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Noteworthy Notes: 1868 National Lincoln Monument Association Donation Receipt

By Philip Thomas - February 16, 2022

This 1868 National Lincoln Monument Association donation receipt memorializes a contribution made to the construction of an unrealized edifice by the U.S. Capitol to pay tribute to the assassinated President Abraham Lincoln. This note is graded Very Fine-20 Details. Courtesy of PCGS. Click image to enlarge.

It may come as a surprise to some people that PCGS Banknote authenticates and grades not only banknotes, but also a whole host of other monetary instruments, financial documents, and associated paper artifacts, including theme park money, bank checks, fantasy and satire notes, commercial scrip, souvenir cards, certain special event admission tickets, and many other printed paper items of artistic or historical significance. The scope of our expertise and service is quite expansive and extends broadly across both the numismatic and exonumismatic spectrums.

The subject of this latest installment of “Noteworthy Notes” is not an actual note (ironically) but rather a fundraiser donation receipt issued in 1868 by an organization seeking to honor the recently assassinated 16th President of the United States Abraham Lincoln through the placement of a brand-new memorial on U.S. Capitol grounds. While the project stalled and ultimately failed, it planted the seeds and laid the groundwork for the eventual construction of the Lincoln Memorial as we know it, dedicated over 50 years later in 1922.

The National Lincoln Monument Association was a federally sanctioned and supported entity formed in 1867 by act of Congress that commissioned prominent 19th-century sculptor Clark Mills to create a monument “commemorative of the great charter of emancipation and universal liberty in America.” The apex of this monument, as it was proposed, would have featured a seated Lincoln, cast in bronze, signing the Emancipation Proclamation. For political and practical reasons, the Association and Mills were unable to accomplish the ambitious, laborious undertaking.

A donor receipt documenting a small monetary contribution to any ordinary cause would not normally make headlines here. However, the artistic and historical value of this particular piece is off the charts. Additionally, it exhibits several instantly recognizable banknote-like characteristics, such as its size and dimensions, red overprinted serial number, bold presidential portrait at left (“Honest Abe” himself), and the wildly eccentric signature of sitting United States Treasurer Francis E. Spinner, whose name also makes an appearance on dozens of federally issued banknotes from the era. Furthermore, the U.S. Treasury (through the predecessor form of its Bureau of Engraving and Printing) was directly responsible for the plate engraving and intaglio printing of these documents.

The primary vignette located at upper right (titled “Altar of Liberty”) features a female allegorical figure with a Union crown perched atop her head kneeling before burning incense and an altar adorned with George Washington. In the background appears a shrine on the beach being threatened by violent, crashing waves, and a fierce lightning bolt emanating from the ominous clouds above. While the imagery and symbolism on display here certainly has an unusual and rather ancient look and feel to it, it is not entirely unfamiliar within the realm of U.S. financial document design. This same “Altar of Liberty” vignette also shows up on the 1863 $5,000 One-Year Interest Bearing Note (Fr. 202), for which only a single obverse proof example is known, along with certain designs of Civil War-era bonds.

Abraham Lincoln has remained one of the most admired and respected figures in United States history and his portrait’s popularity among U.S. banknote collectors is perhaps unrivaled by any other vignette or depiction. From the early $10 Demand and Legal Tender Notes to the fabled “Porthole Lincoln” 1923 $5 Silver Certificate and beyond, Lincoln is a recurring and commanding theme in most banknote collections, both beginning and advanced alike. An example of this National Lincoln Monument Association donation receipt, while quite difficult to locate, would serve as a quality, quirky, and captivating addition to any collection.

Article provided by PCGS at
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