For immediate release
December 9, 2005

Tons of Engraved Treasure
Experts Examine Money Printer’s Historic Archives

(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 we’ve 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 America’s most skilled and famous engravers.”

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 September.

“These printing plates helped fuel the Industrial Revolution. They printed the stock certificates and bonds that raised cash for companies in the 1800s,” said Blum.

Most of the plates were created over a century ago in the New York City area when American Bank Note was the nation’s 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.

“American Bank 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 Vermont;

  • 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 party’s national conventions in 1888, 1892 and 1928, the Democrat’s national convention in 1896, and the 1893 World’s 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 Liberty’s 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.

“The tremendous importance of the country’s 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 we’ll donate some to various museums. Eventually, most of the archives will be offered for sale to collectors.”



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