The Numismatic Bibliomania Society



The E-Sylum: Volume 11, Number 47, November 23, 2008, Article 10


Last week I asked if anyone could name the tunes displayed on two District of Columbia scrip notes illustrated in Dick Doty's book, America's Money, America's Story. Our readers came through in spades, providing some very interesting historical background. -Editor

DC Music Store scrip

Len Augsburger was the first to respond. He writes:
The first tune is the Star Spangled Banner, and the second is Yankee Doodle.

Ben Keele writes:
It took my wife (a PhD student in music theory) about 30 seconds to identify the first tune as the Star-Spangled Banner and the second tune as Yankee-Doodle.

James Higby also responded with those choices. Both are correct, although the true answers are a little more nuanced. Tom Kays had the right idea last Tuesday when we looked at the images of the notes. When others suggested these names for the tunes, he quickly added "actually, the tunes may really be the earlier colonial-era songs these were derived from."

Remember, these notes were printed in 1837, nearly two centuries ago. What we know and recognize today may greatly resemble something known in that era, but a lot of water has gone under the bridge since then.

Ron Haller-Williams of the U.K was the only non-American to offer an answer. He writes:
The half-bit note shows "The Star-Spangled Banner", though some versions split up the first note in the sequence (into a dotted quaver and a semiquaver).

The one-bit shows "Yankee Doodle" (verse "Father and I ...", not the refrain "Yankee ..."). Some versions have an extra quaver in front so as to be able to give 2 syllables/notes to the word "father"; also, the second group of 4 notes is sometimes a bit higher than shown here.

Arthur Shippee also noticed that something wasn't quite adding up. Regarding the second of the two notes, he writes:
I would propose this: If you transpose the middle two notes in the second measure up a third (D, C# up to F#, E), you get Yankee Doodle Dandy. So, I think there was a misprint, unless there was an alternative version. As the first note has an extra note at the beginning, I guess misprints are not hard to imagine.

But was it a misprint? Paul Schultz also noted the differences from the modern versions of the songs. He writes:
The two tunes on the notes in the November 16th E-Sylum are of course the Star Spangled Banner and Yankee Doodle. However, neither are written exactly the way we seem to hear them most often today. The national anthem usually has the initial sylable "Oh" as a dotted eighth followed by a 16th note, or two 16th notes, not a single quarter note like on the bill. Also, the two eighth notes on the bill are usually rendered as a dotted eighth and sixteenth.

For Yankee Doodle, the second measure usually has the 4 notes as D F# E A, but this note has D D C# A.

A question for music historians -- are these earlier versions and therefore are they more accurate towards the originals as played many years ago? Were variations in the music common in the era that the bills were printed?

Roger Burdette writes:
The 6-1/4 cent scrip includes one of many versions of the English song "To Anacreon in Heaven," The music was composed by church organist John Stafford Smith. This melody was later used for Francis Scott Key's poem "The Star Spangled Banner." The 12-1/2 cent scrip includes "Yankee Doodle."

E-Sylum readers never cease to amaze me in their breadth of historical knowledge, and I'm humbled in your presence. Several others noted this precursor to The Star Spangled Banner, including Carl Honore, George Huber and Bob Evans. Bob writes:
When I saw the tune on the 6 1/4 cent note illustrated in last week's (11/9) eSylum, I immediately recognized it as the opening of "To Anacreon In Heaven," which was adapted for Francis Scott Key's poem "The Star Spangled Banner" to comprise our national anthem.

I found this note thoroughly charming, and I was previously unaware of such a piece. I note that it is written in the key of D major, an arrangement in which only a deep alto or a high (almost heroic) soprano (or tenor) would be able to carry both the lowest and highest notes of the tune successfully. (The high notes in a D major arrangement are well into my falsetto range.) However, it does fit nicely on the treble staff, which is probably why this key was chosen.

The second note illustrated (the 12 1/2 cent) shows a version of the opening of "Yankee Doodle," also very charming.

So what the heck is an Anacreon? When they taught that in school, I must have been daydreaming about the pretty girl in the next row. Forgive me, but according to Wikipedia...

The Anacreontic Song was the official song of the Anacreontic Society, an 18th-century club of amateur musicians in London who gathered regularly to perform concerts. The song is commonly (albeit incorrectly) referred to as "To Anacreon in Heaven", which is not the title, but rather the opening line of the lyrics. These barristers, doctors, and other professional men named their club after the Greek court poet Anacreon (6th century BC), whose poems, "anacreontics", were used to entertain patrons in Teos and Athens. His songs often celebrated women, wine, and entertaining, and today can be considered eroticism.

The connection with Anacreon, along with the "drinking" nature of the lyrics, have caused many people to label "The Anacreontic Song" a drinking song. The chorus certainly suggests Bacchanalia with its lyrics "And long may the sons of Anacreon intwine the myrtle of Venus with Bacchus' vine." In all probability some drinking did occur at Society meetings, but the primary purpose of the Society (and its song) was to promote an interest in music.[citation needed] This absence of an official connection to drinking did not keep the song from being associated with alcohol, as it was commonly used as a sobriety test: If you could sing a stanza of the notoriously difficult melody and stay on key, you were sober enough for another round.

For a somewhat educational (and bizarre) YouTube rendition, see: Anacreon (

Wayne Homren, Editor

NBS ( Web

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