dollar bill was already in the process of being  redesigned because of a lawsuit and pressure from the American Council of the Blind and other disability advocates to make US currency more usable for people who lack the ability to distinguish between bills visually. The United States has been one of the few countries that does not differentiate its bills either by using different sizes for various denominations or by adding some tactile feature that would indicate the value of the note. The Bureau of Printing and Engraving has issued a white paper that includes a timeline for the gradual phase in of new tactile currency, with the ten-dollar bill leading the way in 2020.

The other mitigating factor is pretty clearly that the idea of putting a woman on US currency has become something of a national conversation of late. During my time at the ANS, no other subject has seemed to generate as much interest as this, and the Women on 20s campaign clearly had gained some momentum. Indeed, the fact Secretary of State Lew linked the introduction of the new bill to the 100th anniversary of the 19th Amendment explicitly echoed that campaign.

The question of course turns to exactly who the woman should be. Lew said that officials are seeking advice nationwide and introduced a hashtag #TheNew10 to solicit public feedback. C8D00181-155D-451F-67528C91B231E573The winner in the recently concluded online voting for the Women on 20s campaign was Harriet Tubman, and she would certainly deserve the honor. My own preferred candidate remains Jane Addams, the Chicago reformer who was the first woman to win the Nobel Peace Prize. But I also believe that Amelia Earhart is perhaps the best candidate insomuch as she was an apolitical figure who is something of an American hero and could thus mobilize broad support. I also think her status as a cultural icon would be beneficial moving forward because part of the problem with US currency has been its narrow focus on representing political figures. Choosing someone like Earhart would ostensibly make it possible to include other notable Americans beyond the world of politics. Actually in the context of this specific bill, Helen Keller would be the most logical choice as she embodies both of the rationales behind the $10 redesign! In any case, the choice will be made by the end of the year it will be fascinating to see how this discussion progresses over the coming months.

It was interesting to hear Lew state that Alexander Hamilton will continue to have a place on the bill in addition to the new portrait of a woman. I am not sure how this will work design-wise. They could do something like the reverse of the 1896 $2 “Educational Series” note that featured Martha and George Washington:

reverse 1896Or the ten-dollar Legal Tender note of 1901 with Lewis and Clark flanking a dominant central design:

US-$10-LT-1901-Fr.114

Whomever the choice, it does seem past time that a woman finds a place on American paper money. And let’s not forget the boon that this new and long-overdue tactile currency will be for the visually impaired.

Matthew Wittmann

Update: Listen to the segment below.

[iframe src=<iframe src=”http://www.npr.org/player/embed/415537140/415537141″ width=”100%” height=”290″ frameborder=”0″ scrolling=”no”></iframe>]

Profiles in Research: Chad Leahy

Last week, the ANS was visited by Dr. Chad Leahy, an Assistant Professor of Spanish and Early Modern Cultural Studies in the Department of Languages & Literatures at the University of Denver. Chad was kind enough to sit for a short interview about his work, and what follows is a lightly edited transcript of our talk.

IMG_7572
Chad Leahy (left) and David Yoon

What brings you to the ANS today?

I am working on a book project right now about the representation of Jerusalem in early modern Spanish culture and how the politics and interests of Spain in the Holy Land were refracted in art and literature. I also am finishing up an article on the place of coins in a particular episode of Don Quixote that deals with the expulsion of the Moriscos. In the 16th Century, ‘Morisco’ was a term used to refer to the descendants of Muslim people in Iberia, who were expelled from Spain in 1609-1614. Moriscos were officially converts to Christianity, but most of them only nominally so. One of the characters in the novel, Ricote, was a Morisco who was expelled but then sneaks back to recover some buried treasure. The buried treasure of Ricote has been studied a lot from an economic angle, but I am looking at what happens when we read the coins as objects–looking at the marks and inscriptions on them to see the propagandistic messages that were circulating at the time. The discourses used to justify the expulsion were connected to Crusade propaganda and ideas about Spanish national identity, and these same messages are communicated through those coins. So there’s an interesting ironic tension between the character’s own biography and the coins he is coming back to recover. The thing that got Ricote expelled in the first place is stamped on his coins.

