Artifact of the Month: A fraudulent North Carolina note

Early North Carolinians experienced many problems and frustrations with their money, and not just from having too little of it. One problem was that some of the money in circulation was fraudulent. We use this term rather than counterfeit because the problem went beyond counterfeiting — producing copies of genuine notes.

The North Carolina Collection Gallery recently acquired a “raised” note from the 1778 series of paper money. A genuine note is said to be raised when it has been altered to appear to be of higher denomination than it is.

The note below, shown front and back, at first glance appears to be worth four dollars. But reading the small print on the front — the main body of text or the vertical printing to the left — reveals that the note is worth one-fourth dollar. That’s a big difference.

front of fraudulent note
Front of fraudulent note
Back of fraudulent note
Back of fraudulent note

Compare the genuine but raised note to an unaltered example, below, also in our collection.

Unaltered note on the left; fraudulent note on the right.
Front of unaltered note on the left; fraudulent note on the right. Click for larger image.
Unaltered note on left; fraudulent note on right.
Back of unaltered note on the left; fraudulent note on the right. Click for larger image.

The raised note is a crude job, akin to a bad Photoshop job today.

Did it pass? Maybe.

Much paper money in circulation at the time was heavily worn, significantly more so than the relatively pristine unaltered 1778 specimen shown here. The holes and other defects produced by the raising might not alarm a person used to handling rags that had to serve well into frail old age.

Secondly, people may not have bothered to read the small print, especially if they had seen this type of note before.

Third, unusual (by present standards) denominations — such as four dollars — were more common before the Civil War, and would not have raised suspicions. And there was a genuine four-dollar note in the 1778 series, although it had a motto different from that of the quarter-dollar note.

The simple printing technology of the day, devoid of anti-counterfeiting measures, certainly did little to discourage crooks. Printing technology improved, but so did the skills of the charlatans. Raising genuine notes persisted well into the 19th century as a minor form of easy money making. Today, note raising is a seldom-encountered form of fraud. Modern crooks seem to do just fine with plain counterfeiting.

Artifact of the Month: 1776 note issued by the Fourth Provincial Congress

A recent addition to the North Carolina Collection Gallery’s numismatic collection tells a lesser-known story related to American independence. That $7.50 note is our January Artifact of the Month.


North Carolinians asserted their independence from British rule at the Fourth Provincial Congress in a session convened at Halifax starting April 4, 1776. The first North Carolina battle of the war had occurred that February at Moore’s Creek Bridge, where North Carolina troops led by Richard Caswell defeated a Loyalist force.

Independence was on the minds of the legislators, who called for a declaration of independence and the right to create a constitution. The Halifax Resolves passed unanimously on April 12. This action influenced other colonies to adopt similar resolutions, and together these actions led to the Declaration of Independence. (If the April 12 date is ringing distant bells, it’s because you’ve seen it on the current North Carolina state flag.)

That same session of the Provincial Congress led to a lesser-known assertion of independence. North Carolina, along with the other colonies, had long issued paper money. Massachusetts was the first colony to do so in 1690. North Carolina followed in 1712, the first of twenty-five 18th-century issues, the last in 1785. The 1776 session of the Provincial Congress authorized perhaps the most interesting of all the issues.

That issue is significant for several reasons. A total of seventeen different denominations were authorized, from 1/16 dollar through twenty dollars. (Aside: Bonus points to any Miscellany reader who can tell us in the comments why 1/16 of a dollar was used as a denomination.)

The denominations were issued in 56 different varieties with some denominations having as many as eight designs. The legislation specified neither the number of varieties nor the designs themselves, and it is unknown how these decisions were made.

Each note design displays a vignette, or illustration, usually of an animal, sometimes a plant. One even shows a cupid. But one design, the sole example of the 7 ½ dollar denomination, displays an unfurled flag.

Close-up of the flag vignette on the note.
Close-up of the flag vignette on the note.

