The Numismatic Bibliomania Society



The E-Sylum: Volume 16, Number 24, June 9, 2013, Article 19


With permission, here is the Foreword by Q. David Bowers for Richard Doty's last book, Pictures From a Distant Country: Seeing American Through Old Paper Money. -Editor

Pictures From a Distant Country My first reaction after reading the manuscript for this book was, “Amazing that this has not been done before.” And then, What an incredible work this is!” After all, the vignettes on these notes describe American life in all its aspects. Railroad engines, cars, and tracks are depicted from the early days of that mode of transportation down to the 1860s, when trains became more sophisticated and complex. Canals, which preceded railroads in popularity, are well depicted. Not to be overlooked are stagecoaches, horse-drawn street cars, sidewheel steamships, and more.

Buildings ranging from the United States Capitol (in various stages of construction) to city halls, to downtown commercial districts, to the structures that housed the banks that issued paper money, can be found in quantity. Scenes of American life—slaves picking cotton, Indians (Native Americans) contemplating the advance of the white man into their territories, blacksmiths, carpenters, people picking flowers, reading, farming, cutting wood—you name a subject and likely a detailed view of it can be found on a bank note.

While published illustrations in most early 19th-century books range from careless to detailed, most were created quickly. In contrast, the vignettes on the notes shown in this book are from copper or steel plates painstakingly engraved and with a wealth of minute detail. In a phrase, no finer illustrations could be found.

My own involvement with engraved vignettes on 19thcentury bank notes took place many years ago, in the 1950s. I found it curious that beautiful notes, often in color, were available on the market for just a few dollars each. There was a reason: no price guides or standard references existed, so few people were interested. Moreover, there was no way to tell whether a note was common or rare until one gained hands-on experience.

Today as I write these words the situation is far different. The Society of Paper Money Collectors has published books about the notes of a dozen or more specific states. James A. Haxby’s magisterial four-volume Obsolete Bank Notes 1782 –1866, issued in 1988, has served as a general guide, including prices. Now obsolete (no pun intended), the relative values in the Haxby study are still useful—perhaps if multiplied by 10 or 20 times!

A few years ago I spent an enjoyable time researching and writing Obsolete Paper Money Issued by Banks in the United States 1782–1866 for Whitman Publishing Company. My travels and search for information included visits to the National Numismatic Collection at the Smithsonian. Dick Doty has been a great host—whether deep inside a vault with priceless notes, or in the evening at a favorite restaurant where he regaled everyone with interesting numismatic tales and stories. I soon appreciated what a treasure trove the Smithsonian held.

With his background in history, writing, and curation, Dick is the ideal author for this book, tapping those treasures. As I mentioned, the wonder is that it hasn’t been done before. The answer must be that years of time, great talent, and access to a wide selection of notes are required, and few could measure up to this standard.

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. Without a doubt, if you spend a weekend with Pictures From a Distant Country, you will have a good time—it indeed is a “good read.” You will appreciate the truly wide world of different and fascinating illustrations and, even without trying, you will become an expert. Along the way you will learn you live in the Distant Country. It is distant in time, not in location. A finer view of life in America in the early 19th century could not be imagined.

I anticipate that Dick Doty’s master work will be an essential addition to any numismatic library and, beyond that, to the library of anyone who appreciates and enjoys illustrations showing the development of the country in which we live. My congratulations.

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Wayne Homren, Editor

NBS ( Web

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