Colonie coin dealer to display historic local currency at new home (The Record,)
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COLONIE, N.Y. >> The Capital Region’s oldest rare coin business will celebrate its move into a new building with a ribbon-cutting ceremony and the unveiling of a new exhibit of historic local currency.
Ferris Coin Co. will welcome guests to its new home at 199 Wolf Road at 11:45 a.m. Wednesday and introduce its first themed display. Capital Region Currency: A History of Money in America features a sampling of currency used in the Capital Region dating from the Colonial era to present day. Many of the paper notes were printed locally and bear the names of Capital Region cities, including Albany, Schenectady, Watervliet, Hudson and Troy.
“The Colony of New York was issuing notes as early as 1709,” said Geoffrey Demis, a precious metal and coin dealer at Ferris Coin. “We were still under British rule then, so the currency was in pounds and shillings.”
The earliest of local and regional notes were legal tender, but, according to Demis it would have been difficult to spend a New York note outside the colony. At the outbreak of the Revolutionary War, a new paper currency circulated.
“Continental Currency appears May 10, 1775, when Americans needed a currency to represent all the colonies that were fighting the British,” Demis said. “Our Continental Congress chose Spanish milled dollars, rather than pounds, to separate us from the British money system. That’s when we start to use dollar bills, but in fractions like one-sixth and one-third.
“You could collect interest on the notes, but it was mainly a way to fund the war. The notes were hand-signed to prevent counterfeiting. Those signatures are important to collectors because some of names belong to the signers of the Declaration of Independence and signers of the Constitution.”
Continental currency from New York was printed on thick stock paper, with ornamentation around the border, and early versions of the New York seal with beavers, windmills, kegs and Dutch trading symbols. Some notes have pieces of mica embedded in them or include impressions of leaves, which are unique, like fingerprints.
“After the Revolutionary War, some towns printed notes, but Americans didn’t have much trust in paper money,” Demis said. “Americans wanted hard assets, mostly coins.”
From the 1820s through 1850s, small banks, like Manufacturers Bank of Troy, issued what are now called “obsolete notes,” which would circulate in specific geographic areas, like the cities of Troy, Schenectady or Albany.
“Obsolete notes were often in odd denominations, like $2 and $3, and yes, three dollar bills exist, and we have them in our collection,” Demis said. “The paper was really poor quality, thin rice paper, translucent, easily folded, torn, so a lot of these obsolete notes are in pretty rough grade.”
The display includes a $5 Manufacturers Bank note, circa 1839, featuring a very early image of Henry Burden’s water-powered Troy Iron and Nail Co. plant.
“The famous Burden Water Wheel was inside that building,” said Thomas Carroll, senior scholar and treasurer of the Hudson Mohawk Industrial Gateway and Burden Ironworks Museum in Troy.
The problem with these notes issued by small banks is that they often did not have the proper, backing and fraud was rampant, Demis said.
During the Civil War, Northern states used notes issued by the federal government, but there was a shortage of gold and silver due to hoarding, so the government issued fractional paper currency in denominations of 3, 5, 10, 15, 25 and 50 cents. Places like Albany and Troy also issued various patriotic tokens to promote the war effort.
Both the Confederacy and individual Southern states also issued paper currency. Examples of all this currency are included in the Ferris Coin exhibit.
After the Civil War, the U.S. government began producing more notes, called treasure notes, to keep up with the demand for legal tender as the population moved west. These were redeemable for silver and gold. Around 1875, national bank notes began to be issued by individual banks, with formats and designs that are familiar today.
“There were nine banks in Albany and a handful in Troy that issued national notes,” Demis said. “You could spend them anywhere in the county. The banks had to meet certain criteria and had to be approved by the Federal Reserve. They had to prove liquidity, guaranteeing that people could exchange the notes for silver or gold.”
The most significant note in the Ferris Coin display is a 1902 $5 bill issued by The National City Bank of Troy. The bill, which is in excellent condition, features a rare red seal and was printed from plate number 1A, making it valuable.
The note is counter-signed by bank Cashier Rice C. Bull. According to Michael Barrett, executive director of the Hudson Mohawk Industrial Gateway, Bull was wounded three times at the 1863 battle of Chancellorsville, and his diary and letters were edited by Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute professor K. Jack Bauer into the 1977 “Soldiering: The Civil War Diary of Rice C. Bull.”
The book was named by the Civil War Society as one of the 100 best Civil War books ever, in the category of personal memoirs, at a time when the Library of Congress lists over 70,000 titles in its Civil War category. Bull’s cane and his cased photograph are on display at the Rensselaer County Historical Society in Troy.
In 1928, bank notes switched to the size still used today. The display at Ferris Coin features both large and small national currency from Albany. President Franklin D. Roosevelt took the U.S. off of the gold standard in 1933, so Americans can no longer redeem paper notes for gold.
“We stopped producing gold coins in 1933. Ninety-percent silver coins were officially produced until 1964 — occasionally you can still find them in your pocket change today,” Demis said, adding that a lot of Ferris Coin’s business is buying and selling silver coins. “Today, our currency is based on faith in our government.”
Rounding out the display are contemporary $1 American Eagle silver and gold coins, which can be used as legal tender, but are literally worth their weight in silver or gold, significantly more than their face value.
The general public is welcome to view the display during normal business hours. Ferris Coin is open from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. weekdays and 9 a.m. to 3 p.m. Saturdays. The exhibit will continue through Wednesday, Nov. 22, to be followed with the opening on Black Friday, Nov. 24, of an exhibit of vintage jewelry.
“This move to a more modern, more efficient space in a new location has made it possible for our business to evolve with the changes in the rare coin industry,” said Demis. “Finally, we have the room to properly display our special collections to the public.”