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MEMORIES IN FOCUS: When Marion had its own currency years ago

Images from Heritage Auctions

Historic national bank notes like these issued by Marion National Bank in 1905 (top) and 1929 (bottom) have been selling in recent online auctions for between $198 and $517.

Until 1935, much of our nation’s folding money was issued not by the federal government but by local banks, including Marion National Bank and Farmers and Drovers (now Central) National Bank in Marion.

National bank notes were introduced during the Civil War to support the federal government’s debt.

Banks with federal charters would deposit government bonds in the Treasury and then issue currency worth up to 90 or 95 percent of the value of the bonds.

This created demand for the bonds, which the government sold to finance its debt.

Design of early national bank notes frequently downplayed the federal government and emphasized the local bank, often using unique, ornate logos and designs unlike what might appear on other currency.

Toward the end of the national bank note era, designs became standardized, with familiar federal features dominating the notes and local banks’ names merely being stamped onto them.

Each bank note contained, much as they do today, the printed signatures of the treasurer of the United States and of another federal official, in this case an official known as the register of the treasury.

A noteworthy addition was the actual, handwritten signatures of the cashier and president of each bank issuing the bills.

The 1905 $5 bill shown here was among the very first issued by newly chartered Marion National Bank (bank No. 7911), which opened that year with assets of $25,000.

The bill was signed by the bank’s inaugural cashier, Brown Corby, brother of one of two people for whom Bown-Corby School was named, and by the bank’s first president and largest investor, Christian Siebert.

The 1929 $10 bill shown here was signed by longtime cashier Earl Kreuter, who was the bank’s chief executive officer from 1927 to 1963, and by its president, J.F. Whaley, a Centre Township farmer and stockman and leading Republican politician who was bank president from 1915 to 1936.

Although no longer legal tender, national bank notes have become collectors’ items, more than preserving their original buying power.

The $5 bill here, equivalent to $143 in buying power today, recently sold for $360 at an online auction.

The $10 bill, representing an equivalent buying power of $147 today, sold for $198. A companion $20 Marion National Bank bill from the same year sold for $517.

Other bills recently sold online by Heritage Auctions include a 1929 $20 bill from Farmers and Drovers, which sold for an undisclosed sum.

Designed like the Marion National note, it bore the signatures of cashier E.F. Nelson and bank president Thomas W. Spachek, who later founded Pilsen State Bank.

The $10 bill shown here looked almost identical to federally produced silver certificates and U.S. notes printed during the period.

Since 1928, all $10 bills have born Alexander Hamilton’s image and all $20 bills have born Andrew Jackson’s.

The $5 bill shown here was issued before 1914, when Abraham Lincoln’s likeness began appearing on a few $5 bills. It was added to all $5 bills in 1928.

Instead of Lincoln, the 1905 Marion National bill bore the image of Benjamin Harrison, who was featured on most $5 bills from 1902, shortly after his death, until 1928.

National bank notes were discontinued in 1935 with the issuance of now familiar Federal Reserve notes, part of a depression-era action to stabilize currency value amid bank failures.

Although both Marion banks remain in their original locations at 3rd and Main Sts., their original buildings, which had housed hardware and drug stores before housing banks, have been replaced.

Last modified March 7, 2019

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