The Original Polar Express

Headline from the September 20, 1961 Statesville (NC) Record and Landmark.

Mid afternoon on December 11, 1951, an Alaska Airlines DC-4 nicknamed “The Polar Express” took off from Fairbanks and returned some 16 hours later accomplishing something no other commercial airliner had accomplished before — flying over the North Pole.

The flight was a publicity stunt, but one with the very important purpose of placing a literal pole at the North Pole. The scheme was the brainchild of Stanley Garson, an oil worker in Point Barrow. He constructed a nine foot long, red and white striped pole to be placed on the top of the world. Garson enlisted the help of Alaskan radio personality Audree Vance whose broadcast name was North Pole Nellie. Nellie suggested that the flight also carry children’s letters to Santa.

Fairbanks Mayor Bob Hoopes and Carolina Cotton (lower left) and North Pole Nellie (holding the mail bag at center) prepare for the flight of the Polar Express. (Fairbanks Daily News-Miner).

The original hope was that the US Air Force would deliver the pole and the letters. The Air Force frequently made flights from Ladd Air Force Base over the pole. The nine foot pole was too large for the Air Force to transport so it was cut down to six feet. The plan, however, was ultimately rejected by the Air Force.

Nellie pitched the idea to Alaska Airlines who jumped at the chance. By mid-November 1951, the Civil Aeronautics Board approved the flight which was planned for Thanksgiving. Delays pushed it into December.

In the meantime, Nellie turned up the PR campaign. She was even able to get Hollywood to help. The film industry was beginning a publicity campaign of its own called “Movietime USA” and were eager to help. A young actress named Carolina Cotton (the Yodeling Blonde Bombshell) was sent as their contribution to the event.

The flight crew (from left to right): Robert Kong (2nd pilot), Wayne Wisting (chief navigator), Daniels McClean (Navigator), Charles Hall (3rd Pilot), Hebry O’Neil (flight engineer), L.E. Flahart (Captain). (Fairbanks Daily News-Miner).

The date of the flight was moved to December 10. A parade from the post office to the airport was held sponsored by the Alaskan Dog Mushers Association. The plane, however, was in Seattle and delayed by maintenance. It arrived the next day.

The letter writing campaign met with overwhelming success. The original plan was to put the letters inside the pole. More than 5,000 letters were received which exceeded the poles capacity. The others were placed in a bag and tied to the pole.

Short snorter on a Japanese 10 yen note commemorating the flight of the Polar Express on December 11-12, 1951. In addition to the crew, the note is signed by Carolina Cotton, her manager Bobby Bennett and ground crewman Rusty Fannon.

Shortly after noon on December 11, the plane left the Fairbanks airport to great fanfare and good luck kisses for the crew from Ms. Cotton. They re-fueled at an Air Force installation at Point Barrow and headed for the Pole. As they approached the target, a new problem surfaced. The pole was too large to fit through the side door of the plane. With some last minute modifications, everything was set.

With the ice caps in sight, the pilot reduced speed to 120 mph. The side doors were opened and the pole and the bag of letters were deployed. Its chute opened and the pole drifted slowly downward lit by a flashlight tied to it as a beacon. At 12:58 am on December 12, 1951, there really was a pole at the North Pole.

This post was adapted from information found at

Remembering “Las Mariposas”

The Mirabal sisters. (Wikimedia Commons).

This past week marked the International Day for the Elimination of Violence Against Women. The day was first observed by UN Resolution on November 25, 1999. The date marks the martyrdom of the Mirabal sisters — Patria, Minerva and Maria Teresa — at the hands of the Trujillo regime in the Dominican Republic. This year marked the 60th anniversary of their deaths.

The women, along with a fourth sister, Dede, were the children of Enrique Mirabal Fernández and Mercedes Reyes Camil. They were raised on the family farm in the central part of the Dominican Republic.

The Mirabal sisters as they appear on the 200 peso note from the Dominican Republic.

Minerva became involved in the political movement against the Trujillo regime while she was in college. Trujillo and his minions ruled the Dominican Republic from 1930 until 1961.

Maria Theresa and Patria joined in their sister’s anti-government activities. They joined a group known as the Movement of the Fourteenth of June. They distributed leaflets about the abuses of the Trujillo regime. They also sought weapons to defend themselves against the military and for open revolt.