Adopted by the Continental Congress in 1775, the Grand Union flag is usually considered the first American flag. It is also known as the Continental Colours, the Congress Flag, the Cambridge Flag, and the First Navy Ensign. The flag displays the familiar thirteen stripes but the canton features the British Union Jack flag. In 1777, thirteen stars replaced the Union Jack, and the Grand Union became our historic first flag.

The Grand Union flag.
The Grand Union flag.

First Lieutenant John Paul Jones hoisted the Grand Union flag over the USS Alfred in February 1776. This was the first appearance of an American flag on a naval ship. It is believed that the same flag was raised by George Washington on New Year’s Day, 1776, at Prospect Hill, now part of Somerville, Massachusetts. Today, you might see the Grand Union flying over the Capitol in Colonial Williamsburg, Virginia.

Oil painting by W. Nowland Van Powell, depicting  the Grand Union flag flying on the USS Alfred.  Original in the U.S. Navy Art Collection, Washington, D.C.  U.S. Naval History and Heritage Command Photograph. Source:
Oil painting by W. Nowland Van Powell, depicting the Grand Union flag flying on the USS Alfred. Original in the U.S. Navy Art Collection, Washington, D.C.
U.S. Naval History and Heritage Command Photograph. Source:

“The Story of the American Flag” in the October 1917 issue of National Geographic claims that the image on the North Carolina note is the “earliest perfect representation of the Grand Union ensign.”

Many examples of the note have survived, probably because of its odd denomination and the flag illustration. We were excited to add one of these proud patriotic notes to our numismatic collection. For North Carolina collectors, the vignette of the flag gives it special historical meaning and a bold statement of early patriotism.

Artifact of the Month: Paper money from a North Carolina sutler

Our October Artifact of the Month, a 50-cent note, was issued by a merchant in an uncommon and now obsolete profession. The note is a rare survivor of private North Carolina paper money issued because of the Civil War.

sutler note

I’ll bet many of you join me in what until recently was my ignorance of the meaning of the word sutler. The term is unfamiliar these days because sutlers are no longer needed. During the Civil War (and other wars before it), the sutler was a civilian merchant who travelled with armies and sold goods to the soldiers.

Why did sutlers exist? In our nation’s early years, federal, state, and local governments provided only limited support to institutions we now consider to be publicly-funded services. Soldiers in the military, for example, did not receive the same level of resources they do today. A soldier was expected to provide some of his own necessities and other goods to make life more livable.

A section about sutlers appears in the Confederate Army Regulations of 1863. The regulations state that “Every military post may have one Sutler, to be appointed by the Secretary of War on the recommendation of the Council of Administration, approved by the commanding officer.” Once appointed the sutler could move his wagon or tent or establish a more permanent structure near or on the grounds of an army post.

The sutler often had a monopoly on many non-military goods, including food, clothing, and stationery. As a result, prices were often unfairly inflated. And the quality of the goods, especially the food, was often very low.

Sutlers developed a less-than-respectable reputation, and were regarded as, at best, a necessary evil. Seen from another perspective, though, they operated a high-risk business, a target for local thieves and enemy army raiders.

Sutlers were important to both sides during the American Civil War. After the war ended, though, the need for sutlers diminished as the government increased the quantity and quality of its services to soldiers. The post exchange evolved to be a great benefit to the soldier, providing quality goods at desirable prices. The memory of the sutler is largely kept alive by modern self-described sutlers, merchants serving Civil War buffs with facsimile period military merchandise.

Most surviving documentation of Civil War sutlers pertains to those of the Union Army. A photo from the Library of Congress (source) shows a Union sutler, A. Foulke, and his tent at Brandy Station, Virginia, headquarters of 1st Brigade, Horse Artillery, in the winter of 1863-64.

sutler tent

Sutler money

Lack of circulating money was a big problem during the Civil War. Coins were scarce, leading to private substitutes. Like many other merchants, sutlers often made small change with their own paper money or tokens. Numismatists have studied and cataloged sutler money, and most surviving Civil War examples are from Northern sutlers. Southern examples are quite rare. The North Carolina Collection recently acquired this piece of paper money from a North Carolina sutler.


