For immediate release
Tons of Engraved Treasure
Experts Examine Money Printers Historic
(Far Hills, New
Jersey) In a secured, inconspicuous North-Central New Jersey warehouse,
researchers are carefully examining a 200-ton treasure trove of 19th and 20th
century financial and cultural history. They are slowly cataloging one-by-one
an estimated 300,000 intricately engraved steel plates and rollers that were
used for printing paper money, postage stamps, stock certificates, bonds and
even admission tickets to political conventions a century ago.
The items dating back
to the 1820s and perhaps earlier are from the archives of the American Bank
Note Company. They could have been sold for scrap at $800 a ton by the firm,
except for the foresight of numismatist, John Albanese, of Archival
Collectibles LLC of Far Hills, New Jersey.
Albanese purchased the
remarkable metal memorabilia last year for an undisclosed price as
one-of-a-kind artistic pieces of history that depict everything from former
political and historical figures to cherubs.
He bought the archives
in August 2004, and over the next eight months moved the 200 tons of engraved
steel shipment-by-shipment from a warehouse near Nashville, Tennessee to New
Jersey. That was the easy part.
There are just
so many printing plates, maybe as many as 300,000, that weve probably
inventoried only 20 percent of the items so far, said Albanese.
Many of them are engraved with incredibly beautiful vignettes with scenes
of daily life, famous people or allegorical representations. This is art in its
original form by some of Americas most skilled and famous
Steve Blum, a New York
area professional numismatist and President of Archival Collectibles, has been
sifting through the archives and making inventory lists almost daily since
plates helped fuel the Industrial Revolution. They printed the stock
certificates and bonds that raised cash for companies in the 1800s, said
Most of the plates
were created over a century ago in the New York City area when American Bank
Note was the nations foremost printer of paper money. About 5,000 banks
and other entities including railroads, cotton mills, cities and even
restaurants and saloons issued their own paper in denominations from
three-cents to $1,000 until 1866.
Now located near
Philadelphia in Trevose, Pennsylvania, American Bank Note was formed in 1858 by
a consolidation of eight leading bank note engravers and printers.
Over the years, the
firm acquired other companies and their archives, according to researcher Q.
David Bowers, Numismatic Director of American Numismatic Rarities of Wolfeboro,
New Hampshire and a former President of the nonprofit, 33,000-member American
Numismatic Association. He is writing a massive reference book about the art,
history and financial aspects of 19th century U.S. paper money with American
Bank Note Company as the prime focus.
Note was the dominant force in creating designs and printing paper money from
the second half of the 19th century to the early 20th century. The printing
plates and rollers in these archives were used for creating Gold Rush-era bank
notes, postage stamps and thousands of stock certificates, tickets and engraved
invitations, said Bowers.
Many of these
printing plates have wonderfully ornate engravings of presidents, goddesses and
American scenes. After being used, they were wrapped in paper printed with the
particular engraving on the plate or marked with crayon notations on the paper,
and then essentially untouched, in some cases, for 150 years. It is very
exciting to open a package that was sealed in 1845 or 1858! The research
possibilities are immense.
Blum says the items
discovered so far include plates and heavy steel rollers used for printing:
- paper money from
three dozen U.S. states and territories;
- bank notes and
postage stamps for a dozen foreign countries from Asia and Latin America, and
tax revenue stamps for Arizona, Montana, New Hampshire, South Carolina and
- thousands of stock
certificates, bonds and interest bearing coupons for municipalities, railroads
and nearly every major corporation from the 1800s to the 1960s including the
Walt Disney Company;
- admission tickets
to the Republican partys national conventions in 1888, 1892 and 1928, the
Democrats national convention in 1896, and the 1893 Worlds
Columbian Exposition in Chicago;
- 19th and early 20th
century playing cards;
- posters celebrating
the July 4, 1876 United States centennial;
- tickets good
for passage of one horse drawn carriage on the Brooklyn Bridge;
- invitations to the
August 5, 1884 dedication of the Statue of Libertys pedestal and
invitations to the October 3, 1963 reception hosted by New York City Mayor
Robert F. Wagner for His imperial Majesty Haile Selassie, Emperor of Ethiopia.
- The archives also
include an antique, six-foot tall, hand-operated printing press.
importance of the countrys railroad system in the 19th century can be
seen through the hundreds of different plates used to make stock and bond
certificates and passenger tickets for the railroads, he explained.
Some engravings of locomotives and railroad cars are incredibly
detailed, said Blum.
In addition to
creating a reference book about the material, we plan to exhibit some of the
printing plates at collectors shows around the country, and well
donate some to various museums. Eventually, most of the archives will be
offered for sale to collectors.