Historical Albion Michigan
By Frank Passic

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Any photos not otherwise credited are from the personal collection of Frank Passic, Albion Historian.


Albion Recorder, January 26, 1998, pg. 4

We all know about the "Chamber Bucks" issued by the Albion Chamber of Commerce that can be redeemed locally at participating merchants. But did you know that Albion once had a national bank that used to issue its own legal tender which could be spent anywhere in the United States?

Back in the late 19th and early 20th centuries, one way the U.S. government financed issuing money was to have the banks themselves put up the funds to cover the value of the banknotes. Banknotes were then printed on the name of the local national bank, secured by bonds deposited in the U.S. Treasury. Banknotes were printed for the U.S. Treasury by the Bureau of Engraving and Printing.

Albion was no exception, and our local national bank (in existence from 1866 to 1912) issued thousands of dollars worth of $10 and $20 bills over the years. These could be spent anywhere, and as is the case with other U.S. government produced money, these bills still retain legal tender status today, even years after the bank was closed.

Notes were printed in sheets of four notes. Three were of the $10 denomination, and the bottom one was the $20 note. Each note would be hand-signed by the bank president Samuel V. Irwin (up to 1890) or Dr. Willoughby O’Donoughue (after 1890), and the bank cashier, Henry Montgomery Dearing. When you went into the bank and requested one of the bank’s own banknotes, they would take out a sheet, pull out a pair of scissors and cut one of them out right there for you. They were backed by the U.S. government and you could spend them anywhere, not just in Albion. Paper money was alot bigger in size than it is today, making the notes easily identifiable.

In the U.S. National Archives as the "printer’s proof" sheets of Albion’s notes. These have the name "Albion National Bank" in the center, and the regular $10 bill design of the time with the date of 1902. The serial numbers and seals are missing as they were added later, as well as the local signatures. Records show that about $70,000 worth was issued and circulated, but that approximately $2,000 was never turned back in. Who has one? I’ve been looking for a "real one" of these for years, and who knows, maybe one will turn up sometime?

In the meantime, this week we present a photograph of an uncut "printer’s proof" sheet of Albion banknotes now in the National Numismatic Collection at the Smithsonian Institute in Washington, D.C. Special thanks to them for this week’s photograph.

If you haven’t sent in for your copy of the January, 1998 issue of The Numismatist yet, I encourage you to do so. My article The Albion Bank Scandal gives the incredible history of our local national bank, and contains photographs of all three sets of banknote proof sheets at the Smithsonian. The cost of the issue is $5. Write: The Numismatist, American Numismatic Association, 818 N. Cascade Avenue, Colorado Springs, Colorado 80903-3279.

Sheet of Albion Banknotes

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All text copyright, 2018 © all rights reserved Frank Passic

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