Fragment of bank note

“Uncle William’s” Secret — a century-old book reveals a hidden treasure of East Coast banknote history

One of the most delightful aspects of our particular hobby and business are the engaging stories of treasures found. Whether a Roman coin hoard unearthed in a farmer’s field, a tobacco tin of frontier gold coin found under the homestead floorboards, or a cargo of Spanish bullion emerging from the depths of a long-lost galleon, these imagination-stirring discoveries not only captivate us with tales of instant riches – they also serve as direct links to our numismatic past, sometimes adding to the historical narrative in the process.

Sometimes, however, a treasure can remain cloaked not six feet nor 1,000 fathoms under, but virtually in plain site as among the pages of a long-neglected book of fiction, migrating for generations from one shelf to another before finally revealing its hidden secret. This is a brief telling of one such recent instance, and the complete happenstance that lead to the remarkable discovery of a unique piece of eastern Canadian banknote history.

It was actually in the early days of the Covid-19 lockdown that a friend and fellow collector told me of an interesting and unexpected find. Although fond of coins and paper currency, his primary passion is in the collecting of antique books. In the course of fueling this hobby, Uncle William had found its way into his collection during the summer, I believe as part of a bulk lot. Authored by Jennette Lee and published in 1906, the protagonist of the small and innocuous hard-cover book has been described as “a genial character who has a talent for confounding land sharks and ending up owning most of the property in sight”.

A hand-written inscription on the inside cover gives important context to its early owner, and reads “Mrs. Israel Lovitt Porter, Yarmouth, Nova Scotia”. We will return to this momentarily, but first – the discovery.

The fragment shows Queen VictoriaSkimming through the pages of the book, my friend came across a peculiar 9x5cm “fragment” of a document, deliberately trimmed to frame a classic contemplative portrait of Queen Victoria at center, with lion and unicorn at left and right respectively. Any mystery as to the origin of the host document was only momentary, as the back of the piece revealed at its center [the] “Bank of Yarmouth N.S.”. With his experience in the hobby he immediately recognized the origin document to be a banknote, and with the name of the institution at hand, he was able to narrow down the issue as being a Ten Dollar note of 1870, printed by the British American Bank Note Company.

Chartered in 1859, The Bank of Yarmouth conducted business in Nova Scotia until failing in 1905, due to the fraudulent paying of dividends without the necessary capital to sustain such payments. Although near identical Ten Dollar notes were issued by the Bank in both 1870 and 1891, this note fragment was just large enough to reveal – through the absence of the word “Canada” above the lion’s head – that it was from the earlier of the two issues.

Bank of Yarmouth 10 Dollars 1870 Proof courtesy Bank of Canada Museum

Bank of Yarmouth 10 Dollars 1870 Proof, courtesy Bank of Canada Museum

Further examination of the fragment revealed a subtle but highly-important discovery – the top part of two signatures appear at the bottom left and right, undoubtedly those of the Bank’s Cashier and President. The significance of this rests in the fact that although all surviving notes of the Bank of Yarmouth are very rare, The Charlton Standard Catalogue of Canadian Bank Notes lists the 1870 Ten Dollar issue as existing only in “Institutional Collections”. Further research into the collection of the Bank of Canada Museum, however, indicates that only a single unissued Proof of this note exists in the collection. Thus, this small trimmed vignette of Victoria, having rested against all odds among the pages of “Uncle William” for more than a century, has now revealed itself to most likely be the only surviving example of the issue – an irreplaceable link to the history of this Eastern Canadian chartered bank.

And what of the link, if any, to the owner of the book? Preliminary research reveals only that Israel Lovitt Porter was born in Yarmouth in 1883. He was listed on local property rolls as a Merchant, and must have been reasonably successful as he and his wife – Catherine Gardner [Cann] Porter – held title to at least three homes on Forest Street, two of them for a remarkable 64 years until Catherine’s death in 1983.

Did Porter, in the course of running his business, come across the note and trim it down to Victoria’s portrait for posterity, as its redemption value would have been null and void after 1905? Or rather, is it entirely unrelated in its origin to the owner of the book, and simply encountered and retained in its current state for the lowly but practical purpose of serving as a bookmark?

To these questions we will likely never have adequate answers, but the very fact that this unique fragment has survived a century and half, two World Wars, and endless opportunities to become lost in the dustbin of history is both remarkable and delightful to collectors and students of Canadian chartered banknote history alike. Proof positive as well that sometimes numismatic/currency treasures can indeed be found without the use of either a shovel, metal-detector, or scuba-tank!

Sean Isaacs

View all 570 lots+ for our rapidly approaching Live Auction

All 570 lots+ for our rapidly approaching Live Auction are now available on our website, many with pictures (which we continue to add), and we are inviting advance bids.

