The Numismatic Bibliomania Society



The E-Sylum: Volume 17, Number 6, February 9, 2014, Article 9


Peter Huntoon submitted this obituary for author Louis Van Belkum, who was one of the biggest names in U.S. National Bank Notes. Thanks. -Editor

Louis Van Belkum The birth of the modern era of national bank note collecting can be definitively fixed at 1968 when Louis Van Belkum's landmark National Banks of the Note Issuing Period, 1863-1935 was published.

This book, which summarized the history of every note-issuing bank, also listed the final circulations for the banks. The information in the book was abstracted from the endless tables found in 67 annual reports of the Comptroller of the Currency.

It became an instant buyer's guide for those of us chasing nationals, and was so successful it was reprinted in 1973. For the first time, we had some idea of what was out there and how much it totaled.

But that was only the beginning of this man's monumental contribution to national bank note research. Over the next 11 years, from 1968 to 1979, he and his wife Barbara compiled the bank-by-bank issuance data for every note-issuing bank in the country.

This Herculean task at last count involved tracking 12,631 different banks that issued 81,259 different sheet combinations over a period of 67 years. To compile this enormous trove of data, they had to sift through 410 huge ledgers housed at the National Archives, which were then located in Washington, DC, but now in College Park, Maryland.

This benchmark achievement quantified national bank notes. We now knew exactly what was issued and how many by every bank in the country. The modern era of national bank note collecting now rested on a bedrock solid foundation. All else that has followed is window dressing.

At the time, Louis was a school teacher in Grand Rapids, Michigan. He and Barbara would undertake marathon driving trips to DC, whereupon they wrote frantically and doggedly eventually assemble some 5,000 type-written pages of data. The National Currency and Bond Ledgers that they scoured still yield his pull slips dating from that period.

This work was carried out for individual state collectors who would contract with him to compile information on a state or county basis at a fixed charge per bank. As the program gained momentum, the data was traded around and accumulated by both John Hickman and Lyn Knight.

In time, Hickman convinced William Higgins of the Higgins National Bank Note Museum in Okoboji, Iowa, of the merits of these data, so after all other avenues were tapped out, Higgins sprang for the orphan states so Louis could complete the job.

The data became widely available in 1981 with publication of Don Kelly's National Bank Notes, a guide with prices followed by the Hickman-Oakes Standard Catalog of National Bank Notes, in 1982.

Along the way, in 1970, Louis collaborated with M. Owen Warns and Peter Huntoon to produce the blue book of 1929 nationals, The National Bank Notes Issues of 1929-1935.

Van Belkum is known by us as Louis or Lou; however, within his family he went by Bill. He was born Louis William Van Belkum III in Grand Rapids, Michigan. His odyssey into national bank notes started when he began collecting Michigan nationals in 1964. He sold most of his collection in 1976 through a Donlon auction, but the last of his Michigan holdings came out a few years ago.

He and Barbara moved to Las Vegas and once there he got heavily involved in collecting casino chips.

Lou succumbed July 31, 2013, to Alzheimer's disease at age 70, in Grand Rapids, to which he and Barbara returned a few years ago. He is survived by Barbara, his wife of 50 years, and his children Sandra, Paula and Louis William IV.

Van Belkum's compilation of national bank note issuance data probably ranks as the largest single block of numismatic research ever undertaken by an individual and will forever loft him to the highest ranks of numismatic researchers. Every national bank note collector is in his debt.

What an amazing legacy to leave to the hobby! A book can transform the collecting landscape, and create countless new collectors and dealers. Researchers like Van Belkum are the bedrock of numismatic publishing. -Editor

Wayne Homren, Editor

NBS ( Web

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