And were there some coins that you saw today that you found particularly interesting or enlivening?

Until now, the pieces that I have seen are things you find on Google images or coins published in books. I haven’t had the opportunity to examine any pieces in person and its hard to know without doing so what is real and what is being misrepresented or poorly described.

In Don Quixote, Ricote has all different kinds of money. Most of his money is in the form of escudos and initially I was just surprised by how small escudos are. The expulsion of the Moriscos happened under the reign of Philip III (1598-1621) and the ANS has an escudo from that period and also a gold Portuguese cruzado from a little bit earlier.

ANS, 1969.222.2697
ANS, 1969.222.2697

 

Both pieces are really fascinating. In the heraldry of the period there is a particular kind of cross called the cross potent that was a mark of the crown of Naples, which was in turn connected to both the crown of Jerusalem and the crown of Aragon through marriage and conquest. The cross potent came to represent the Kingdom of Jerusalem. These coins have crosses potent on them and the reason why this is significant in the period as it relates to propaganda and the expulsion is that this particular kind of cross gestures to Crusader propaganda and the idea of universal battle against Islam. It embodies the idea that Spain is destined to reconquer Jerusalem. These kinds of ideas were used to justify the expulsion of the Moriscos in 1609 and this is a connection I want to highlight. 

ANS, 1936.13.4 (obverse)
ANS, 1936.13.4 (obverse)

One surprise today was that the cruzado (left) had a potent cross on it too [centered above the coat of arms]. I did not know that Portugal had crosses potent on any of their coins and they appear to have them in the 16th century on a good number of their cruzados.

 

And finally what are your future plans for this work?

This is going to be part of two works in progress. The first is an article that I am finishing up focusing on the Don Quixote coins, and the second is a larger book project about Jerusalem and early modern Spain.

For information about how this work develops, check out Dr. Leahy’s academia.edu page here.

The Wildcat Bank of Tinkerville

A few weeks back, I wrote a post about the Bank of Brest, one of the multitude of wildcat banks that sprouted up around Michigan after it was granted statehood in 1837 and liberalized its banking regulations. The stories of excess and chicanery that accompanied this episode are sometimes entertaining, but they also often fail to capture the impact that failed banks had on the community. It is also sometimes difficult to understand how people were fooled by what in many cases seem like transparently bad banks.

Library Company of Philadelphia
Library Company of Philadelphia

Luckily, there is a wonderful first-person account of the rise and fall of a wildcat bank by Caroline Kirkland (1801-1864). Born Caroline Matilda Stansbury, she was a well-educated woman from New York who moved to Michigan to head the Detroit Female Seminary in 1835 with her husband, classics scholar William Kirkland. William became caught up in the speculative land boom that accompanied statehood, and in 1837 purchased eight-hundred acres of land where the village of Pinckney was founded about fifty miles west of Detroit. Feeling somewhat isolated in their new environs, Caroline spent her days writing long and observant letters to friends and colleagues about the trials and tribulations of Western life. These letters coalesced into her first book, A New Home–Who’ll Follow? or, Glimpses of Western Life, which was published by C. S. Francis in 1840 and quickly became a runaway success that went through numerous editions. Writing under the nom de plume Mrs. Mary Clavers, Kirkland’s work consisted of perceptive and often satirical sketches of life in the fictionalized frontier town of ‘Montacute.’

University of California
University of California

Although undoubtedly lightly fictionalized, her account was frank enough to earn the ire of friends and neighbors who saw themselves in offending passages and disdained her portrayal of the mores that prevailed in the wilds of Michigan. The Kirklands moved back to New York City in 1843, and Caroline published two more books about her experiences out west. She was active in New York literary circles and was well-acquainted with many of the most renowned Anglo-American writers of the day. After William’s death in an accident in 1846, she continued to write to support her family and edited a variety of different publications.