Minerva’s code name with the Movement was “butterfly” (mariposa in Spanish). After Patria and Maria Teresa joined, they were collectively known as “Las Mariposas”.

Minerva and María Teresa were arrested and imprisoned along with their husbands and Patria’s husband. The women were freed in 1960 but their husbands remained incarcerated.

Monument to the Maribal sisters outside the family home in the Cibao region of the Dominican Republic.

On 25 November 1960, Patria, Minerva and Maria Teresa were visiting Maria Teresa and Minerva’s husbands in prison. On the way home, they were captured by government operatives. The sisters and their driver were strangled and beaten to death. The bodies were placed in a Jeep and run off a mountain road to appear as an accident.

Their nemesis, Rafael Trujillo, met a similar fate when he was assassinated on March 30, 1961.

The surviving sister, Dede, raised her nieces and nephews and spent the rest of her life preserving the memories of her sisters. She lived in their parent’s house until her death in 1988.

A Dollar a Year

Appointment certificate and $1.00 check for H.W. Davis for the WWII War Production Board. Many of these checks were kept as souvenirs and framed. The paper backing on the frame reacted with the ink of the check and changed the color from green to brown.

During World War I and World War II, thousands of business and industry executives went to work for the US government serving on various boards or as advisors. They were known as dollar-a-year men due to their salary which was literally $1.00 per year.

Check for $.13 to Ralph Henn for six weeks work with the War Industries Board. Henn left this position in December 1917 to accept a commission in the US Army to work in the procurement office of the War Department.
Workers for the War Industries Board received a bonus of $1.00 in 1919. This check bears the signatures of President Woodrow Wilson; Bernard Baruch, chairman of the WIB; and E.K. Ellsworth, the disbursing clerk.

Bernard Baruch is credited with being the first dollar-a-year man. Baruch was a Wall Street financier who agreed to serve to become an advisor to President Wilson. He served on the National Council of Defense and the War Industries Board in WWI.

Cover letter and check in the amount of $.57 to Walter F. Hedden for his work with the War Production Board. Hedden was an executive with the New York Port Authority and advised the board on transportation matters.

During WWII most dollar-a-year men were affiliated with the War Production Board. The WPB was chaired by Donald M. Nelson. It coordinated the allocation of resources for the war effort in the United States.

James Francis Peele kept his $.07 check for service to the War Production Board in 1943.

The token payment was made by US government check. Those who did not serve a full year received a pro-rated payment. The nominal amounts of the checks meant that many went uncashed and were held as souvenirs.

Edward Albert Christian George Andrew Patrick David

Australian One Pound note of 1933 featuring the portrait of King George V.
Edward, Prince of Wales, appears in the watermark at left as shown below.

You would think that being named for two kings (his grandfather Edward VII and great-grandfather Christian IX of Denmark), the Prince Consort, and the patron saints of England, Scotland, Ireland and Wales would have destined Edward for a long and successful reign, but it was not to be. The King with the absurdly long given name would have the shortest reign of any modern English monarch.

Sovereigns issued for Edward VII and George V as well as an unissued trial strike for Edward VIII. Edward VIII chose to break with hundreds of years of tradition of alternating the orientation of the monarch’s portrait in order to show the part in his hair. (Image from the Royal Mint.)

Edward ascended to the throne on January 20, 1936 upon the death of his father, George V. He would abdicate before the end of the year, brought down by his love for an American divorcee.

With a short reign came a small numismatic footprint. No portrait coinage was issued prior to the abdication but coinage for a few colonies made it into circulation. Portrait trial specimens were made. Fantasy crowns were made in the 1980s.

No banknotes were issued during the reign of Edward VIII with his image. In addition to the watermark image on the Australian pound note pictured above, he appeared on banknotes of the Dominion of Canada in 1923 and Bank of Canada in 1935 as Prince of Wales.

Short snorter from the Bahamas bearing the signature of Edward, Duke of Windsor. He was appointed Governor of the Bahamas by George VI in 1940 and remained in that position until 1945.

The Soldier’s Bond

$10.00 Soldier’s Bond issued to Harry Goldberg of San Francisco. The bond was issued by the War Department’s War Bond Office in Chicago indicating Goldberg was overseas at this time. The number 750 in the string of numbers 12-750-74 is the purchase price of $7.50. The number above this is Goldberg’s Service Number. The Army War Bond Office made Addressograph cards for each soldier for imprinting the soldier’s information on the bond.

