REALM OF THE COIN

June 13, 2016 by  
Filed under Blogs, Hot Button / Lynn Ashby

 

GALVESTON – This is the Rosenberg Library Museum (“The oldest free public library in Texas”) which is showing a collection of Republic of Texas currency, along with other paychecks from the King of Spain, the governments of Mexico, the Confederacy, plus assorted letters and documents. And you don’t have to be a Crockett scientist to see if we can turn a big buck on the deal. I enter the building and go to the lady at the front desk. I say, “I’d like to see the exhibition of Texas currency.” I get a blank look. “There may be something on the fourth floor,” she says.

I go to the fourth floor and find a librarian. She points me to a small room across from the big room. I ask: “Do you have any pamphlets or leaflets about the exhibit?” No. (I had read that there is a self-guided audio tour, but I forgot to ask and no one volunteered.) I enter a dimly lit room with 11 glass cases, each showing some artifacts that are, well, museum quality – documents, letters, coins, dollar bills. The cases sport various titles: “Revolution,” “Republic,” Nine New Capitals Without Capital,” (I like that one), “Drowning in Public Debit’ and so on. This collection, which runs through Sept 30, is the work of Jim Bevill, a Houston financial adviser and collector, who has also barrowed some items from fellow collectors. .

The room is vacant except for me. All I need to expand my own small collection of Texana is a big brick and a bag. This brings us to our latest get-rich-quick scheme. You see, for years, if not generations, Texas stuff sat around gathering dust. I have a Republic of Texas two dollar bill I bought for five dollars. I see one is now on sale for $500, but here’s the hang-up. During the Republic’s 10-year life minus three days, the struggling little country put out bills with different names, signed by various officials, printed in different hues. Their worth today varies greatly. Some were printed in Houston, some in Austin. My bill was printed by Xerox,

They came in odd denominations, and, yes, Texas did have a lot of three dollar bills. The government found that it could pay its employees and debts by simply printing more money which, in turn, created monumental inflation. When introduced, the so-called red backs had a value of 37 and a half cents to the U.S. dollar. Eventually, the value went to two cents. By 1842, the government of the Republic of Texas would not accept the bills for payment of its own taxes. Incidentally, many of the notes, especially the red backs, appear as orange-colored because of the quality of the ink. It has been suggested that the “burnt orange” color of The University of Texas came from this coloring. What if the notes had a maroon hue?

Here are a few items of interest I picked up: The star notes, which had a Lone Star in the upper middle, were not money, per se, but rather interest-bearing notes (similar to a treasury bill) that circulated by being endorsed over to the next payee. The red backs were redeemed by the government and then cut-cancelled, that is, they were sliced several times in the center to keep them from being redeemed again and again. These notes are very valuable to collectors. A few notes, never redeemed or cut-cancelled and escaped the knife, are valued even more. So if you have a bill that is cut up, it’s not damaged. It’s still worth money – to you.

Interesting facts: Only two Texans’ pictures are found on red backs. Deaf Smith is found on the $5 bill while Stephen F. Austin is on the $50 note. Both died before the notes were issued. Another warning: Not all red backs are authentic. The original notes were hand-signed in brown ink while the reproductions all are in black ink. Texas pushed along with its various currencies until it joined the United States, and a main reason for joining was money, or the lack thereof. In 1850 Texas was given $10 million for all the land it had claimed outside its present state boundary. With this money, Texas paid off all its debts, including the redemption of all red backs. It’s a shame we had to sell, because today we could vacation in Santa Fe and ski in Aspen without ever leaving Texas.

Now, about getting rich. For years I used a white plate with lots of blue designs – drums, flags, in the center are two mid-19th century artillerymen next to a huge cannon, and an officer on horseback. All are dressed in fancy, Napoleonic uniforms. Vintage Texas tacky. This flowery plate was given to me by my mother who explained that the fad in the past was to make dinner plates to celebrate historic events. This one noted the Mexican-American War, but the European artists, not knowing how U.S. soldiers, especially Texans, dressed, drew them in European-style uniforms, Hence the Mounted Texas Rangers look like the Grand Duke’s Wachovian Grenadiers.

A friend gives me a page out of an auction house catalogue. The top reads: “Texas Campaigne China.” Below is a photo of my plate, same drums and flags around the edge, except that in the center is a general on horseback. The info says this ho-hum kitchenware was marked on the back “Texian Campaigne” and was produced in England between 1846 and 1852. The plate pictured in the catalogue is stored in a glass-faced box in a vault in New York City. Mine is not of that rare sort, because on the back on my blue plate special it reads – let me find it — “Texian Campaigne.” Huh? But the authentic plates were marked with the initials J.B. My plate is only marked by — ”J.B.” And here’s the going price for my blue ashtray: TWELVE THOUSAND DOLLARS! To paraphrase Capitol One, what’s in your attic?

 

Ashby’s currency is ashby2@comcast.net

 

 

 

 

 

 

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