A Numismatic Requiem for Butch’s

Butch’s Bar in Sturgeon Bay was one of those typical corner taverns that dot the Wisconsin landscape. It was a popular watering hole known for its live music on weekends and Wednesday night open mic.

(Image from the Door County Pulse).

The building housing Butch’s was built in 1904 as a tourist rooming house. In the 1930s, it was turned into the local aerie of the Eagles Club. In the 1960s it became a tavern. The upstairs meeting room was converted to 20 transient rooms.

It has been owned and operated as Butch’s Bar by Clarence Cumber since 1972. Clarence still worked behind the bar and was not shy about sharing the history of the building and the tavern.

(Image from Lets Go Door County on Facebook).

In the early morning hours of February 22, 2022, a fire started in one of the upstairs rooms. The old, wooden interior was no match for the flames and the entire building was quickly engulfed by the fire. The ceiling and second story collapsed leaving only the dolomite and brick shell standing. The stone walls contained the flames and kept it from spreading to other buildings.

Tragically, two of the residents perished in the fire.

The Grand Pacific Hotel, Suva Fiji

The Grand Pacific Hotel in Suva, Fiji as depicted on the back of a Fijian ten dollar note.

The Grand Pacific Hotel opened on May 23, 1914 in the Fijian capital of Suva on the island of Viti Levu. The hotel was built by the Union Steamship Company of New Zealand as luxury accommodations for cruise ship passengers. The hotels original design mimicked the layout and amenities of a ship. The hotel quickly became the social center of the island.

Reserve Bank of New Zealand one pound note overprinted for use as emergency currency in Fiji.
This piece was saved by an American serviceman on a short snorter.

Fiji was an important logistics base during the Second World War. The huge influx of New Zealand and American military personnel put a tremendous strain on the Fijian monetary system. A shortage of currency and small change soon developed. New Zealand banknotes were overprinted for use in Fiji and an emergency issue of small change notes was printed.

These measures helped the situation but proved insufficient. Local businesses had small change tokens printed for use in their establishments. The Fijian government took a dim view of this private scrip and banned its use. The Grand Pacific Hotel was one of the places that issued paper tokens. Its tokens were in denominations of one penny, three pence and sixpence.

Receipt for one pound to an Ensign Mills from the Grand Pacific Hotel in September 1942.

With the post-war decline in passenger ship travel, the Grand Pacific Hotel fell on hard times. The Union Steamship Company pulled out in the 1950s and the hotel went through the hands of a succession of owners. The Nauru Government took over in the 1980s but it closed in 1992. Subsequent attempts at revitalizing the hotel were delayed by political instability in Fiji. It was finally renovated into a five-star hotel and reopened in time for its centennial in 2014.

The Brief Life of the MV Weser

Ten and twenty pfennig notes for use on board MV Weser.

In 1932, the German finance ministry imposed a number of restrictions to assist on controlling the economy. Among these was making the reichsmark inconvertible and prohibiting the export of the mark. Currency control was so strict that marks could not be used on German cruise ships and they had to use a form of scrip known as ship’s money orders.

The 10 and 20 pfennig notes shown above were used on the German ship Weser. Weser had a brief and interesting history.

The ship was built in 1929 in the Kiel shipyards for the Norwegian firm, Linea Sud Americana, as the Sud Americano. It was intended for service between New York and South America. It was primarily a cargo vessel but had twenty-one staterooms available for passengers.

The ship was returned to the builder a little more than a year after delivery because it could not achieve the contracted cruising speed. It was renamed Schleswig and eventually sold to the Norddeutscher Lloyd Line. NDL renamed it the Yakima Star and it went into service as a fruit runner bringing Washington apples and pears to Europe.

Yakima Star was refitted in 1934 with new diesel engines, an additional 34 feet and renamed Weser after the German river. It continued service between Germany and the western United States until 1938.

Weser in the port at Manzanillo, Mexico in 1940. (Maritime Museum of British Columbia).

In 1939, the ship was again refitted, this time as a supply ship for the Kriegsmarine. It is believed that Weser served the auxiliary cruiser Orion which was raiding commercial vessels in the Pacific and Indian Oceans after WWII started in Europe in September 1939.

