Check Please! Antique Check Collecting a Close Cousin of USA Paper Money

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Once in a while, we get emails requesting the value of old paper money. In most cases, people have received collections as gifts or are settling the estate of a beloved family member. Tough economic times have forced many people to liquidate all sorts of assets. One need not look further than your local gold buying outlet, pawn shop, or collectibles store to see the influx of odds and ends for cash. In fact, reality TV shows on pawn shops have become a regular feature on some networks, mostly for the crude (staged) behavior of surly customers more than an academic look at antiques and their worth. After all, when it comes to collecting anything, the non-collecting public’s favorite question is “What’s it worth?”.

The other day we received an email about an old check written in 1915. The owner reported it came from a grand parent and had found its way into a box of personal effects. The check was drawn on a private bank and written for the benefit of a National Bank, which had issued currency in the later charter periods of the National Banking Era. Some brief research showed that although the National Bank was now defunct, it had been consolidated into a regional private bank that remains in operation to this day.

Nowadays, everyone exchanges cash using Paypal or internet banking, but in 1915, checks were an integral part of the day-to-day life of all citizens. They certainly didn’t clear as fast as they do now (remember, this was long before ABA routing codes), but were vital for people wishing to move a large amount of money without carrying around a large wad of cash. Yes, even in the good ‘ole pre World War I years, there were still thugs that mugged people on the streets for easy money. Using a check as a financial instrument, however, was much safer and prevented the neighborhood tough guy from stealing your hard earned loot.

Are antique checks as valuable as USA paper money or coins? Based on some cursory research, not quite (yet). The collecting base for them isn’t as well defined compared to the amount of people chasing after $20 Double Eagles or Educational Series Silver Certificates. Antique checks appear to fall into the collectible Ephemera category, and can be found on websites offering stamps, old stock certificates, bonds, railroad financial documents, historical autographs, or military payment instruments. Purchasing most old checks is well within reach of most consumers, while the rarities – as always – require a more significant investment.

1867 German National Bank Check
1867 German National Bank Check - MtGothicTomes.com website

The following is a list of websites that appear to buy and sell antique checks:

  1. CigarBoxLabels.com – Antique Stocks, Bonds, Autographs, Checks, Cigar Labels
  2. Mt. Gothic Tomes and Reliquary – Western Americana, Literary First Editions, Rare Books, Old Maps, Antique Photographs, Original Artwork, and Historic Artifacts
  3. Scripophily.net – Old Checks, Stocks, Bonds, Financial documents, Post Cards, Trading Cards, assorted other Ephemera
  4. Etsy.com Old Bank Checks – Auction Website and Collectibles Aggregater

If you find an old check, don’t toss it in the circular file: there’s a good chance it might still have some value despite the fact that its funds cleared decades – perhaps even a century – earlier. Visit the websites listed above to find out more!

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