The Numismatic Bibliomania Society



The E-Sylum: Volume 16, Number 20, May 19, 2013, Article 7


John and Nancy Wilson submitted this review of Dick Doty's new book, Pictures From a Distant Country. Thanks! -Editor

Pictures From a Distant Country Pictures From a Distant Country: Seeing America Through Old Paper Money
By: Richard Doty and Foreword By: Q. David Bowers,
Whitman Publishing, LLC, 2013,
Reviewed by: John and Nancy Wilson, NLG

Pictures From a Distant Country: Seeing America Through Old Paper Money was recently released by Whitman Publishing, LLC. Dr. Richard G. Doty, a Senior Curator of the National Numismatic Collection at the National Museum of American History of the Smithsonian Institution, was the author of this hardcover book. The reference has 296 pages and many color illustrations. The book was featured (almost a half-page) in the Review section of the April 13 - 14, 2013 edition of The Wall Street Journal. We cannot ever recall another numismatic reference receiving this kind of publicity from a non-numismatic media newspaper.

Dr. Doty takes you on an unforgettable journey of the story of the growth of America through the obsolete bank note vignettes or portraits that are depicted on them. With the Smithsonian collection, American Bank Note Co. archives and other printers, the author uses these tens of thousands of obsolete banknotes to tell his story of the growth of this magnificent country we all call America. Using the alphabet letters ABC, we find this reference - Artistic, Brilliant and Creative.

The Foreword by Q. David Bowers sums the book up with this quote, “Far from being just a “picture book,” the text guides the reader through the development of bank-note engraving, advances in artistry, selection of subjects, and the circumstances of issue.” By working for the American Numismatic Society in New York and then the Smithsonian Institution in Washington, Dr. Doty has examined 25,000 obsolete notes over the years. He soon became interested in the beauty of the notes and the interesting scenes they depicted. The book is his personal look at our past, using a medium which has been underutilized by historians and numismatists alike. The book doesn’t offer values, methods of conservation, or rarity.

With no specie available for early settlers in America right up to the start of the War Between the States, the author tells the story of the growth of America using illustrations that appeared on bank notes.

Chapter 1. Constructing a National Identity. Bankers used the different vignettes and portraits on notes, such as gold and silver coins, which helped persuade the public that a bank was strong. Some of the earliest symbols to appear on America’s money were the national mascot, the eagle, liberty or justice, vignettes of a Goddess, shields, flags, ships, battle scenes, early President’s and famous personalities of the time.

Chapter 2. The People in the Way. The author explains the many transformations that were taking place in early America during this early period. There were three groups who frequently appeared on our early currency: Native Americans, African-Americans, and women.

Chapter 3. The People in the Middle. The people in the middle were the African-Americans. Dr. Doty points out that only one image of an African-American was on a note prior to 1850. In the 1850s their images started to appear.

Chapter 4. Temptress, Saint, and Helpmeet: Woman’s Identity. In the 1820s women were portrayed in allegorical terms with a provocative or even erotic appearance. Later women were portrayed with a more sensitive quality. By the 1850s “real” women began to appear. Dr Doty has vignettes illustrating these periods.

Chapter 5. Childhood and Family. The portrayal of actual, living children, but in a romantic fashion, adopted from contemporary paintings which had found favor with the public was shown on many bank notes. Children are shown doing family chores and helping their mothers. In short real children engaged in real activities.

Chapter 6. Making a Living. One thing that nearly all citizens were seen to have in common was an engagement in meaningful, productive activity. There were four basic categories they were engaged in: working the land, working in mills and mines, working in trades and professions, and the final category is the depiction of pride in their work. Scenes of plowing and raising cattle abound. Factory work and the trades were covered extensively.