In 1940, Weser was at Manzanillo, Mexico. Despite Mexican neutrality, the ship was not interned although it remained in the harbor to avoid capture by Allied vessels blockading Mexican ports.

HMCS Prince Robert

The Royal Canadian Navy sent the Prince Robert to Manzanillo for blockade duty. Before departing, the Admiralty planted a story in the Vancouver press that the Prince Robert was out for sea trials and crew training. German spies in the Pacific Northwest passed this misinformation onto the Kriegsmarine. Thinking the way out of Manzanillo was clear, the Weser prepared to flee to open water.

On the evening of September 25, 1940, Prince Robert observed a dark object heading out from the Mexican port. Prince Robert positioned herself between the departing vessel and the harbor using the mountainous coast as a backdrop to disguise her silhouette. The Canadians closed quickly as soon as they verified they were outside Mexican waters.

Sailors from HMCS Prince Robert escorting the crew of the Weser.
(Maritime Museum of British Columbia).

Casting her searchlight onto the pilot house of the Weser, Prince Robert ordered the German vessel to halt. Thinking they were being stopped by the Mexican Coast Guard for running without lights and not expecting any Allied ships in the area, Weser complied. Prince Robert‘s boarding party was aboard before the German crew realized their mistake and the Weser was captured without a fight.

A prize crew took control of the ship. The Canadians had no experience with the diesel engines on the Weser and some of the German crew remained on board to operate them. They would each receive CAD$244.80 from the Prize Court for their services.

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U-558 in the North Atlantic.

The ship was taken to Esquimalt, British Columbia and refitted for use by the Canadian Merchant Marine. It was renamed the Vancouver Island. In October, 1941, Vancouver Island left Montreal for Belfast carrying aluminum, copper, steel, asbestos and zinc. She was sunk in the North Atlantic by U-558 with all hands lost on October 15, 1941.

The Numismatic Legacy of the Fox and Wisconsin Improvement Company

Drawing of the canal works at Portage, Wisconsin between the Wisconsin River on the left and the Fox River on the right. (Image from portagecanal.com).

The Fox and Wisconsin Rivers had been used to travel between the Great Lakes and the Mississippi River for hundreds of years. Native Americans, French fur traders and the other early settlers used the rivers as a highway. The Fox empties into the Great Lakes at Green Bay and the Wisconsin meets the Mississippi at Prairie du Chien. The two rivers do not meet, however, with their closest point being a mile and a half piece of land at Portage, Wisconsin.

The waterways were not suited to large shipping due to the obstruction at the portage and the rapids in the lower Fox River between Lake Winnebago and Green Bay. The river drops 170 feet between these points.

Stock certificate for 15 shares for the Fox and Wisconsin Improvement Company from 1856 signed by Morgan L. Martin as president.

In 1829, Morgan L. Martin of Green Bay, a New Yorker lured west by his cousin James Doty proposed the construction of a canal at Portage. His Portage Canal Company did little more than dig a small ditch between the two rivers. The project picked up steam in 1846 when Martin, then the delegate to Congress from the Wisconsin Territory, lobbied that body for financial support for the canal.

The Congressional authorization allocated the proceeds of the sale of certain lands in Wisconsin to the project. Upon achieving statehood in 1848, Wisconsin accepted the terms of the appropriation and the state Board of Public Works took it over.

Bearer bond for $1,000.00 for the Fox and Wisconsin Improvement Company. Bonding was necessary as land sales were insufficient to meet expenses. This bond is signed by Norwegian missionary and Green Bay pioneer, Otto Tank, as president.

The canal at Portage was completed in 1851 but commercial traffic was still impeded by shoaling on the Wisconsin, shallow depths in the upper Fox and the rapids of the lower Fox. The increasing expense and slack land sales led the state to privatize the project. In 1853, the Fox and Wisconsin Improvement Company was chartered by the state which assumed the rights and obligations associated with the project.

Note for $2.00 issued by the Fox and Wisconsin Improvement Company. The Company did not have banking privileges and it is not known whether the notes were used. The date and signature on the note are spurious. The date is prior to the company’s incorporation.

