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Stephen Recker On:
Collecting Confederate Currency

I began collecting Confederate currency in 1993 while on a drive from Atlanta to Pittsburgh. My father had just died and I was driving his car to my brother's place. I decided to make the most of the trip by stopping at as many Civil War spots along the way as possible. Somehow I got the idea that I could scour the South for Confederate currency and return home with the beginnings of a new hobby.

I visited coin shops at Chicamaugua, Manassas, and everywhere in between, coming up with zip - nada - nothing. I did find two crumpled old notes in a Manassas relic shop. But as I left the store, admiring the not-so-auspicious start to my collection, I had to console myself with the fantasy that the notes had become damaged after spending days in some Confederate's pocket.

By the time I arrived in Gettysburg I was really discouraged. I hadn't been there since I was a kid, but the somber tone of the town fit my mood. Lazily and of little hope, I sauntering into a shop called the Horse Soldier. Once inside, though, my eyes behold an entire wall of Confederate currency! I was almost in tears as I asked the woman, half jokingly, if that was their entire stock. Ironically, she replied that it wasn't, and pulled out two entire shoe boxes full to the brim with Confederate scrip. My hands were shaking and my mind was spinning, so I decided to get a room and come back the next day - rested.

The next morning I picked out a selection of twenty fine looking specimens. As I cherry-picked the inventory, I couldn't reconcile the salesman's frown - at least not until I found out that their now-obsolete catalog had gone to print that very day! Looking back, I think I did well for a first-timer. All of the bills I bought were good picks that have appreciated greatly. Well, all except one.

There is only one Confederate bill that bears the image of a Confederate general. But although Stonewall Jackson was on this one beautiful note, and even though I sensed that I probably shouldn't buy something with a huge corner torn off, I was new to collecting and I didn't know if I would ever see that bill again. For all I knew I had found the only example of this note on the planet. So I bought it, and to this day I have never seen a Confederate note for sale in such bad shape.

You might say that I violated rule number one of collecting - condition, condition, condition. Or rule number two - know something about what you are buying. The truth is that I learned something more important - you won't really know the value of something until you drop cold-hard cash for it. Every time I see a Jackson note (type 64) for sale I catalog the condition and price forever in my brain, hoping against hope that I will see a worse note for some huge sum of money.

There is one caveat to rule number one. You can buy a note in lousy condition if the note is very, very rare and if the price is really, really reasonable. I spent most of the next year on the road and whenever I hit a new town I would race around to every coin shop I could find. In Houston I happened into a shop on the same day that some guy who needed quick cash was liquidating his whole collection. It hadn't even been priced yet, but the dealer saw that I was a serious buyer and he let me look at the notes. Have I mentioned rule three - timing is everything.

I was making my way through the pile when I came across a very poor bill that had been repaired with tape. Thoughts of the relic shop in Manassas came to mind until I saw that the bill was a Series 2, $5 (type 11). The lowest price Criswell had this note for is $800. I had never seen this note live and in person and was trying my hardest not to show my excitement. He was asking $300, but since I had bought a few other bills he settled for $200. It is my most mangled note, but also one of my favorites.

Collecting Confederate currency is like drinking fine wine, in that the more you educate your palette, the more you want the good stuff. Once you start collecting the notes that are relatively inexpensive and easy to find, you will no doubt start desiring the more difficult 'Montgomery' notes that can carry a five-figure price tag! The goal of many Confederate collectors is to get an entire 'type' set, that is to say one each of the 72 Criswell types. Or perhaps you might want to collect all of the many varieties of a single note. However you decide to collect Confederate notes, you can be sure that it will be a fascinating journey into our nation's past.

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