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Colonial Paper Money Serial Number

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#1 alanb

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Posted 10 November 2019 - 19:17

Some background: Among the many difficulties endured by the English colonies in North America was the lack of coins. British monetary policies discouraged export of coins to the Americas, and North America had few sources of metals to mint their own. As wealth grew among the colonies, the lack of physical money became a critical problem, eventually partly resolved by printing paper money. The earliest paper money was printed in 1690. By the time of the revolutionary war, all colonies had been printing paper money for decades. Over 2,800 different varieties were printed. Today many of these are quite common, others much rarer, and there are quite a few varieties for which there are no known survivors.

I happen to have an example of a fairly common note, a Connecticut 1 Shilling, printing authorized June 7, 1776 - less than a month before the Declaration of Independence was signed. This note had a hard early life. It eventually broke into 3 pieces and was stitched together onto a piece of newspaper. At some point it was redeemed; it has a slit cancel that cuts through the thread. Since then it has evidently been handled more carefully; the newspaper backing is relatively undamaged.

Here it is:

Attached Image: IMG_0106MUV_ObvFull.jpg

The text is difficult to read on account of the splits and repairs. The bill reads "One Shilling. THE POSSESSOR of this BILL, shall be paid by the Treasurer of the Colony of CONNECTICUT, ONE SHILLING Lawful Money, by the First Day of January, AD One thousand seven hundred & eighty one. By Order of Assembly, Hartford, June 7th 1776." If you google images "Connecticut CT194", you can find photos of much nicer examples of this note.

So my question is: What is the serial number? Serial numbers were hand-written on colonial notes. On this series they were written with red ink. Faint red pen strokes are visible where the number should be, but they have faded and are now illegible.

Enlarged view in visible light. This is Canon M3, full spectrum adapted, with a Enna Lithagon 28mm f/3.5 on a 10mm extension tube, and LifePixel visible bandpass filter.

Attached Image: IMG_0125MUV_CropVis.jpg

How about infrared? Same rig with a Hoya R72, lit by a normal tungsten bulb,

Attached Image: IMG_0121MUV_IRHoya.jpg

The serial number is invisible. On the other hand the rest of the details are strikingly clear.

And UV? Same rig with a LaLaU UV filter, lit with an LED black light,

Attached Image: IMG_0114MUV_UV_Blacklight.jpg

Opposite of the IR: Every imperfection in the paper is suddenly very visible. The ink is visible, but I still can't quite make out the digits, though someone else might do better.

So what of the reverse? Well, that's an apparently random slice of newspaper. We got lucky though, we see a lot of critical details.

Attached Image: IMG_0107MUV_RevFull.jpg

"Connecticut G" and the printer Timothy Green, fed into Google, quickly narrows to "Connecticut Gazette; and the Universal Intelligencer" as the newspaper. This newspaper was printed from 1774 to 1787. April 18 was a Friday in 1777 and 1783. It turns out that this clip is from 1777.

There's also writing on the reverse, in red ink and much better preserved than the serial number.

Attached Image: IMG_0107MUV_RevSig.jpg

I make out the top word as "Registerd", and below that is apparently a name, though I can't read it. An explanation for this is found in The Early Paper Money of America by Eric P Newman. Regarding this issue, it notes "Some bills are slash or hole cancelled and others show redemption registration written in by the comptroller". I assume that's what we are seeing here.

#2 alanb

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Posted 10 November 2019 - 19:40

Ok, I think I can read the reverse signature. Pretty sure it says "J. Porter, Comptr". Per https://portal.ct.go...-I/Comptrollers , John Porter was the Comptroller of Connecticut from 1793 to 1806.

#3 Andrea B.

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Posted 11 November 2019 - 22:55

What a fascinating old piece of paper money. A very practical colonist it was who stitched the note to the newspaper until it could be redeemed. I know that collectors always want the most "untouched", cleanest paper money but I like this one better because it's telling us a good story!

Interesting that the serial number ink is invisible in IR but that the UV brings it out a bit. In UV the middle number seems obviously to be an '8'. You could probably tease out the numbers in Photoshop by playing around with filters and contrasts and layers. (That was a little vague, sorry. I don't know anything specific to try.)
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#4 Andrea B.

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Posted 11 November 2019 - 23:15

Here's my try, just for fun.

I increased saturation and darkness on the Photo Ninja orange slider with all other colours turned off. Also pushed contrast a bit. And got this.
Attached Image: post-262-0-72741600-1573412114pn.jpg

Then I enlarged the UV version and played with contrasts. Used the NX2 brush to darken what I then thought the numbers might be.
Attached Image: post-262-0-10273000-1573412092-101.jpg

Thanks again for posting this. It is a nice addition to the Forensics section.
Andrea G. Blum
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#5 dabateman

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Posted 12 November 2019 - 04:49

Since its not visible in the IR.
I would try to align the UV image with the IR image.
Then in ImageJ, subtract the IR image from the UV image to remove the paper fibers.
Then darken as much as Andrea has to try and pull out the numbers.

#6 Andrea B.

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Posted 12 November 2019 - 05:41

That's a good idea, David.
Andrea G. Blum
Often found hanging out with flowers & bees.