Veteran’s Day is later this week and I thought I would highlight the $10.00 Series E United States Savings Bond, also known as the Soldier’s Bond.

The $10.00 Savings Bond was introduced in mid-1944. The War Department asked the Treasury Department for this lower denomination bond to be issued to allow more service members to participate in the savings bond program. Treasury inquired whether the Department of the Navy had any interest in providing the lower denomination bond to its personnel but the Navy declined.

Series E Savings Bonds were purchased at 75% of their face value. Prior to the introduction of the $10.00 bond, a soldier’s allotment for savings bonds was $6.25 per month resulting in the purchase of a $25.00 bond every three months. The purchase of a $10.00 bond required a monthly allotment of $7.50 with a new bond being issued every month.

Jorge Vazquez served in the 65th Infantry Regiment during and after WWII, The 65th was made up of National Guard members from Puerto Rico. The 65th spent WWII in Panama. He was still with the 65th Infantry Regiment when it was sent to Korea. He was reported missing in action after his squad failed to return from a patrol. His remains have yet to be found.

The Bureau of Engraving and Printing began production of the $10.00 bond in June 1944. The bond features a profile portrait of Benjamin Franklin, the only wartime Series E bond to eature a non-president. In keeping with the BEP’s convention of using Roman numeral equivalents for the serial number prefix, the prefix on the $10.00 bond is the letter X.

The BEP produced 32 face plates for bonds with the signature of Henry Morgenthau, Jr. as Secretary of the Treasury. In August 1945, Fred Vinson replaced Morgenthau as Treasury Secretary and 13 plates were used to print bonds with Vinson’s signature. An additional 20 plates were made when John Snyder replaced Vinson in August 1946.

Secretary Vinson signature on a bond carrying the War Savings Bond legend at lower left. The Treasury Department stopped using the War Savings Bond legend in August 1945 when Secretary Vinson replaced Secretary Morgenthau.

There are some anomalies in the production of the $10.00 bonds. BEP records indicate that a little more than 19,000,000 $10.00 War Savings Bonds were printed. The War Bond legend was supposed to be removed from the bond when the change in the signature of the Treasury Secretary changed in August 1945. However, bonds with the War Bond legend and Secretary Vinson’s signature have been observed in the 21,000,000 and 23,000,000 range.

Low serial number bond bearing Secretary Vinson’s signature and the War Savings Bond legend. Treasury records indicate that this bond should have Secretary Morgenthau’s signature.

Odder still is the existence of bonds numbered in the 6,000,000 and 7,000,000 range that bear both the War Bond Legend and Secretary Vinson’s signature. That serial number range is well within the range that should have been printed with Secretary Morgenthau’s signature. The issue dates on the observed examples are in 1947 and 1948. It is surmised that for some reason the BEP re-printed this serial number range after the war using the post-war Vinson plates but also with the War Bond legend.

Although $10.00 bonds with Secretary Snyder’s signature were produced, none have been observed.

The Army stopped offering the $10.00 bond in 1950.

The relatively small print run of the $10.00 bond and its limited availability to only Army personnel make it the scarcest of the low denomination bonds.

Josephine Dannegger was a 48 year old immigrant from Danzig when she enlisted in the WACs in 1945. She was stationed at a hospital outside St. Louis when this bond was issued to her.

A Little Philately Among Consenting Adults

US Post Office check for $.05 issued in Boston in 1908.

There are a few ways that philately and numismatics intersect: postal savings instruments, post office checks, stamp money, postal notes and postal money orders. Of these instruments, people are most familiar with the postal money order.

In the financial realm, a money order is a type of payment order directing a third party to pay a named payee a defined amount. Money orders were first developed in the UK. The United States Post Office adopted the money order system in the 1860s as a way to limit the amount of cash and coin carried across the country.

US Postal Money Orders were initially only payable at the post office named on the order in order to discourage theft in transit. They could also only be transferred by endorsement once or they would be deemed invalid. As the US postal money order system matured and the threat of theft in transit was reduced, money orders became could be paid at any money order post office and eventually were negotiable through banking channels.

