The Eliasberg Collection | Fractional Paper Currency
In 1950, Louis Eliasberg, an American financier and numismatist, successfully assembled the only complete collection United States coins. Eliasberg was honored by Numismatic Gallery Magazine in recognition of his unique achievement, and later divided his collection between his two children. He died in 1976.
Why is the Eliasberg Collection Important?
Eilasberg’s collection is important not only because, even to this day, it is only complete collection of US monies but also because it also contained some of the rarest and most valuable of US coins. One of the highlights of the Eliasberg collection was a 1913 Liberty Head nickel, which was purchased for $3 million in 2003. Eliasberg also owned one of 25 surviving 1933 $20 gold coins. However, the US government believed that this particular coin had not been legally issued, so Eliasberg returned his coin to the government voluntarily in 1952 without compensation. Another of these surviving coins was held by King Farouk of Egypt. The King kept his, but after he was deposed in 1952, his coin made a brief appearance on the market before going into hiding again. It was finally confiscated by the Secret Service more than 40 years later when British coin dealer Stephen Fenton showed up with it in New York. Fenton was reported compensated for it.
Because an Eliasberg Pedigreed Coin can be traced back to his famous collection, each coin usually carries a significant premium. What many people don’t realize about Eliasberg’s comprehensive collection is that it also included paper currency.
The Story of Fractional Paper Currency
By December 30, 1861, the United States government and banks were unable to make specie payments. This has be attributed to the the Union’s deteriorating military situation at this point in the Civil War and resultant hoarding and exportation of specie precious metals and was the most serious deviation from the specie standard. (A specie payment refers to the redemption of US paper money by banks or the Treasury for metallic coins – usually gold coins.) In early 1862, legal-tender notes, called greenbacks, were issued.
During this time, coinage became scarce, making it difficult for merchants to make change and therefore increasing the practice of bartering. The Treasury Department was forced to address the crisis with the Act of July 17, 1862. This Act called for the issuance of five, ten, 25 and 50 cent notes to make up for the coin shortage. The initial notes issued were called postage currency because they used the reproduced images of the five and ten cent postage stamp. The term fractional currency general referred to later issues enacted by Congress after March 1863. Approximately $369 million of fractional currency was issued within a a 14 year time span.
The widely-debated Resumption Act of January 14, 1875 provided for the replacement of the Civil War fractional currency by silver coins and brought back down the total of greenbacks in circulation.
You can own a piece of the Eliasberg paper currency collection today. While quantities last, Austin Rare Coins & Bullion is currently offering 5 and 10 Cent paper currency notes in a range of grades. Each note is certified by PCGS and carries the Eliasberg Pedigree.