Blast From the Past: The Year 1922

Posted on 3/19/2013

Take a look at what was going on in the world of paper money in 1922.

I thought it would be interesting to see where the hobby of collecting paper money has been, and how it has grown. To me history is something to learn from and appreciate. It’s my goal (if this becomes a popular article) to make this into a series. The general idea is to look at a year and see what was going on in the hobby. What were paper money enthusiasts discussing? What were prices like? What were major, and minor, issues? And of course everything in between. I selected 1922 because that was the year my Grandfather was born, and he was the one who turned me on to collecting paper money and coins. I was greatly surprised by what I found. Most of my information will be pulled from old Numismatist journals, but occasionally I will pull from other sources as well. Let’s step into the way-back machine and get that DeLorean engine started as we’re about to embark on a journey.

The first thing I found on page 14 of the January issue was a commentary by Mr. George H. Blake on the proposed change of the size of paper money – from large to small1. Mr. Blake states “this matter was pretty well thrashed out in 1910”. This was a twelve year discussion on whether to leave the notes large or make them smaller similar to “that of the Philippines.” Glad to see that our government hasn’t sped up the decision making process. Mr. Blake’s main argument is that it would be harder to count money if the notes were a smaller size and that with the amount of notes already stored (by banks, and individuals) that the changeover wouldn’t be smooth. I like his argument. If both large and small sized notes were in circulation at the same time then it would be harder to manage both at retail and banking levels. Even the drawers would have to be different sizes. Another argument that Mr. Blake brought to the table was that banknotes from 1863 and 1869 where still in circulation in 1922 (over 50 years of circulation!). According to the Federal Reserve’s website the average lifespan of a one dollar note is 4.8 years2. What happened between notes circulating for 50 years to just under 5 years? It makes sense that collectors would take the large size note out of circulation because of the eventual change in 1928. But why don’t notes still circulate for that long now? One thing is for certain – Mr. Blake was very adamant that his way of thinking was the best and most logical way of thinking. We know this to be false. I wonder how mad Mr. Blake was five short years later?

In the same issue of the Numismatist four counterfeit notes where described in detail; three Federal Reserve Bank Notes and one National Bank note. This was a surprising and refreshing entry to find. I don’t recall many articles talking about current counterfeit notes. Taking a quick scan of other Numismatist issues I noticed that it was a regular occurrence to find entries on current counterfeits that were in circulation at the time. All entries would describe the note(s) in question and give an account of how they were made along with the plate positions and serial number. It’s interesting that there were so many fake notes out there not to long ago. Our currency has come a long way and our government has gone to great lengths to protect us, the people, from counterfeiters.

The following issue there were some comical blurbs - one being that Henry Ford3 (yes, the Henry Ford) cherry picked a group of Confederate notes for $10 at a curio shop in Washington D.C. He was late to a meeting because of the purchase, and was so excited about his find that he shared the good news with his Congressmen friends. Apparently I’m not the only one who tells friends about good buys. Mr. Ford was very pleased at the price he paid indeed. Another article talked about a man who refused to sell an 1839 $5 note from The City Trust and Banking Company (Haxby: NY1525-G14) for $1,000. To put that in perspective, with inflation, today, that offer would be $13,543.91. Maybe he should have taken that offer! December 1921 saw the biggest auction to date for numismatics - $61,000 (or almost $775,000 taking inflation into account). For comparison, the auction that was held at the 2013 Winter FUN show reached over $13 Million4 for paper money alone.

There isn’t enough space here to cover all of the 1922 numismatic events; from the new Canadian notes, to listings of obsolete notes, and even how badly inflation was in other countries – primarily Eastern European ones – to name a few. If you want to read the articles for yourself and continue to dive into 1922 click here. This isn’t the whole year, just a small sample of what was happening. I hope you had as much fun as I had learning about yesteryear and I look forward to delving into other years for future articles.

1Blake, George H. "Change in Size of Paper Money Proposed: A Commentary." The Numismatist 25.1 (1922): 14-15.
2"Current FAQs Informing the Public about the Federal Reserve." FRB: How Long Is the Life Span of U.S. Paper Money? N.p., n.d. Web.
3Editor. "Henry Ford Becomes a Paper Money Collector." The Numismatist 25.2 (1922): 99.
4Heritage Auction. "1880 $500 Brings $441,250 to Top Heritage Auctions' $13.4 Million FUN Currency Auction." CoinWeek, 10 Feb. 2013. Web.

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