By the 1930s, US Postal Money Orders caught the attention of philatelists. Stamp collectors who concentrated on cancellations, sought out money orders by requesting them in nominal amounts. Money orders issued by US military post offices became popular.

The money order shown above was issued aboard the cruiser USS Quincy in 1937. The payee is Alleen (misspelled Allen) O. Whipple of Alexandria, Indiana. Ms, Whipple was an avid stamp collector who made her own cachets for first day covers.

Oscar Lee Lott
Oscar Lee Lott (photo from

The remitter of the money order is Coxswain Oscar Lee Lott who was stationed on the Quincy. Lott transferred to the USS California in 1939 and was aboard the California in Pearl Harbor on December 7, 1941. He survived the Japanese attack.

Close up of the Money Order Branch (MOB) cancellation for USS Quincy.

USS Quincy, however, would not survive the war. Quincy was commissioned in 1935 and saw its first service on refugee patrols during the Spanish Civil War. She spent time with both the Atlantic and Pacific Fleets prior to the war. Quincy began her wartime service in the north Atlantic before transiting the Panama Canal for the Pacific.

The USS Quincy illuminated by Japanese search lights off Savo Island.

Quincy provided support to the US Marine invasion of Guadalcanal. In the early morning of August 9, 1942, Quincy was on patrol between Florida and Savo Islands in the Solomons. Quincy and her companions, USS Astoria and USS Vincennes, were suddenly illuminated by the search lights from a column of Japanese ships. The initial Japanese salvos did considerable damage. Within an hour of first contact, Quincy sunk bow first losing 370 men. It was the first ship sunk in Iron Bottom Bay.

USS Quincy lying on Iron Bottom Sound. US Navy photograph.

The North Pacific Exploring and Survey Expedition of 1853

Bill of Exchange issued by William Brenton Hogg, purser of the USS Vincennes, to Commander Cadwalader Ringgold for payment of expenses for the North Pacific Exploring and Survey Expedition of 1853.

Bills of exchange are one of the more obscure paper collectibles. A bill of exchange is a form of promissory note requiring a person to make payment to a named payee. There are three parties to a bill of exchange. The payee is the person to receive the money, the drawee pays the money and the drawer is the party requiring the payment to be made.

Bills of exchange were written in duplicate or triplicate. The different versions were referred to First of Exchange, Second of Exchange and Third of Exchange. The three bills were forwarded to the drawer by different means in the event of delay or calamity. The first bill to reach the drawee was paid. The others would be canceled upon receipt by the drawee.

The endorsements on the back of the USS Vincennes bill of exchange.

Bills of exchange were common in the 19th century and most often used for international transactions. They were most often used to pay for goods to be imported. The importer was usually the drawer who directed payment to the merchant he was purchasing from. The drawee was typically a banking house in the same country as the merchant who held money belonging to the importer.

Bills of exchange were negotiable instruments and could be transferred by endorsement. Subsequent holders were holders in due course and had the ability to collect the amount due from the drawee or any previous endorser.

Cdr. Cadwalader Ringgold

The bill of exchange illustrated here is a Second of Exchange. It was written by William Benton Hogg, a purser in the United States Navy. (Hogg would become Paymaster of the Navy shortly before his retirement in 1871). It directs the Secretary of the Navy, James C. Dobbin, to pay $10,000.00 to Commander Cadwalader Ringgold. It is dated November 3, 1853 at Simon’s Bay, a naval facility at Cape Town now known as Simons Town on False Bay in South Africa. It was for payment of expenses for the North Pacific Exploring and Survey Expedition of 1853. Commander Ringgold was in charge of the expedition. His flagship, the USS Vincennes, is noted on the bill.

Ringgold endorsed the bill on the back to Gideon S. Holmes, United States Consul at Cape Town. Holmes, in turn, negotiated it to an indecipherable banking house in Boston. It is probable that Ringgold received payment in Mexican silver pesos rather than US coinage. The Mexican peso coin was the most widely recognized silver coin in the world at this time and was the preferred medium of exchange in East Asia. The Cape Colony was the last stop for the Vincennes before arriving in the Pacific via the Indian Ocean.

Currier lithograph image of the USS Vincennes made for the US Navy.