The 50-cent note is signed by W. Shelburn, indistinct here, but clearer on some of the other examples. He served the Fourth Brigade, N. C. T (North Carolina Troops). The statement of obligation declares that the note will be received for goods (from the sutler) or in “current funds,” which means any other scrip that the sutler might possess.

An unusual feature is the quite specific June 1863 printed date. One wonders if Shelburn had printed scrip with other dates.


Notes like this one tell an important story about the conduct of the Civil War – how militaries operated, how goods were exchanged, the life of soldiers on the front.

Can you tell us more?

The identity of W. Shelburn remains a mystery to us. We know of a William Shelburn, a North Carolina photographer active from about 1856 to 1907. It’s possible that he provided sutler services during the Civil War. But Shelburn is a relatively common name.

If you have any suggestions for identifying Shelburn, or other information about North Carolina sutlers, please leave a comment!

Artifact of the Month: Handwritten paper money of early North Carolina

In colonial North Carolina, paper money didn’t have the strong institutional backing it does today, and it was remarkably easy to counterfeit. Our July Artifact of the Month is a paper note from 1729 with a value of forty shillings… But was it real?

handwritten note
Our July Artifact of the Month: a 1729 handwritten paper note.

The preferred money of the time was coins of silver, gold, and copper. But Great Britain’s mercantilist colonial policy kept the flow of coins to the home country, and the colonies’ supply was always inadequate. To fill the need, all of Great Britain’s American colonies issued their own paper money. These notes were usually issued with little more than faith in the government as backing.

In 1690, Massachusetts became the first colony to issue its own paper money. North Carolina first issued paper money “bills of credit” in 1712 to finance a war against the Tuscarora Indians.

Unlike any other colony, North Carolina’s first four issues of paper money were produced without benefit of the printing press — they were all handwritten. The issues of 1712-13 and 1715 have no known surviving examples, but a few examples of the 1722 and 1729 issues are known. Our Artifact of the Month is an example of the last handwritten issue.

The note states “This Bill of Forty Shillings Shall be Current in North Carolina According to an Act of Assembly Made Nov 27, 1729.”

handwritten note detail

The note is serial number 730 and has a paper seal. It bears the signatures of John Lovick, William Downing, Cullen Pollock, Edward Moseley, and Thomas Swann. The back, originally blank, displays a couple of endorsements of bearers as the note circulated, a common practice with early North Carolina bills.

Back of note
Back of note

Handwritten paper money was highly susceptible to counterfeiting. The squiggly lines at top of this note were a simple means of counterfeit detection. If a note was brought to the proper governmental authority, it could be compared to the paper stubs with the top half of the squiggle with the same serial number.

Experts believe that most surviving examples of handwritten North Carolina paper money are counterfeits made by colonists (numismatists call these “contemporary counterfeits”). Some examples of these have been preserved in early court records of the prosecution of counterfeiters.

But what about our note? Is it a counterfeit? It was apparently condemned as counterfeit at the time, witnessed by the word “Counterfeit” penned at top.


One way to investigate would be to compare the signatures on the note with known-genuine signatures that are likely in the North Carolina State Archives. All five signers were prominent in local government and business, and it is likely that many of their documents have survived. As far as we know, no one has yet conducted this test, so we may attempt it ourselves.

Whether genuine or an early counterfeit, this is one of few survivors that attest to the severe money problems of early North Carolinians.

Those interested in learning more are referred to the excellent Money and Monetary Problems in Early North Carolina by Alan D. Watson, a 1980 publication of the North Carolina Department of Cultural Resources, Division of Archives and History.

