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Artifact of the Month: “The Elvis Note”

Everyone knows that Elvis Presley had an immense influence on popular music and culture from the mid-twentieth century to the present. But who knew that he had a presence in the first part of the nineteenth century?

Evidence of his early life is found in an image on an 1837 bank note from Philadelphia’s Manual Labor Bank.

bank note

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Private paper money was ubiquitous before the Civil War. The federal government hadn’t yet issued currency, and coins were often in short supply. Notes issued by banks, merchants, and others emerged in a great proliferation. Issuance of private paper money was not illegal, but nevertheless, some notes were much easier to receive in transactions than to spend later. The Manual Labor Bank was one of the many enterprises of Thomas W. Dyott, a purveyor of patent medicines. He needed bottles for his concoctions (which included “Infallible Worm Destroying Lozenges” and “Vegetable Nervous Cordial”), and he acquired and expanded a glass factory near Philadelphia.

bank note vignette

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The central image (or vignette) on the one-dollar note shows workers in a glass factory, perhaps modeled after Dyott’s own enterprise. Right in the middle is Elvis with his white jump suit and sideburns, rolling out molten glass on the end of a blow pipe. It remains for future investigators to learn how Elvis progressed from glass blower to cultural icon.