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Standard Catalog of United States Paper Money, 21st Edition.
Book Review by Jan M. Dyroff
Chester L. Krause and Robert F. Lemke, with Joel T. Edler (Editor).  Iola: Krause Publications, 2002. $29.95
Considering its scope and ambition, to address all of the paper money issued by the government of the United States of America, this book is very concise. It is written and presented with great care and thought, and it clearly belongs on the reference shelf of any serious collector. And that’s in general – you don’t have to be a paper money specialist to enjoy and benefit from this volume.

The introduction contains what I believe is one of the most pertinent essays in the field of paper money, and that is the section on grading. This guide is quite clear on what does or does not constitute a certain grade. As a taste of what it contains, it describes Uncirculated as a qualitative measurement of the appearance of a note, which has nothing to do with whether or not the issue has actually released the note to circulation.

What impresses me is that there is a recognition of the human element in the process of grading paper money – this is a factor which was become lost for the most part (dare I say slabbed) in many areas of coin collecting. A currency collector must have the enthusiasm, intellect and confidence in his or her own judgment to build a satisfying collection.

This book sets out to be a guide to all of the paper money issued by the government from 1812 to the present. I must confess that the early date took me a bit by surprise, because I always thought that the government did not get into the currency business until the early days of the Civil War. These early notes were United States Treasury Notes, denominated from three to one thousand dollars; they were interest bearing and not, technically, legal tender for all debts public and private – yet they did circulate in commerce.

These were not regularly issued but were introduced in the face of emergent events. Thus the “series” in this type are the “War of 1812,” “The Panic of 1837,” “Mexican War Notes”, “Mexican War Warrants” and “Panic of 1857 Notes.” These are all rich in history and very, very scarce.

The book itself is composed of a number of sections. The two major are large and small sized currency. Both are then subdivided by denomination, going from earliest introduced until the latest. This is an eminently sensible and well-illustrated arrangement.

The other sections tend to be somewhat more specialized – encased stamps and fractional currency from the Civil War era, error notes, military payment certificates and the currency of the Philippine Island (formerly a commonwealth of the United States).

Among the most impressive achievements of this book is the handling of the issues (large and small notes) from the national banks. One fantastic table lists all national banks by city or town by state by bank number. The combinations can be mind-boggling. In an attempt to bring some order into this vast topic, the authors have devised two grids (again large and small notes), with bank rarity the horizontal axis (imagine a spread sheet) and state rarity the vertical axis. The cells contain approximate valuations.

While the authors in a number of instances cite recent sale or auction prices for some rare notes, it is clearly beyond the scope of a book like this, meant to do most things for most folks, to get too specific in valuations of national bank notes.

And so, to wrap up my thoughts on this book I confess that it is well worth the price. It is as up to date as possible, and if you are interested in American numismatics, history or art (banknotes are, after all, examples of the engraver’s art) then this is a book for you.
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