Paper Money is the official publication of the Society of Paper Money Collectors (SPMC). Editor Benny Bolin kindly responded to my
request to publish this excerpt of an interesting article in the Mar/Apr 2016 issue by James C. Ehrhardt, PhD and Craig S. Schwandt, PhD
about the laboratory analysis of stolen currency. Thanks! -Editor
Improvements in scientific technology and technique have greatly expanded our ability to analyze microscopic samples for their composition,
source, and/or age. This has led to various applications, such as the study of chemical impurities, historical artifacts, and crime scene evidence.
Although the surface and interior composition of coins has been studied to help determine their history and legitimacy, little similar work has been
done on currency. We report here on our laboratory analysis of stolen currency to confirm its well-documented history and to demonstrate the
potential for future studies on other currency.
An accompanying article in this issue details the 1866 robbery of the Osage National Bank of Osage, IA, charter #1618. In brief, the
door of the bank safe was blown off with gunpowder and among the stolen currency were crisp, unsigned, unissued $5 Original Series notes
from the bank with serial numbers 1751 through 2200. The thieves forged the bank officers' signatures and distressed the notes before
starting to pass them. Sixteen of the stolen notes have survived, mostly in tattered and torn condition. On the note pictured here, the
stamped letter “S” is faintly visible in blue ink in several places to indicate its having been stolen.
We studied two of the Osage stolen notes, serial numbers 1966 B (pictured here) and 1951 A (pictured in the accompanying article).
Both notes had been purchased from prominent numismatic sources. Our goal was to determine whether we could obtain evidence confirming
their presence in the explosion of the bank safe. We looked for three different microscopic materials embedded on the surface of the notes.
First, gunpowder residue may have survived the explosion. Next, a local newspaper reported that a roll of stolen currency recovered from
the thieves was covered with “Plaster Paris.” This white powder was undoubtedly a proprietary fire-proofing material with which
manufacturers of bank safes typically lined the safe walls, such as talc, asbestos, or gypsum. Finally, iron fragments would be strong
evidence of an explosion.
Consult the article for details on the analytical process; I'll cut to the chase and excerpt the results next. -Editor
In summary, we have found three separate lines of evidence compatible with an origin in an explosion in a bank safe (iron oxide
particles formed in a high temperature event, talc as a fire-proofing agent, and trace elements from gunpowder residue). These findings are
somewhat speculative, and none are definitive. And of course we can not know how the notes may have become soiled or contaminated during
the last 150 years. But we can say that our results are consistent with the robbery that was so well documented in 1866.
We have demonstrated that modern, non-destructive laboratory analysis can provide information about currency not available in any other
way. A wide variety of other technological methods are available in addition to those we have used. Perhaps special applications may be
found for the study of certain paper, ink, counterfeits, DNA, etc. Researchers need to include these possibilities in their thinking.
How interesting to think a note in one's collection could be traced to an old-fashioned bank job. Nice work. To read more about the
analysis or the bank and its robbery, see the complete Paper Money issue. -Editor
For more information about the Society of Paper Money Collectors, see:
THE BOOK BAZARRE
Looking for a great gift for a fellow coin collector? Consider a $50 coin supplies gift card. Click here to learn more
Wayne Homren, Editor
The Numismatic Bibliomania Society is a non-profit organization
promoting numismatic literature. See our web site at coinbooks.org.
To submit items for publication in The E-Sylum, write to the Editor
at this address: email@example.com
To subscribe go to: https://my.binhost.com/lists/listinfo/esylum
Copyright © 1998 - 2020 The Numismatic Bibliomania Society (NBS)
All Rights Reserved.
NBS Home Page
Contact the NBS webmaster