Chapter 7. Whimsy. “From the sublime to the ridiculous,” are the illustrations that will be found in this chapter. These vignettes did not seem to have any meaningful subject matter or meaning. The author goes on to say, “American private currency were those of instruction, celebration, and inspiration, but another was entertainment.” You will find illustrations in the chapter as the author says are, “too cute for words – the engraver’s equivalent of bad yard art.” The banks and businesses during this early part of America evidently enjoyed their power to place interesting vignettes and portraits on their notes, as you will see depicted in this chapter. The author’s use of “Whimsy,” seems to fit perfectly for this chapter.

Chapter 8. “You Can Trust Me”: Images of Worth. The Revolutionary War and Jacksonian Hard Times of the middle 1830s saw most paper money become worthless. This chapter describes the measures taken by the banks and businesses to place vignettes and portraits on notes that made the issues appear more credible with vignettes stressing fiscal trustworthiness and that this was an honest bank, a legitimate bank, run by people upon whom you could depend. The dog vignette or portrait came first, then large bank buildings, vignettes of coins, and other things of this nature. An interesting chapter that also has information regarding the modern credit card and 19th century private American currency security measures.

Chapter 9. Progress. The 20th century was the Age of the Automobile, the 19th century, the Age of the Train. The author says the train gave the population freedom of choice and movement.

Chapter 10. An Age Now Ending. The new industrialism, new ways of working the land, new peoples on our doorstep poised to enter and the transitions from the old, like horses, to the new, trains and autos. The author also talks about a few engravers and their “occasional reflection on the money they created and circulated.”

Epilogue: And Then What Happened? America’s paper money chronicled the march toward disunion. During the war years the increased need for private paper money on local, state, and national levels was evident. Unlike during the 1770s and 1780s when the inadequacy of public currency inspired private currency during the 1860s, the inadequacy of private currency led to the reintroduction of public currency and the demise of private currency forever.

We like Dr. Doty’s comments on how, “Intaglio work was safest, but all the intaglio printers were in enemy territory.” He further talks about what banks and businesses did to produce their money along with his thoughts on the printing companies and engravers of the time. You will find illustrations from Northern to Southern currency, including CSA issues; along a $10 Demand Note of 1861 and some early National Bank Notes. You will find many great stories in this chapter on how our money was produced and used in one of the most challenging times in America.

Appendix: Full-Size Bank-Note Images. All 344 notes that were discussed in this book are listed herein and shown in full, except forty which were used in the chapters. We think that the readers of this book will enjoy looking at the various vignettes and portraits that were used in the chapters, and then looking at the full size note reproduced here. Some of the notes are common and many are rare.

About the Author / Acknowledgments. The biography of Dr. Richard G. Doty will show the reader a short sketch of this famous numismatist. His Acknowledgments thank several people and in particular Cynthia Roden, who skillfully edited the book. He commented, “So this is Cindi’s book.”

Index to Bank-Note Issuers, by State. This is a full index of the bank notes in this book, organized by state and then by city.

We enjoyed reading this reference and think Dr. Richard Doty did a wonderful job of telling us a story about the growth of America through the depiction of vignettes and portraits on obsolete notes. In a very innovative way, you will learn just how life was back in the early to middle 1800s. When the Wall street Journal reviews your book, you know that non-numismatists from this paper thought this story on, Seeing America Through Old Paper Money, would be of interest to their readers. We feel that any collector, dealer, researcher, historian or library should have a copy of this book. You can purchase this reference from Whitman Publishing, LLC for $24.95, with ground shipping at $6.20. They can be reached at: Whitman Publishing, LLC, Main Office, 3103 Clairmont Road, Suite B, Atlanta, GA 30329 or call (800) 546-2995 or at the Whitman web site,


Collect Books as Rare as Your Coins. Only 1,000 leather-bound 2014 Limited Edition Red Books are in print, each one individually numbered and personally autographed by Senior Editor Kenneth Bressett. Handsomely constructed with gold-stamped lettering on the cover, gilt-edged pages, hubbed spine, and silk page marker. Order yours for $69.95 at or call 800-546-2995.

Wayne Homren, Editor

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