In a scholarly edition of A New Home published by Rutgers University Press, Sandra A. Zagarell praises Kirkland as a “sophisticated cultural critic” who “engaged in wide-ranging, often satiric commentary on the socialcultural conventions and codes prevailing in both the eastern and western United States (xi-xii).” Indeed the lively passage excerpted below chronicling the rise and fall of the “Merchants’ and Manufacturers’ Bank of Tinkerville” is a wonderful example of her keen eye for detail and sharp wit. Kirkland’s narrative captures something of the enthusiasm that so often accompanied such ventures, at least initially, as well as the impact that these schemes had on the community. The entire book, which you can find here, is well worth a read. For those in haste, this engaging excerpt on wildcat banking will have to do.

CHAPTER XXXI.  

The very next intelligence from our urban rival came in the shape of a polite note to Mr. Clavers, offering him any amount of stock in the ‘Merchants’ and Manufacturer’s Bank of Tinkerville.’ My honored spouse–I acknowledge it with regret–is any thing but an ‘enterprising man.’ But our neighbor, Mr. Rivers, or his astute father for him, thought this chance for turning paper into gold and silver too tempting to be slighted, and entered at once into the business of making money on a large scale.

Continue reading The Wildcat Bank of Tinkerville

Summer Seminar at the ANS

The 2015 edition of the Eric P. Newman Graduate Seminar in Numismatics started this week at the American Numismatic Society. The seminar offers an eight-week introduction to numismatics for graduate students and junior faculty in a variety of disciplines whose work relates to coins and currency. Attendees also have the opportunity for hands-on work with one of the world‘s preeminent numismatic collections, which holds almost a million objects from all cultures, past and present. This post is to welcome and introduce this year’s participants!

IMG_7603

Our Visiting Scholar is Professor Aleksander Bursche of the University of Warsaw, who is an archaeologist specializing in relationships between Greeks, Romans, and “barbarians,” with a particular emphasis on monetary and economic interactions.

Jane Sancinito is a Ph.D. candidate in Ancient History at the University of Pennsylvania who is interested in the social dimensions of exchange among Roman merchants. She runs a blog about the basics of ancient numismatics that you can find here.

Lara Fabian is a doctoral student in the Art and Archaeology of the Mediterranean World graduate group at the University of Pennsylvania. She studies relations between Romans, Parthians and mobile pastoralists in the South Caucasus.

Patricia Kim is a doctoral student in the History of Art department at the University of Pennsylvania. She studies aspects of cross-cultural interaction and kingship in Greco-Roman visual and material culture.

Felege-Selam Yirga is a doctoral student in the History department at the Ohio State University. He studies the Near East and Red Sea in Late Antiquity with a focus on Axum.

Rhyne King is a doctoral student in the Department of Near Eastern Languages and Civilizations at the University of Chicago.  He studies the history of Pre-Islamic Iran in general, and the Achaemenid Empire in particular.

IMG_7614

Stephanie Leitzel is a incoming doctoral student in the History Department at Harvard University. She is interested in the environmental and economic history of the Early Middle Ages, particularly in the Irish Sea region.

William Chiriguayo is a Ph.D. candidate in the History Department at Harvard University. His dissertation–an imperial, numismatic history of United States currency–examines how the production of money advanced the American imperial project.

Mariele Valci recently obtained a Master’s degree in the Department of Archaeology at Università di Roma Tre and will be pursuing a Ph.D. at the University of Nottingham in the fall. Her work focuses on developing a better understanding of the medieval economy of Rome through the study of coins minted by the city between the 12th and 14th century. She blogs about her experience of being an archaeologist abroad here.

Emancipation Day Token: Sarah Ann Prout

Sutlers were civilian merchants who supplied the Union Army with non-military goods that the government did not provide for the troops. Each military post had a designated sutler and although their activities were supposedly governed by the Federal Army Regulations of 1861, in practice they did what they pleased. Beyond standard necessities like clothing, kitchenware, and foodstuffs, they also stocked pipes and tobacco, playing cards, writing materials, books, newspapers, and other sundries that the huge camps of men mobilized for the war required.