In 1854 Congress made an additional land grant to assist in financing the project. Money continued to be a problem and work on the improvements was slow. In 1856, enough work had been completed to allow the steamer Aquila to complete the all-water journey from the Mississippi to Green Bay. Despite this success, the development of railroads and the American Civil War combined to make the Fox and Wisconsin project unprofitable.

View of the dam on the Fox River at the Rapides de Peres (the rapids of the priests). French Jesuit priests established a mission among the native population at the site in the 17th Century giving rise to the name for the City of De Pere. (Army Corps of Engineers photograph).

The company filed for bankruptcy in 1866 and its assets were bought by the eastern investors of the company in the form of the Green Bay and Mississippi Canal Company. By 1872, this company sold the lock system to the Federal Government and the Army Corps of Engineers became responsible for navigation on the rivers. The Green Bay and Mississippi Canal Company kept the dams in an effort to make money from hydroelectric power.

Recreational boating in the lock on the Fox River in De Pere, Wisconsin. (Image from the City of De Pere).

The Corps of Engineers only maintained the lock systems on the Fox River below Lake Winnebago in aid of commerce along the river from Menasha north to Green Bay. In the 1980s, commercial shipping south of Green Bay had ceased and the Corps of Engineers recommended the lock system be dismantled. Local and state officials were able to secure a transfer of the system to the State of Wisconsin which was completed in 2004. Most of the lock system remains in operation for recreational boating.

Confucius Say: “F U !”

Close up of the image of Confucius on the 1 yuan note of the Federal Reserve Bank of China printed in 1938.

In December 1937, the Japanese army occupying northern China established the Provisional Government of China at Peking. In February 1938, the Provisional Government established its financial institution — the Federal Reserve Bank of China.

Check drawn on the Chartered Bank of India, Australia and China at Tientsin payable in notes of the Federal Reserve Bank of China.

Although a Japanese invention, the bank’s officers were Chinese. It had the responsibility of stabilizing the currency, control of foreign trade and financing military operations. The bank was given sole note issuing authority in the area under the control of the Provisional Government at Peking.

The second series of notes for the Federal Reserve Bank of China have a modified design but the obscene gesture remained.

The notes issued by the bank were printed in China by Chinese printers. The 1 yuan note carries an image of Confucius, the Chinese philosopher. The design has Confucius’ hands making an obscene gesture. The generally held belief is that the design was intentionally done as a subtle insult to the Japanese. The image was so subtle that its mirror image was used again on the second series of notes printed for the bank.

The third series of the Federal Reserve Bank of China notes printed in 1941 have a modified portrait of Confucius.

There are differing accounts as to the fate of the designers and engravers of the notes. One version has them being captured and executed. Another has them escaping through the British concession at Shanghai and Hong Kong.

This was not the only example of hidden (or not so hidden in this case) messages inserted into the notes of Japanese puppet banks in China. Messages were also inserted into the notes issued by the Central Reserve Bank of China at Nanking. Those will be saved for another day.

One Expensive Souvenir of WWII

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Short snorters are souvenirs made from banknotes. They usually bear the signatures of travelling companions. They originated with air travelers but became popular during WWII with service members overseas. Since the notes used were not going to be spent, short snorters were usually made on low value currency.

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This $50.00 US Federal Reserve Bank Note represents the highest denomination short snorter I have encountered. FRBN were originally printed and issued in 1933 during the Bank Holiday to increase the money supply on the banking system. They stopped being issued when the emergency passed. The unissued stock of notes remained in the vaults of the US Treasury.

The notes were called into service again during WWII. Full employment, increased wages and wartime demands on the Bureau of Engraving and Printing combined to put a strain on the money supply. FRBN were once again injected into commerce to alleviate the shortage.

Errol Flynn arriving in Alaska in 1943. (US Navy Photograph).

The signatures on the note indicate why it was saved. The signatures are two different USO shows who visited Dutch Harbor and the Aleutians in 1943.  The most significant signature is Errol Flynn (upside down on the lower right of the face).  The others from his tour are Harry Mendoza, Martha O’Driscoll, Ruth Carrell and Jimmie Dodd.  The other group is Gerald Griffen, Eleanor Padova, Gerry Knox and Conchita and Lari.