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

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
Click on the image for a larger version

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
Click on the image for a larger version

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.

Numismatics on your mind?

It’s not often that a story about numismatics makes the front page of the News and Observer, but it happened recently in the article “Humble Nickel from 1913 Likely to Fetch Millions.”

What’s numismatics, you ask? You aren’t the only one! It’s the collecting and study of coins and other types of money. What’s so interesting about money, other than nagging questions about whether one has enough of it? The N & O article is about a “trophy” coin: rare and highly desired by collectors with deep — very deep — pockets. Part of the appeal of this 1913 nickel is the mystery of how it was produced, the story of the North Carolinian who once owned it and then lost it, and of course its very high value.

But many pieces of currency have interesting stories to tell. Did you know that during the Civil War the State of North Carolina produced hundreds of varieties of paper money, denominated from five cents through $100? These are not the better-known paper money issued by the Confederacy. Both Confederate and state currencies confusingly circulated together to provide North Carolinians a medium of exchange. But the effort was not entirely successful. The paper money had no intrinsic value and was subject to counterfeiting, inflation, and discounting.

One example of North Carolina’s Civil War paper money is almost as rare as the 1913 nickel, although it does not command anywhere near the price or attention.

A two-dollar rarity

During the Civil War paper and production resources were scarce in the South. Both were obtained by any means possible. In October 1861, the North Carolina Institution for the Education of the Deaf, Dumb, and Blind, located in Raleigh, was pressed into service to print money. They left their imprint, “N. C. Inst. Deaf & Dumb, Print.,” on one- and two-dollar notes. The one-dollar note is fairly common, but the two-dollar note is a rarity, with perhaps only fifteen surviving. Paper money in this era was usually printed on only one side, and the plain backs of uncurrent bank notes were used as the paper stock for the two-dollar notes. This is recycling as economic necessity.

front of note

front of note

Fortunately for collectors today, most varieties of North Carolina’s Civil War paper money survived in significant quantities. The North Carolina Collection has an exceptional collection of numismatic material related to North Carolina, Civil War paper money and the two-dollar Deaf & Dumb note included.

It’s just one of many interesting stories associated with North Carolina’s old money.

Celebrating Mardi Gras in the Gallery

For our friends on the Gulf coast, celebrating Mardi Gras means wild revelry in the streets. For us at the NCC Gallery, it means highlighting a few of our lesser-known holdings.

Cleopatra Mardi Gras doubloons

These aluminum doubloons are throws from the annual Mardi Gras celebration in New Orleans. Throws, of course, are the trinkets thrown from Mardi Gras floats, including strings of beads, plastic cups, and small toys. While krewe members have been throwing trinkets since the 1920s, doubloons weren’t introduced until the 1960s.

Argus Mardi Gras doubloon

Each doubloon is stamped with the name and logo of the krewe, the year, and the year’s theme. As a result, no krewe’s coin is like any other’s, and every krewe’s doubloons differ from year to year. It’s this customization that makes the pieces collectible.

Zeus Mardi Gras doubloon

The trio pictured here includes a 1975 doubloon from the Krewe of Cleopatra, a 1976 doubloon from the Krewe of Argus, and a 1981 drachma from the Krewe of Zeus.

But why are they here?

Mardi Gras medals don’t fall under our typical collecting scope of North Caroliniana. But they do represent an interesting example of numismatics, an area in which the NCC Gallery’s collection is particularly strong. Most of the Gallery’s currency holdings are North Carolina specific, including Bechtler gold coins from the state’s gold-rush era, North Carolina paper money issued prior to the Civil War, and bills of credit issued in the state during the Colonial era. (Images and more information on these holdings can be found in the online exhibit Historic Moneys in the North Carolina Collection.)

So, while our focus remains on the history of North Carolina, one of the pleasures of having a strong numismatics collection is coming across unexpected finds like these.

From all of us here at the NCC, laissez les bon temps rouler!