Frank Leslie's Illustrated Newspaper, November 29, 1862
Frank Leslie’s Illustrated Newspaper, November 29, 1862

The article that accompanied the illustration above described the sutler as a “necessary evil” of army life. Because they were civilians whose primary motive was profit, sutlers could charge inflated prices and ensnare soldiers in credit schemes. Although officially prohibited, alcohol was a bestseller and contributed to their unsavory reputation, as bribes and smuggling quickly became standard operating procedure. Wherever the Union Army marched, the sutlers followed, selling their wares out of wagons, tents, and other temporary structures like the operation run by A. Foulke at a military camp in Virginia, ca. 1863-64.

Brandy Station, VA | ca. 1864 |Photograph by James F. Gibson Library of Congress
Brandy Station, VA | ca. 1864 | Photograph by James F. Gibson
Library of Congress

As most posts had only a single appointed sutler, they faced no competition and a combination of exorbitant prices and poor merchandise often led to strife and raids by angry soldiers. In short the sutler system was something of disaster throughout the war and the morale and discipline problems it created were so pernicious that it was abolished in 1866.

What concerns us here were some of the interesting numismatic dimensions of the sutler system. Perhaps most notable in this regard were so-called ‘sutler tokens,’ which were essentially a way of extending credit to soldiers between paydays. Issuing tokens also prevented soldiers from spending their money elsewhere and more practically alleviated the acute lack of circulating currency in camp. Tokens and cardboard scrip issued by sutlers were oftentimes the only kind of small change available and they were the primary means through which business was transacted in camp.

ANS, 0000.999.55338
ANS, 0000.999.55338

These thin brass tokens typically had the name of the sutler and the unit on the obverse and either a generic pattern or the mark of its maker on the reverse. The token above was struck by John Stanton in Cincinnati for J. L. Cooper, the sutler for the 2nd Regiment of the Ohio Cavalry.  The general rarity of these tokens has inspired a community of Civili War-era collectors, but they were not the only numismatic objects related to sutlers.

One item that came to be sold by most every sutler were identification discs, which were an early version of what we now know as “dog tags.” As soldiers came to realize the brutality of the conflict and the near impossibility of being identified in the event of their death, a durable means of identifying oneself in case the worst happened was sought. A wide variety of solutions were used, from stencils used to ink names on clothes to preprinted paper tags that could be filled out and attached with wire. Any bit of metal that could be repurposed with a bit of engraving was tried and so an assortment of metal badges and pins appeared, but the most popular solution proved to be small brass coin-like tokens. These discs bore patriotic symbols or busts of renowned Americans on their obverse with the reverses left blank for stamping on identification information. A hole drilled in the top allowed it to be securely fastened to a uniform or worn as a necklace.

Library of Congress
Library of Congress

Their utility was borne out in battle. The cased tintype at left from the Library of Congress pictures Corporal Alvin B. Williams, who enlisted at the age of eighteen and was killed in May 1864 at the Battle of Spotsylvania. Although the precise  circumstances of his death are unknown, the case poignantly contains his identification disc, which might have been the only means by which he could be identified amidst the carnage of that particularly bloody battle. Williams was originally buried at Beverly’s Farm, but his remains were later relocated to the Fredricksburg National Cemetery. Because these brass discs were relatively cheap, they proved popular with the troops and sutlers concomitantly stocked them in many different styles. Discs with assorted obverse designs and blank reverses were purchased wholesale from die-sinkers in New York, Boston, and other locales, and then the sutler finished the work at the point of purchase by stamping letters on with metal punches. Maier and Stahl’s research suggests the sutlers bought the blank discs for about a dollar each and then sold them to soldiers for two or three dollars, a seemingly fair mark-up, at least by contemporary sutler standards. The finished product looked something like this:

ANS, 1967.225.569
ANS, 1967.225.569

Note that in this case the reverse was not simply blank but pre-stamped with certain generic information, which made finishing the work with punches much easier.

