The Numismatic Bibliomania Society



The E-Sylum: Volume 13, Number 18, May 2, 2010, Article 11


Last week Susan Howard of Australia's Tydewi Bindery submitted a query on paper money repairs. -Editor

Tony Hine writes:

In reply to an inquiry about repairs to banknotes, I think it is timely to explain that coins should only be cleaned using Photoshop on scans of the uncleaned coins, and I expect any serious paper money collector would give the same advice for banknotes!

David Gladfelter writes:

One can get on a high horse about this topic, because there are abuses.

David attached an article he authored on the topic, and it's reproduced here with permission. Originally published by New Jersey Exonumia Society in Jerseyana, issue #132, Jan-March 2009. The before and after images of the note are unavailable, but the article paints a good picture of a "repair" gone wild. -Editor

Now that the Garden State Parkway is no longer going to accept tokens at its toll booths, how many of us are cashing in our rolls and part rolls of the tokens and how many of us are putting them aside in our box of traders?

My guess would be that the savers are in the majority, because that's our nature. We collect tokens, medals, scrip and other forms of exonumia not only for our own enjoyment, but to preserve them for others to enjoy in the future. Not only do we save them, but we care for them as well. If the supply is large, we might pick out the best ones to save and spend the rest. If the ones we save are dirty or cruddy, we might wipe them carefully or clean them gently. We might take a goat-hair brush to a copper piece to bring up the lustre or patina. Almost everyone would moisten and straighten a corner fold on an old note. That's “conservation,” the protection and preservation of our exonumic history.

But what about filling up or patching over a hole in a token or note? What about retooling or re-engraving a damage spot? This would offend the purist who would leave a less-than-perfect piece strictly alone, but would not bother the fixer-upper who would try to improve its appearance. I have seen examples of rare notes that have been put together piece by piece from parts of different damaged notes; I even own one or two with such “prosthetics” but have not created any. You might call this “restoration,” or bringing something back to a former or improved condition.

The point is, there's a gradient here, like the biologist's definition of what constitutes the soil. Bacteria? Sure. Earthworms? Maybe, there's no hard and fast rule. Well, woodchucks? Where does one draw the line?

Let's look at a case in point. Shown above is a full size image of a rare but ugly looking New Jersey colonial bill of credit that once belonged to me, a 15 shilling bill from the October 20, 1758 issue with plate letter A (below the crowns at bottom center) and serial number 17710. This bill, when I owned it, was split down the middle and taped together on back with opaque tape. It had tape residue on the corners and a lot of dirt overall. Eventually I got a better one and sold this one to a well known dealer.

Shortly afterward, in one of his auctions, I saw a bill that looked vaguely familiar. Comparing it with the foregoing image, I saw that it was the same bill but by now it had undergone restoration. In the process, the plate letter had been removed, the serial number changed to 15710 and the signatures retraced. It was now graded “very fine or better” with “some corner repairs” but there was no mention of the restoration or the former split. Its spruced-up image, taken from the dealer's web site (enlarged) is shown below.

How far should one go with restoration? Did this dealer cross the line? In our hobby at this time, there's no right or wrong answer to this question. All but the least ethical among us would agree that “whizzing” is a no-no, but short of that, what's permissible? In your opinion, is the “new identity for A-17710” legit?

My own view, for what it's worth, is as follows:

1. “Restoration” should not be confused with “conservation,” and should not be described as “conservation.” (The grading services, when they mention it at all, use the term “conservation” to mean “restoration.”)

2. Any “restoration” that is done to a piece of exonumia should require full disclosure.

3. Full disclosure should include mention of any and all significant defects (such as the split in our subject bill) that were originally present in the item and that have been repaired.

4. Never, under any circumstances, should anything be altered. Alteration includes such things as retracing signatures and making changes to plate letters, serial numbers or other identifying marks (either inadvertently or deliberately).

5. A restored item should not be graded higher than its pre-restoration condition.

If we can adopt safeguards such as these, no one will be misled. Then, being fully informed, it will be up to the individual collector whether or not to acquire the item in question.

To read the earlier E-Sylum article, see: QUERY: PAPER MONEY REPAIRS (

Wayne Homren, Editor

NBS ( Web

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