The Expedition spent the summer of 1854 charting the islands and rivers in southeast Asia and China from the port of Hong Kong. The flotilla continued north into the Bering Sea before working its way along the Alaskan and Canadian coasts. Ringgold was relieved of command of the Expedition in July 1854 due to a deteriorating mental state caused by a bout of malaria. He was replaced by Lt. John Rodgers. The expedition provided significant data and mapping of the northern Pacific which was used as late as World War II.

The central vignette on the USS Vincennes bill of exchange is a US Navy side wheel steamer. The ship is unidentified.

Not so Superior Counterfeiters

A paper quarter issued by the City of Superior, Wisconsin on August 18, 1933. Reduced cash
flow during the Great Depression caused Superior to issue scrip from 1933 to 1939.

The City of Superior issued Depression Scrip for the longest period of any issuing authority in Wisconsin. The city issued its first scrip in August 1933 and last in April 1939. During that time, over $2,000,000.00 in scrip was issued in denominations from $.25 to $10.00.

Like many municipalities around the country, the city´s finances were crippled by two effects of the Great Depression: a dramatic increase in defaults on property taxes and the city´s money being tied up in banks that were closed. The city´s cash position was also hurt by the fact that it was required to accept scrip issued by Douglas County but could not pay it back out.

Receipt for $19.50 for the redemption of Superior scrip by the City Treasurer. The scrip was redeemable when cash was available or was receivable by the city for taxes or other debts.

In October 1934 the Superior City Clerk noticed something peculiar about certain scrip that was being turned in for redemption. Some of the notes bore serial numbers that had already been redeemed. Since the city cancelled redeemed notes and did not re-issue them, the Clerk knew there was a problem.

Upon closer inspection, some of the $5.00 notes with duplicate serial numbers had a spelling error. Someone had counterfeited the city’s scrip.

$5.00 Superior scrip from the May 15, 1934 issue. It is likely that this was the type counterfeited by the Lurye brothers.

The Superior police investigated the matter and they quickly focused their attention on Ed Lurye, a Superior liquor salesman. He confessed to paying $700.00 in cash for $2,000.00 in bogus scrip to his brother Albert Lurye, a Minneapolis furniture salesman.

Albert Lurye was the mastermind of the operation who employed the assistance of two employees of a print shop in Duluth to make the copies with supplies acquired by Albert Lurye in the Twin Cities.

The Superior scrip had no security devices making it easier to duplicate. Although the scrip was printed on safety paper, the paper was commercially available.

$10.00 Superior scrip from the June 1, 1934 issue. The red text in the background indicates the scrip will not be honored if it were discounted in commercial channels. How the City would have known this is a mystery.

The printers made $30,000.00 in counterfeit $5.00 and $10.00 scrip. The first printing consisted of $10,000.00 of each denomination. A spelling error was noticed and a second printing of $5,000.00 of each denomination was made. They intended to destroy the notes with the error but $3,000.00 in $5.00 notes with the error remained. They reportedly circulated only $2,000.00 in the counterfeit notes before being caught.

Headline in the February 4, 1936 Oshkosh Northwestern relating to the Wisconsin Supreme Court´s decision to uphold the counterfeiting convictions of Albert and Edward Lurye of Superior.

The conspirators were charged with counterfeiting and found guilty after a jury trial. They appealed the conviction. The appeal alleged that the city of Superior did not have authority to issue the scrip as money and that since it was not money, they could not be convicted of counterfeiting. The Wisconsin Supreme Court did not think much of the argument and the conviction was upheld. They were each sentenced to a year in prison.

No examples of the counterfeit scrip have been observed.

The Coin Shortage

One cent scrip issued by Click grocery stores of Cleveland, OH during the 1974 penny shortage.

Apparently there is a shortage of coins in the United States. At least there is a shortage of circulating coinage. I am not even certain coins really circulate any more. It seems to me that the use of coins in everyday commerce is one way. Those consumers who still use cash receive coins in change which then get thrown into a jar, desk drawer, coffee can, automobile console, couch cushions, etc. It has been a long time since I have seen someone digging through their pocket or coin purse for change for a purchase.

The current coin shortage can be traced to two effects of the corona virus pandemic. First, social distancing rules slowed down production of coins at the U.S. Mint. Secondly, the number of people turning their change jars into banks has dramatically decreased also.