Excerpt from the War Diary of the Naval Operating Base at Dutch Harbor, Alaska for December 1943 identifying the USO troupes who visited that month.

One of the unfortunate characteristics of short snorters is that there is often no indication of who saved the note. This is the case here where there is no way to tell from the note itself who had the wherewithal to use a $50.00 bill as a souvenir.

Can You Hear Me Now? Currency and QSL

A Central Bank of China $5.00 note used as a QSL card by Capt. H.J. Olson. Olson was with the US Navy in Shanghai in 1946.

Amateur radio enthusiasts take pride in their ability to send to and receive transmissions from distant locations. Since radio transmissions are transitory, they needed a way to document that these long distance communications occurred. The QSL card was developed in the 1920s to do this.

Captain A. N. Braude of the Hong Kong Volunteer Defence Corps used this unfinished Japanese printed note for Hong Kong as a QSL card in 1948. Braude was taken prisoner in 1941 and liberated in 1945.

A QSL card is usually a post card that includes at least the following information: (1) the call sign of both stations, (2) the time and date (usually using UTC), (3) the radio band used, (4) the mode of transmission and (5) a signal report.

Romanian 500 lei note used as a QSL card by Anton Hapsburg, Archduke of Austria, while living in Romania in 1947. Hapsburg was an ardent amateur radio enthusiast who insisted on being referred to by the shorthand Kai-Ho an abbreviation for the German Kaiserlicher Hoheit (Imperial Highness).

The name “QSL card” comes from the Q code “QSL”. Q codes are a type of shorthand used in radio transmissions. QSL means “I acknowledge receipt of your transmission.” As a question, QSL? means “Can you acknowledge receipt of my transmission?”

QSL cards are frequently customized to highlight information about the sender or where the sender lives. Industry publications included the names and call signs of hobbyists looking for connections and willing to confirm communication with a QSL card.

Thousands of different QSL cards have been produced. A few of these have been made on paper money and are interesting crossover collectibles for these two hobbies.

The Panic of 1907

Chicago Clearing House check issued during the Panic of 1907. This is one of the more common types of scrip available..

The Panic of 1907 was a crisis in the US financial markets that occurred at the end of 1907 and carried into the beginning of 1908. The crisis caused the value of the New York Stock Exchange to drop nearly 50%.

In October 1907, an attempt was made to corner the market in the United Copper Company. The attempt was unsuccessful and the financial institutions that financed the takeover attempt could not recover leading to the collapse of the Knickerbocker Trust Company of New York. The dominoes began to tumble and panicked depositors pulled their money from the banking system.

Portland Clearing House Certificate from November 1907.

The country was already in a recession when the banking crisis struck a significant blow to a shaky economy. The panic began to ease as J.P. Morgan and other New York financiers pledged their assets to prop up the banks. But then another emergency arose.

The brokerage house of Moore and Schley was heavily in debt using its holdings of the Tennessee Coal, Iron and Railroad Company as collateral. When the companies stock price fell, the brokerage firm was in trouble. At the same time, the Trust Company of America and the Lincoln Trust Company were also teetering on the brink.

Payroll check issued by the Great Lakes Coal Company of Pittsburgh during the Panic of 1907.

J.P. Morgan again stepped in with a plan for his US Steel to purchase the Tennessee Coal, Iron and Railroad Company. As a condition to making this happen, Morgan demanded that the solvent banking institutions rescue their failing cousins. The bankers eventually agreed but President Roosevelt’s anti-monopoly sentiment presented a potential road block. US Steel had 60% of the US market and an additional acquisition would result in intense scrutiny from the president.

These latest events occurred over the weekend of November 2, 1907. Resolution was necessary before the markets and banks opened on November 4. On Sunday afternoon, Morgan sent his representatives to Washington. The president’s secretary refused to allow them to meet with Roosevelt. It took the intervention of Secretary of the Interior James Garfield to get the ear of the president. Roosevelt understood the gravity of the situation and approved the plan as the sun arose on November 4. Crisis was averted again.

Circulating bearer cashier’s check from Rocky Ford, Colorado.

In order to meet the cash shortages that spread throughout the country, local scrip was issued to provide a medium of exchange. The scrip was mostly in the form of circulating cashier’s checks and clearing house certificates. Hundreds of different varieties of these certificates representing millions of dollars were issued locally but no national solution was available.

