For immediate release
July 31 2006,
8:23 AM EDT
$3 bill printing plates on auction block
By David Tirrell-Wysocki,
Associated Press Writer
WOLFEBORO, N.H. --
Ornate currency produced by banks around the country became obsolete virtually
overnight when the federal government started printing money in quantity in the
1860s. So did the intricate printing plates used to make it. Now, hundreds of
the hand-engraved metal plates, many hidden in storage for more than 150 years,
are going on the auction block.
significance, it's hard to overstate it," said Douglas Mudd, curator of
exhibitions at the American Numismatic Association Money Museum in Colorado
Springs, Colo. "These are unique items. These are the plates that were used to
produce notes and paper documents that built this country."
Before they go up for
auction, the plates are being examined and catalogued by a New Hampshire firm
that specializes in rare currency and coins, American Numismatic
It sometimes needs to
do detective work.
"When they come to us,
it doesn't say `Hey, this was used in 1841 to print this.' We have to figure it
out ourselves ... and when we can, sometimes we have a eureka moment," said Q.
David Bowers of American Numismatic Rarities.
The 200 tons of plates
are from the archives of the American Bank Note Co., formed in New York in 1858
by the consolidation of seven major engraving and printing firms.
comprises about 900 plates used for printing money plus 10,000 to 20,000 of
various sizes that were used for other printing jobs.
hand-engraved by highly skilled artists," Bowers said. "It would not be unusual
for someone to spend weeks doing a whole scene. They wore eyepieces and had
very fine tools and magnifiers and did it one line at a time."
American Bank Note
inherited plates its predecessors had been accumulating for decades, including
ones used to print advertisements, letterhead stationery and stock certificates
that helped fuel the country's economic and westward expansion during the early
The company, now based
at Trevose, Pa., near Philadelphia, printed money for banks around the country
until the federal government imposed a 10 percent tax on transactions involving
such currency in 1866, Bowers said.
"People brought their
state bank notes back to the bank and said `Give me federal money instead.' So
almost overnight, they all left circulation," he said.
The plates were packed
up and left in storage until 2004, when the collection was purchased for an
undisclosed price by John Albanese of Archival Collectibles of Far Hills, N.J.
He has been sending the plates to New Hampshire to be researched before selling
them at a series of auctions.
The first, scheduled
for Aug. 11 in Denver, will have 158 plates used to print currency and stock
certificates for everything from early railroads to mining companies. They
include "vignette" plates, which portray scenes of Americana or landmarks that
banks and other companies used to embellish their currency, letterhead, checks
The Denver auction
also includes an engraved cylinder used to print tickets to the Pan-American
Exposition of 1901 in Buffalo, N.Y., where President William McKinley was
Future auctions will
include iconic plates such as the RCA Victor dog, early ads for Campbell's soup
and invitations to events such as the 1884 dedication of the Statue of
Bowers suspects the
centerpiece of the auction in Denver will be a series of plates, including one
for then-popular $3 bills, from the Commercial and Agricultural Bank of
"By the time they
stopped issuing state bank notes in 1866 there were only three banks -- count
them, three -- in the whole state of Texas, whereas in New York there might
have been 300," he said.
Numismatic Rarities: http://www.anrcoins.com/
Copyright (c) 2006, The Associated Press
Release: "Tons of
Engraved Treasure " December 9, 2005
Archival Collectibes Home Page