One cent token made for use during the WWI cent shortage by the Economy Stores of Savannah, GA.

Coin shortages have happened before but most of those events were limited to shortages of a single type of coin – the cent. This time, the shortage affects all denominations of coins.

One cent scrip issued by the People’s Banking Co. of Lewisburg, OH as a result of the WWI cent shortage. Waldo Moore was the driving force behind this issue. Moore also issued scrip during the 1933 Bank Holiday.

During WWI, Congress instituted a number of small taxes on goods. For example, there was a four cent tax on the wholesale price of a case of chewing gum. These taxes resulted in purchases that were no longer in increments of five cents and required more one cent coins to be paid out by merchants to customers. Communities and merchants around the country produced their own one cent scrip pieces to combat the shortages.

One cent scrip issued in Boise, Idaho during WWII.

There was only one reported cent shortage during WWII. That was in Boise, Idaho. The shortage was so acute that the Boise Retail Merchant’s Bureau had cardboard one cent pieces printed. They went so far as to obtain the opinion of the local United States Attorney as to the legality of the scrip.

One cent scrip issued by Lucky Stores for the 1974 cent shortage.

The last cent shortage occurred in 1974. Rising copper prices led speculators to hoard one cent coins who were banking on the value of the copper in a one cent coin exceeding it face value. The situation was serious enough that the US Mint experimented with alternate metal composition for the one cent coin. It would eventually change in 1982. Once again, merchants issued one cent scrip pieces to alleviate the cent shortage.

Will the current shortage result in similar scrip or tokens? It seems unlikely. The shortage appears to be affecting only banks and the retailers who routinely order large amounts of coins. While the shortage should seemingly trickle down to the consumer, electronic payment options that were not available during any of the previous coin shortages should allow most consumers to avoid the problem. Despite this, Tenino, WA, a small community with a rich tradition of issuing wooden scrip has already issued tokens in 2020.

Der Rattenfänger von Hameln

This 50 pfennig kleingeldschein (small change note) from Hameln from 1918 depicts the legend of the pied piper. In the version depicted on this note, 130 children disappear in the Copper Mountains.

June 26, 1284, is the traditional date given for the events that we have come to know as the tale of the Pied Piper of Hamelin. The basic story is well-known.

There is a rat infestation in the German town of Hamelin (Hameln in German). A mysterious piper appears who offers to use his magical pipe to lure the rats from the city where they drown in a nearby river. He does so but the town burghers refuse to pay him the agreed upon fee. While the adults are at church for the religious festival of John and Paul Day, the piper returns and leads the town’s children away.

The Hameln rat infestation is depicted on this 50 pfennig serienschein (series note) from 1921. There are six different notes in this series that tell the tale.

There are two different versions of what happens next. In the more macabre version, the children meet the same fate as the rats and drown in the river. Another version has the piper returning the children after the town pays his fee. And yet another has no resolution and the children remain missing.

As with many oral traditions, there is some semblance of truth to the tale but it has been enhanced over the years. The Hameln town records begin with an entry in 1384 remarking that it has been 100 years since the town’s children left. A stained glass window marking the event was installed in the town church around 1300. It was destroyed in the 1600s but there are references to the window in written accounts from the 14th and 15th Centuries.

This 50 pfennig note depicts the pied piper leading the rats from the town.

Historians have posited various theories as to what really occurred. One theory is that the children died as a result of a plague or other illness. Another theory for which there is significant evidence suggests either a voluntary or involuntary migration to either the Baltic or Transylvania.

This 50 pfennig serienschein shows the town burghers turning their backs on the pied piper after he has filled his sack with the rats. There are six notes in this series also.

The historical accounts only account for the disappearance of the children. The rats and the pied piper are embellishments that are traced to the 16th Century. It is not clear as to whether these elements were added centuries after the event to explain why the children disappeared because the true cause was forgotten or suppressed. It is also possible that the rats and the pied piper were part of a separate event that was later merged into the earlier account of the missing children.

This final 50 pfennig note depicts the pied piper leading the children of Hameln out of the town and into the mountains.

Like many German traditions, the story of the pied piper is memorialized in notgeld from Hameln. It appears on a kleingeldschein issue from 1918. There are two different serienscheine versions of the story. Portions of these are illustrated here.