Before the Federal government began printing and distributing nationalized currency, many local banks would issue their own banknotes to help facilitate financial transactions, especially in areas where coinage was scarce. Sadly, many of these financial institutions failed, leaving the holder of the note with nothing but a worthless piece of paper. Currency of this era, whether the institution remained solvent or not, has become known to modern collectors as “broken bank notes”, and they are one of the most popular collectibles from the period. Generally these notes are very artistic, with attractive vignettes and fancy geometric designs. The presently offered note is particularly interesting, since it was issued by a bank located at the very seat of the Federal government. The central vignette depicts a beautiful young woman clad in a sleeveless white dress, a quiver of arrows across her back, with a bow in one hand and an arrow in the other. From the clothing, one could possibly identify the female as a classical goddess, except that she has three feathers held by a band in her hair. She is probably meant to represent the ideal of a Native American princess, though this is strictly a guess. This vignette is enclosed in an oval frame, which close examination reveals is made up of the seals of the states of the Union. This frame is surrounded by a plethora of military and agricultural material, and flanked by medallions featuring the denomination. The financial obligation, printed below, guarantees that “The MERCHANTS’ BANK Will pay THREE dollars to the bearer on demand”, followed by the city of issue - “Washington, D. C.” – and the date – “July 1st 1852”. Between this obligation and the bottom of the note are the signatures of “J. F. Bell” and “W. C. Evans”, who sign in their bank capacities as “Cashr.” and “Prest.”, respectively. These signatures are neatly divided by a small oval containing a vignette depicting a Tom Thumb style train, proceeding from left to right across the scene. A portrait of Andrew Jackson, 7th President of the United States (1829-37), appears in an oval at the left edge of the note, with the denomination printed atop circular medallions above and below. The opposite edge of the note features a vignette of an attractive female figure leaning against a sheaf of wheat, with a sickle in one hand and a caduceus in the other. While the sickle and sheaf of wheat are usually attributed to Ceres, the goddess of agriculture, the caduceus is not usually associated with her, so the identification of this figure as Ceres is tentative. The denomination appears above and below this vignette, each presented within a different design. The imprint of “Rawdon, Wright, Hatch & Edson, New-York”, the printers, can be seen at the bottom right between the frameline and Evans’ signature. The back, as with many notes of this era, was never printed (there was nothing that could be printed on the back that was not already printed on the front). The note measures approximately 3.15 x 7.15 inches, and would add a bit of class to any early American or obsolete currency collection.
The presently offered note is in un-circulated condition, with sharp contrast and lovely eye appeal. The paper is a light beige color, having lightly toned across the entire surface, with scattered darker areas of toning noted around some of the printed material. The manuscript additions are dark, bold, and fully legible, though the last digit of the serial number could be a “4” or “7”. The paper is quite thin, causing the ink to begin to bleed through, though at this time, none of the paper is missing or separated. Close examination reveals a slight diagonal bend in the paper at left, possibly caused during the printing or cutting process. All of the inner frame-lines are complete and intact, though the edges are slightly irregular. A very fine example of this attractive and popular note.