The American Numismatic Society has dozens of identification discs, each possessing its own interesting story, but the one I want to single out was not sold to a soldier. It was inscribed with the name of a woman named Sarah Ann Prout on the occasion of the passage of the District of Columbia Emancipation Act, which was signed into law by President Abraham Lincoln on April 16, 1862. The act was a notable precursor to the Emancipation Proclamation and the debates that surrounded it. This was in a sense a model piece of legislation in that it combined emancipation with compensation to slave owners, and also provided funds to newly freed slaves willing to emigrate abroad. The act obviously had the most direct impact on the three thousand or so slaves in the District of Columbia who were freed, but its passage was celebrated by African Americans and abolitionists around the country. The jubilation was such that Sarah Ann Prout went to a sutler and had this disc stamped to mark the day.

ANS, 0000.999.39579
ANS, 0000.999.39579

Who was Sarah Ann Prout? The likeliest candidate that I have been able to find is a “Sarah Prout” enumerated in the 1860 census. She was then a 33-year-old African-American woman living in Millersville, Maryland about twenty five miles east of Washington, DC. Listed as a “Free Inhabitant” of the state, her occupation was given as “Farm Laborer.” As detailed on the handy Legacy of Slavery in Maryland website, the slave (87,189) and free (83,942) black populations were then roughly equal in Maryland. I do not presently have access to some of the more specialized research tools and databases used by historians and genealogists so perhaps this identification is in error, but of the Sarah Prouts listed in the census she seems to make the most sense in terms of both background and geography. Perhaps she was attracted to work in the burgeoning military camps and complexes that sprang up around Washington as the war effort expanded. The passage of the Emancipation Act would certainly have been an occasion for celebration by the black community in and around the District of Columbia. Moreover there is always the possibility that this Sarah Prout, although free in 1860, was born into slavery, which would make the day particularly redolent. While this presupposes much, the token was certainly purchased by someone for whom the Emancipation Act was a significant event, and perhaps further research will tell us more about Sarah Ann Prout’s experience.

Library of Congress
Library of Congress

As it was in many other African American communities around the United States, the day of emancipation subsequently became something of an annual holiday that was celebrated with a festival and parade. Indeed, it is observed in Washington DC to this day.

If a reader has any ideas or suggestions on tracking down more information about Sarah Ann Prout, please just email me here.

For more on sutlers and Civil War-era numismatics see Francis Lord, Civil War Sutlers and their Wares (1969); David E. Shenkman, Civil War Sutler Tokens and Cardboard Scrip (1983); Larry B. Maier and Joseph W. Stahl, Identification Discs of Union Soldiers in the Civil War (2008).

Matthew Wittmann

Mysteries from the Vault: Models Medalet

With close to a million objects in the American Numismatic Society’s collections, the curatorial team occasionally comes across items that are mysteries to us. This series will feature some of these objects in the hopes that the collective wisdom of our readers can help us to identify and learn more about them.

This bronze medalet appears to be a membership or attendance medal for some unknown society. It is not exactly clear to us what activity the gentlemen on the obverse are engaged in, but they appear to be building a model house and a model ship. The number 80 is faintly visible in the exergue. It measures 25.5 mm in diameter and the reverse has the legend: C. / O. O. / O’ HOUT / MEI 1916

Mystery Solved! Thanks to Henk Groenendijk who commented below and offered the following history of the medalet:

In the exergue there are the letters B.U. which stands for Begeer Utrecht. Begeer (1880-1919) were a well-known firm in the city of Utrecht in the Netherlands who made many types of medals. The medal concerned is one of their stock medals, made in different sizes and metals for awards. This particular medal is an award for homecrafts (Huisvlijt in Dutch). The reverse of the medal has space for an engraved or, in this case, a stamped inscription.

O’HOUT is an abbreviation of Oosterhout, a city located in the province of North Brabant, in the south of the Netherlands. The date is May (MEI) 1916, which is in the period of the first World War. Although the Netherlands stayed neutral during this war, the army was mobilized. Near Oosterhout there were army barracks. These were visited by the Queen on May 17, 1916. This visit is described in a newspaper for the army (Soldatenkrant, orgaan voor leger en vloot) of May 28, 1916.

The Queen also visited an “huisvlijt tentoonstelling”, an exhibition of objects made by the soldiers in their free time. This exhibition was organized by the “Comité tot ontwikkeling en ontspanning der gemobiliseerde troepen” which can be translated as Committee for development and relaxation of mobilized troops. In the inscription this was abbreviated as: C.O.O. In the newspaper article it is not stated whether or not medals were given by the Queen. My assumption is they were given by the Comité.

