Artifact of the Month: Counterfeit bank note, 1856

What’s the downside to having beautiful money? Not knowing whether it’s real.

currency note

Our September Artifact of the Month is a counterfeit bank note, supposedly from the Commercial Bank of Wilmington. The bank was real, but it had nothing to do with this note.

Before the Civil War, coins were scarce and the federal government printed very little paper money. Paper money printed by banks, merchants, and local governments served as common currency. These private and local issues were typically embellished with artwork in the form of vignettes, or pictorial elements. The variety and beauty of these vignettes is the subject of the NCC Gallery’s current exhibition.

composite currency vignettes

While mid-nineteenth-century printing technology did assist in deterring some counterfeiters, the wide variety of available notes presented opportunities for fraudsters.

Our featured note, with its dramatic whaling vignette, was a genuine note from a New Jersey bank. When the bank folded, its paper money became worthless. As was typical in that era, some enterprising criminal altered the note so it bore the name of the Commercial Bank of Wilmington.

Because banks issued so many different designs, this fraudulent note could be passed off easily, with its recipient none the wiser.

Gallery event

If you’d like to know more about the art that appeared on North Carolina money, join us in the North Carolina Collection Gallery for an open meeting of the Raleigh Coin Club on Tuesday, September 16, 2014. The meeting will include a guided tour of the exhibition hosted by its curators Bob Schreiner and Linda Jacobson.

7:00 pm: Exhibit viewing and gallery tour
7:30 pm: Meeting

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