I began collecting Confederate currency in 1993 while on
a drive from Atlanta to Pittsburgh. My father had
just died and I was driving his car to my brother's
place. I decided to make the most of the trip by stopping at as many Civil War spots along the way as possible. Somehow
I got the idea that I could scour the South for Confederate
currency and return home with the beginnings of a
I visited coin shops at Chicamaugua, Manassas, and everywhere in between,
coming up with zip - nada - nothing. I did find
two crumpled old notes in a Manassas relic shop. But as
I left the store, admiring the not-so-auspicious start to my collection,
I had to console myself with the fantasy that the notes had become
damaged after spending days in some Confederate's pocket.
By the time I arrived in Gettysburg I was really discouraged.
I hadn't been there since I was a kid, but the somber tone
of the town fit my mood. Lazily and of little hope, I sauntering
into a shop called the Horse Soldier. Once inside, though, my eyes
behold an entire wall of Confederate currency! I was
almost in tears as I asked the woman, half jokingly, if
that was their entire stock. Ironically, she replied that it wasn't, and pulled
out two entire shoe boxes full to the brim with Confederate scrip. My hands were shaking
and my mind was spinning, so I decided to get a room and
come back the next day - rested.
The next morning I picked out a selection of twenty
fine looking specimens. As I cherry-picked the
inventory, I couldn't reconcile the salesman's
frown - at least not until I found out that their now-obsolete catalog
had gone to print that very day! Looking back, I think I did well for a first-timer.
All of the bills I bought were good picks that have appreciated greatly.
Well, all except one.
There is only one Confederate bill that bears the image of a Confederate
general. But although Stonewall Jackson was on
this one beautiful note, and even though I sensed that I probably shouldn't buy something
with a huge corner torn off, I was new to collecting and I didn't know
if I would ever see that bill again. For all I knew I
had found the only example of this note on the planet. So
I bought it, and to this day I have never seen a Confederate note
for sale in such bad shape.
You might say that I violated rule number one of collecting
- condition, condition, condition. Or rule number two -
know something about what you are buying. The truth is that
I learned something more important - you won't really know
the value of something until you drop cold-hard cash for
it. Every time I see a Jackson note (type 64) for sale I
catalog the condition and price forever in my brain, hoping
against hope that I will see a worse note for some huge
sum of money.
There is one caveat to rule number one. You can buy a
note in lousy condition if the note is very, very rare
and if the price is really, really reasonable. I spent most of the next year
on the road and whenever I hit a new town I would race around
to every coin shop I could find. In Houston I happened into
a shop on the same day that some guy who needed quick cash
was liquidating his whole collection. It hadn't even been
priced yet, but the dealer saw that I was a serious buyer
and he let me look at the notes. Have I mentioned rule three
- timing is everything.
I was making my way through the pile when I came across
a very poor bill that had been repaired with tape. Thoughts
of the relic shop in Manassas came to mind until I saw that
the bill was a Series 2, $5 (type 11). The lowest price Criswell
had this note for is $800. I had never seen this note live and in person and was trying my hardest not to show my excitement.
He was asking $300, but since I had bought a few other bills
he settled for $200. It is my most mangled note, but also
one of my favorites.
Collecting Confederate currency is like drinking fine wine,
in that the more you educate your palette, the more you
want the good stuff. Once you start collecting the notes
that are relatively inexpensive and easy to find, you will
no doubt start desiring the more difficult 'Montgomery' notes that can carry a five-figure price
tag! The goal of many Confederate collectors is to get an entire
'type' set, that is to say one each of the 72 Criswell types.
Or perhaps you might want
to collect all of the many varieties of a single note. However
you decide to collect Confederate notes, you can be sure
that it will be a fascinating journey into our nation's past.