The Panic of 1907 demonstrated that the Department of the Treasury’s control over the money supply was inadequate to meet the illiquidity in the financial system caused by the bank failures and depositors’ withdrawals. The lessons learned resulted in the creation of the Federal Reserve System in 1913.

Satirical $1,000 Cleaning House Association Certificate.

Conrad Guth’s General Store – Kolberg, WI

Conrad R. Guth was born on November 24, 1873 in Forestville, Door County, Wisconsin. His parents, Charles Guth and Albertina Kay, were immigrants from Germany. His father built the first frame house in the Forestville area.

Guth worked on a farm in Sawyer, Wisconsin (now part of Sturgeon Bay) and then in Menominee, Michigan. In 1893, he built a cheese factory on land his father had purchased in Kolberg, Wisconsin. Kolberg is a small, unincorporated community in the Town of Brussels, Door County, Wisconsin.

C. R. Guth’s General Store in Kolberg, Wisconsin (right) in 1907.

He opened a general store in Kolberg which was described as having the largest stock of any general store in the county. In 1903, the store was expanded. He also continued to operate the cheese factory and a creamery.

He remained in business in Kolberg until 1918 when he sold his enterprises and moved to Oneida County. There he purchased the Lakeview Inn on Pelican Lake.

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Conrad and Theresa Guth’s grave marker in Algoma, WI. (findagrave.com)

In 1893, he married Theresa Grundemann of the Village of Ahnapee in Kewaunee County, Wisconsin. They had five children. He died in 1950 and was buried in Evergreen Cemetery in Algoma, Wisconsin.

Google image of Kolberg, Wisconsin. C. R. Guth’s store building can be seen at the northwest corner of the intersection at center.

Ordinary People Doing Extraordinary Things – James E. Plummer

Sgt. James E. Plummer in a post-war photograph.

James E. Plummer was born on October 4, 1921 in upstate New York to Clarence and Bessie Plummer. Shortly after he was born, the family moved to Kansas. He was their only child. He enlisted in the United States Army Air Corps on December 7, 1939 as an airplane mechanic. His intention was to learn aviation and work for an airline after his service was completed.

His military service began at Ft. Riley, Kansas where he trained as a mechanic and a tail gunner on B-17s. In the summer of 1941 he transferred to the 19th Bomb Group at Clark Field, the Philippines and was assigned to the Headquarters Squadron. He was at Clark Field when it was attacked by the Japanese on December 8, 1941. He remained at Clark Field until December 29 when the squadron boarded a steamer for Mindanao arriving there on January 1, 1942.

Photograph taken by James Plummer of American troops evacuating the steamer Mayon in Mindanao after it was attacked by Japanese aircraft on January 1, 1942. (Craig Coleman).

The squadron operated out of Del Monte airfield on Mindanao as part of the Visayas-Mindanao Force. Plummer was assigned to the quartermaster depot at Del Monte. In April 1942, he was transferred to an air corps unit responsible for beach defense. On May 7, 1942, the unit removed to Maramig airfield and surrendered to the Japanese. Five days later, Plummer and his comrades were trucked to Malaybalay Prison. He remained there until September 14, 1942 when he was moved to Bilibid Prison at Manila en route to Karenko Prison on the island of Formosa.

James Plummer’s entry (lower right) on the roster of POWs at Malaybaly Prison in the Philippines. (National Archives).

On September 20, 1942, Plummer and approximately 1,000 other POWs were crammed onto the Buenos Aires Maru, an ocean liner that had been converted to a hospital ship to start a seven day journey to Formosa. In addition to its cargo of prisoners, the ship was carrying Japanese soldiers, ammunition and military equipment. The next day, off the coast of Luzon, it was attacked by an American submarine. The Japanese placed armed sentries at the hatch to fire upon any prisoners who tried to flee in the chaos of the attack. They were not provided life jackets. Thankfully, the ship emerged unscathed. (The Buenos Aires Maru was later sunk by American aircraft while transporting Japanese wounded and medical personnel).

