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Confederate Notes Offer Glimpse Into Past
By Bob Van Ryzin, Bank Note Reporter
February 04, 2009

One of the great things about working for a media company is that when new publications appear, particularly those emanating from within the company, you can generally be assured of getting a desk copy.

A while back I received the 11th edition of Confederate States Paper Money: Civil War Currency from the South, edited by George S. Cuhaj and published by Krause Publications last year. It's properly noted that this edition now comes in color, with more than 350 color photos. Like most such guides, it offers to help identify the various notes and to provide pricing in six grades, ranging from Good to Unc.

But what I find striking is that this is an ever evolving field. New information is always being added to the mix by dedicated specialists. As noted in the book's Preface, many people study the Civil War intensely, so it's not surprising that new data would be unearthed "in old letters, forgotten archives, or elsewhere" and that the study of Confederate currency is no different. "We certainly know much more than we did fifty years ago, although that was nearer to the time it was issued, and we have little doubt that collectors fifty years from now will look back on this and other works as being merely a step in what may become a virtually day-to-day knowledge of Confederate currency production and circulation."

Even so, this edition is more than double in size than the first one published in 1958, with plenty of information on the history of the notes and ways to collect them.

Certainly one such way is by vignette. These range from allegorical representations of Columbia, Commerce, Industry, Justice and Navigation to ships and sailors.

A popular one appears to have been a depiction of the Confederacy striking down the Union. In this case, it's "Hercules liberating Prometheus by killing the vulture that was eating his liver."

You could also collect by the busts of the various members of the Confederate government, including C.G. Memminger, the Confederacy's first Treasury secretary; Jefferson Davis, president; and Alexander H. Stephens, its vice president.

Among these is Judah P. Benjamin, a long controversial figure, who once challenged Davis to a duel, only to become his friend and serve as the Confederacy's first Secretary of War. This was until he was forced to resign after failing to send reinforcements to Roanoke in February 1862 that was said to have caused the Confederacy to have "surrendered without a shot being fired."

An estimated 2,500 soldiers surrendered to the Union, whose forces at the battle were led by Ambrose E. Burnside (later of Burnside Bridge infamy at the Battle of Antietam). Despite the defeat, Benjamin would be named the Confederacy's Secretary of State.

These are just a few of the options available that allow for not only the collecting of items related to the Civil War, but also ones that can stir further research. Not many can afford the few coins put out by Confederacy, but the paper money offers a venue that is worth a closer look.

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