While researching a book recently, I reached out to Peter Huntoon, who pointed me to a chapter he wrote about pioneer National Bank Note researcher Louis Van Belkum in the new Encyclopedia of U. S. National Bank Notes published jointly by the National
Currency Foundation and Society of Paper Money Collectors.
With permission, we're republishing it here. Thanks!
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 a thumbnail
history of every note-issuing national bank, also listed
the final circulations for the banks. Lou abstracted the
information from endless tables found in the 68 annual
reports of the Comptroller of the Currency spanning 1863
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 had at our fingertips exactly what
was issued and how many by every
bank in the country. The modern era
of national bank note collecting rested
on a bedrock solid foundation. All else
that has followed is window dressing.
At the time, Louis was a high school
math teacher in Grand Rapids,
Michigan. He and Barbara embarked
on marathon driving trips to DC that
typically lasted 3 or 4 days. Their
typical pattern was to leave on a
Friday and drive straight through for
11 hours with the two of them
switching off on the driving.
Once there, they hit the ground running at the
National Archives, which involved frantically and
doggedly writing by hand the information they gleaned from the ledgers.
Upon returning home—another straight 11-hour drive—they then typed the information on 5 by
7-inch cards. This was no small task, especially for Lou because he was a two-finger typist. Ultimately,
they assembled cards for all 12,631 issuing banks, many of which ran on for more than one card.
They found it expedient to have microfilm made of certain crucial ledgers, which allowed Lou to
pour over critical pages at home. He did not have to examine every ledger page for every bank. Rather he
focused on the pages that captured series totals and the pages that spanned the Series of 1882 and 1902
date-back to post-date back changeovers. Most of this work was done in the National Archives reading
room where they could work on ledgers that they checked out. The National Currency and Bond Ledgers
still yield Lou's pull slips.
A July 25, 1974 Louis Van Belkum National Archives pull slip for some National Currency and
Bond Ledgers complete with his signature.
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
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 October 8, 1942 in Grand Rapids, Michigan, and named Louis William Van Belkum III.
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 in a June 3-5, 2009 Lyn Knight sale.
Van Belkum assembled a state collection of $5 1929 nationals that was complete or virtually complete. This was his Arizona note
He and Barbara moved to Las Vegas, Nevada, in February 1989 when he took a position with
Clark County, where he served as a software programmer for their large IBM system. He retired in 2003.
He became heavily involved in collecting casino chips while in Las Vegas.
Lou succumbed July 31, 2013, to Alzheimer's disease at age 70, in Grand Rapids, to which he
and Barbara returned in February 2010. He was 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.
For more information on the two organizations, see:
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: firstname.lastname@example.org
To subscribe go to: https://my.binhost.com/lists/listinfo/esylum
Copyright © 1998 - 2021 The Numismatic Bibliomania Society (NBS)
All Rights Reserved.
NBS Home Page
Contact the NBS webmaster