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Noteworthy Notes: T-47 1862 Confederate States of America

By Philip Thomas - December 20, 2021

The T-47 1862 Confederate States of America (CSA) $20 has mysterious origins sure to compel numismatic researchers to for years to come. Courtesy of PCGS TrueView. Click image to enlarge.

Few eras throughout the course of human history have been subject to as much vigorous scholarly research and debate as the American Civil War. Despite the conclusion of the nation’s bloodiest conflict occurring over 150 years ago, fact-finding endeavors, exploration, and analysis of the period continues to this day and will continue indefinitely.

Our noteworthy note this time around, the T-47 1862 Confederate States of America (CSA) $20, sits at the epicenter of an unsolved numismatic mystery that will require additional legwork and perhaps a fortuitous investigative discovery in the years ahead if it is ever to be cracked.

This enigma begins with the fact that the note was assigned a “Criswell Type” or “T” number, despite the issue not being an authorized emission of the CSA Treasury. With the exception of the T-48 (this note’s $10 sibling), all T numbers (1 through 72) are legitimate Confederate government issues. So, given the T-47’s unauthorized status to exist in the first place, would “counterfeit” be the right word to describe it?

Counterfeits abound in the world of confederate banknotes. This was due to both ease (most CSA notes were printed via lithography on paper of lesser quality, making them easier to reproduce) and the emergency conditions of the war. Many different designs of legitimate notes were in circulation at the same time, giving counterfeiters even more cover. It would be easy to chalk the T-47 up as just one of the many dozens of varieties of counterfeits out there and move on.

However, counterfeits – by definition – are supposed to mimic something genuine with the intent to deceive merchants or financial institutions. The T-47 has an entirely fanciful design that looks nothing like anything else circulating at the time. What a poor excuse for a counterfeit attempt this would have been!

There is no way this could've passed as a lookalike to any currency we know at this time existed then. It is numismatically deemed a Fantasy note because it has no similar counterparts among cataloged CSA pieces and does not meet the diagnostics of a piece that would've served as an intentional counterfeit. This piece is not setting out to fool anyone today into thinking its legal-tender currency and is a significant collectible that should be graded and encapsulated.

So, what is this thing? Several theories exist, although none are proven at this time. One theory describes this note as an “essay” of a proposed design provided to authorities for consideration but ultimately rejected. Another theory sees this as more of an experiment, perhaps to demonstrate the viability of printed signatures to CSA lawmakers who had been firmly requiring all issues to receive handwritten signatures. Some have argued that the note is most likely nothing more than a post-war fantasy produced by some non-governmental party with too much time on their hands, just having a little fun.

The most intriguing potential explanation (perfect for the conspiracy theorists out there!) is that this was a “dirty trick” product of a rival printing company attempting to make prominent CSA printer Keatinge & Ball look bad. A close examination of the note reveals a blatant misspelling of the printer’s name (“Keatings & Ball”) as well as printer’s location (“Columbus, S.C.” vs. Columbia, S.C.), two glaring engraving typos that would certainly work to embarrass a company competing for a lucrative government contract.

Depicted at upper center is a vignette of Liberty seated (ironically) on a cotton bale and at lower right, a portrait of R.M.T. Hunter, a prominent Virginia lawyer and politician who served in several powerful positions in government before, during, and after the war.

To add a new plot twist here, a new variety of T-47 has emerged in recent years involving the printed pattern on Liberty’s shield. Known as the “Checkered Shield” with horizontal lines extending across the escutcheon in addition to the vertical lines, this discovery has only lengthened the extent of this baffling puzzle.


Article provided by PCGS at www.pcgs.com
 
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