1984.15.15
1984.15.15

 

1984.15.15.rev

Have an idea about what this might be? Let us know in the comments or send us an email.

Sidewheel Steamer Proof Vignette

Scattered among the American Numismatic Society’s paper money collection are vignette proofs, which are small engravings mounted on card stock by printing firms to model individual design elements for customers. The vignette pictured below is a particularly striking image of sidewheel steamer amidst river traffic from the American Bank Note Company (click to enlarge).

ANS, 1986.27.14
ANS, 1986.27.14

Although this engraving, like most nineteenth-century bank note work, was not signed, the artist was extremely skilled and created a range of tones by varying the spacing, size, and depth of the lines and dots. This detail of the sailboat in the foreground shows just how precise and delicate the line work needed to be to create a strong overall impression.

1986.27.14.detail

In industry terms, ‘bank-note engraving’ referred to two different methods of producing vignettes. Line engraving or ‘cutting’ involved using a graver to cut dots and lines directly onto a metal plate, which in practice was usually reserved for executing human figures and portraits. Etchings were made by covering the plate with a soft waxy ground and then sketching a design on to the plate using a sharp point, removing the wax where the artist wants lines to appear. The plate was then bathed in acid, which bites into the metal where it has been exposed, leaving lines and dots sunk into the plate. The scene above was created by etching, and the resulting line work for the water is particularly impressive as the reflections of the assorted boats create a very nice effect. The proof engraving would have been produced from a vignette die held by the American Bank Note Company, though it might originally have been cut earlier by  one of the antecedent firms that amalgamated into that esteemed concern in 1858 (It was, see update below). Vignettes were often used by a variety of clients, but the only bank note upon which this particular one seems to appear in the ANS collection is on an 1859 five-dollar note issued by the Morganton branch of the Bank of North Carolina (Haxby NC-55 | Pennell P-990).

ANS, 1986.27.13
ANS, 1986.27.13

While the Bank of North Carolina might have commissioned the vignette for their notes, the expense of producing an original engraving meant that it was more likely a stock image selected by the bank. Customers would simply look through specimen books or review proof vignettes like the one above and then pick and choose images and security features.  After the various design elements were decided upon, a transfer roll was used to move the design from the vignette die (a hardened steel plate with the master engraving) onto the printing plate. First, a soft steel roller was impressed over the face of the die to ‘pick up’ the image in relief. pbcylSee, for example, this transfer roll from Stack’s catalog for the J. A. Sherman Collection (2007), which holds two vignettes, one of which is of the famous polar bear scene. After the transfer rolls were tempered, they were rolled onto the face of a soft steel or copper plate, incusing the vignette onto the plate so that the notes were printed intaglio. The vignettes, counters, and lettering were added by successive applications of transfer rolls to create the overall design, after which the bank note plate was hardened and prepared for printing. The red overprinting on the Bank of North Carolina note was a security feature that would have required a second plate inked with red.

A close-up comparison between the proof engraving and the North Carolina bank note shows how some detail was lost during the transfer and printing process, and then subsequently in circulation.

ComparisonStill, the combination of artistry and technology that went into producing vignettes for nineteenth-century bank notes was impressive. For more information on this subject, see Mark Tomasko’s The Feel of Steel: The Art and History of Bank-Note Engraving in the United States (2012).

One final note: the American Numismatic Society does not presently have a vignette die or a transfer roll in its collection, though we do obviously have proof vignettes and printing plates. It would be great to get some dies in order to be able to demonstrate in full how the bank note production process worked. If a generous reader has something like this to spare, please consider donating to the ANS. Thanks!

Update: Mark Tomasko writes to let us know that this maritime vignette also appeared on a $5 note on the City Bank of New Haven. The imprint for that note is Toppan, Carpenter, Casilear & Co., which dates its creation to 1850-1855, prior the amalgamation of that firm into the American Bank Note Company.

Matthew Wittmann