Plummer arrived at Karenko on September 27, 1942. He remained there until moved to Shirakowa, Formosa in June 1943. He was at Shirakowa longer than any other facility leaving there in October 1944. While on Formosa, he reported that he was paid five yen per month in camp scrip that could be spent on goods at a poorly stocked camp store.

On October 9, 1944, he and over a thousand other POWs were crammed into the holds of the hellship, Oryoku Maru. They were packed tight and could only sit or stand. The ship had last hauled cattle and the holds were not cleaned. It was infested with rats and cockroaches.

The Oryoku Maru off the coast of the Philippines in October 1943. (US Navy).

Before the ship could leave Formosa it was attacked twice in two days by American Navy planes. The presence of American ships nearby prevented the Oryoku Maru from leaving port until October 22. It arrived at Moji, Kyushu in the Japanese home islands on October 27. The prisoners remained in the holds for those eighteen days. They were let out onto the dock twice during the entire time to where they were hosed down. What little food they were given was passed down from above and not evenly dispensed. Many of the men died or went mad.

(In December 1944, the Oryoku Maru was sunk by planes from the USS Hornet in the Philippines. There were over 3,500 prisoners on board of which 285 were killed in the attack along with over 500 Japanese military and civilians.)

Promotion certificate for James Plummer advancing him from Private First Class to Staff Sergeant while he was at the Shirakowa Prison Camp on Taiwan. (Craig Coleman).

The prisoners were transported from Fusan to a camp in Chiengchia Tun in southern Manchuria. Plummer remained there until May 21, 1945 when he was transferred to the Hoten camp at Mukden in northern Manchuria. Hoten was liberated by the Red Army on August 20, 1945 thus ending 1,285 days of captivity for Sergeant Plummer.

Plummer reported that the best treatment he received as a prisoner was at the camps in the Philippines which were run by the front line Japanese Army units. Camp conditions and treatment of the prisoners by their captors worsened as time went on and he was moved from camp to camp. He did orderly room work for the Allied officers while in the camps on Formosa. He worked in the kitchens of the camps in Manchuria.

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Photograph taken in the Mukden Prisoner of War Camp in Manchuria
of the announcement of the end of the war. (Original source unknown).

He tended to gardens on Formosa and in Manchuria. The prisoners grew sweet potatoes and cabbage which was intended for their use but was frequently confiscated by the Japanese and Korean guards. The diet consisted almost exclusively of rice and poor quality vegetables. They had meat occasionally early on but it was served less and less frequently until it disappeared altogether. They were able to fish small minnows out of a pond at Mukden.

Discipline in the camps was harsh. The Japanese punished minor infractions by face-slapping. More serious offenses resulted in beatings. Solitary confinement was not used in the camps he was in. Instead, the Japanese instituted punishment by tens. Each prisoner was part of a group of ten and the same punishment was meted out to all in the group. If a prisoner escaped, the other members of his group were executed. Plummer reported only being punished on one occasion. He and two others captured and slaughtered a chicken that had flown into camp at Mukden. This was a violation of camp rules and a guard caught them while it was being cooked. All three men were in separate punishment groups so thirty men served ten days in the punishment pen for this infraction.

Excerpt of notes taken by James Plummer concerning his fellow prisoners. (Craig Coleman).

Plummer frequently contracted dysentery and had many bouts of malaria. He had one tooth pulled without anesthetic while in the camps. After liberation, he had another tooth pulled and twenty fillings put in. He lost thirty pounds during captivity. He suffered from nervousness and his eyes were failing. He was evacuated to the 204th General Hospital on Guam where he remained for recuperation until early 1946. He was eventually discharged on May 27, 1946.

Letter from fellow prisoner Clifford V. Beckwith commending James Plummer for actions in aid of his comrades while in Japanese captivity. (Craig Coleman).

He returned to Kansas after the war. While he did not see his dream of working in aviation realized, he became a construction project manager for a company that did work all around the world. Ironically, two of the places he worked were Mindanao and Manchuria. He died in Kansas in 1996.

The source for this information was James Plummer himself. He answered a questionnaire about his imprisonment in 1946. He also gave an interview to a sixth grade neighbor in 1985 for a class project. I am indebted to Craig Coleman for providing me copies of these documents as well as other records kept by Sgt. Plummer.