The full catalogue is also available for download in PDF format:

Introduction & Terms of Sale
Full Catalogue

Click here to view the auction on our website. You can also review Terms of Sale, etc. on the site.

Please note: print catalogues will only be available on the day of the Auction.

Additionally, watch our website and Facebook page for auction teasers, featuring some of the coolest items coming up in our sale!

Live Auction: Sunday, August 18th, 2019
10am – 3pm, Almonte Old Town Hall, Almonte

Live Preview in Ottawa: Sunday August 11th, 2019
9.30am – 3pm, Large White Dome next to main entrance,
RA Centre, 2451 Riverside Drive, Ottawa (Free Parking, Admission)

As always, my family, staff and I warmly thank you for your continued patronage, and I look forward to your participation in our impending public sale!

Sincerely,

Sean Isaacs

Screenshot of online inventory for Alliance Coin & Banknote

Browse and search Alliance Coin & Banknote’s online inventory

I am pleased to report that we are making excellent progress in refreshing our online inventory database at alliancecoin.com.

Please browse through our current offering of more than 300 newly-posted Canadian and World items, all specially-priced for our internet audience. Many will sell at our upcoming show in Hamilton, so visit today for the best selection!

It is somewhat a “catch 22”, in that our inventory experiences heavy adjustments through attendance at our numerous trade-shows, and the key to keeping our listings “fresh” is to take advantage of those pockets of time between shows to post new material. We shall do our very best and invite you to visit often.

You can browse or search at: https://alliancecoin.com/site/Inventory_Summary.cfm

A sample of the coins and medals to be found in our Weird & Wonderful ebay auction

The Return of the “Weird & Wonderful”!

For all fans of our highly-eclectic online sales, we are pleased to announce the impending launch of our latest Ebay sale of tokens, medals and related collectibles.

Launching at midnight next Monday January 28, 2019, this offering will feature more than one hundred neat items from our deep inventory.

Look us up under our eBay user name “Alliancecoin” or jump right in on our eBay auction page Alliance Coin.

Sean Isaacs
The next ebay sale is about to launch for AllianceCoin

The Return of Our “Weird & Wonderful” Sales!!

We are delighted to announce our next offering of interesting medals, tokens and related oddities on eBay, scheduled to launch at midnight this coming Sunday, October 14th.

Look us up under our eBay user name “Alliancecoin” or jump right in on our eBay auction page Alliance Coin.

Sean Isaacs

Last Chance for a Sneak Peek of our Live Auction items

We have just added another couple of rounds of pictures to the website today, and this is your last chance for a sneak peek before tomorrow’s Live Auction! All 620 lots are available on our website and we’ve received many advance bids (which you can view on the site).

Click here to view all 620 lots for tomorrow’s Live Auction

Please note: It’s a delightfully busy time in our town and the weather is glorious. Make sure you arrive a few minutes early to ensure a good parking spot.

Live Auction

Sunday, June 10th, 2018
10am start | 12-1pm lunch | Auction will end when we’re done!
Almonte Old Town Hall – Main Concert Hall
14 Bridge Street, Almonte, ON K0A 1A0

Live Auction preview working fully now!

Some of you will have experienced issues with accessing the auction preview at times over the last two days. I apologize for the inconvenience and am writing now to assure you that all is fixed. We encountered some unexpected performance issues, and our website developer has implemented some changes that have remedied this!

Click here to preview of selected auction highlights on our website, which will continue to expand as we move towards final completion of sale preparations.

Please note that the complete auction inventory will be available online from next Wednesday, and that print catalogues will not be available until the day of the Auction.

Additionally, we invite our local customers to visit us for a preliminary viewing of available lots, this coming weekend. Alliance Coin & Banknote will be open both Saturday (10-4pm) and Sunday (10-5pm), for your viewing pleasure.

Live Auction: Sunday, June 10th, 2018

Selected items online for preview: Tuesday, May 29th, 2018

Live Preview In-store: Saturday, June 2nd (10-4) & Sunday, June 3rd, 2018 (10-5)

Our All Medals Weird & Wonderful Sale on ebay

Our Latest “Weird & Wonderful” Auction: The All-Medals Edition!

This Sunday evening at midnight, we will be launching our latest batch of “Weird & Wonderful” auction items on eBay.

This initial session will be comprised entirely of modern European medals, most from the estate of the distinguished Canadian diplomat Claude Charland, former Ambassador to Guatemala, Mexico, Italy, Libya and (finally) France.  Some of these pieces are quite remarkable in terms of theme and design – please take a look!

Further auction sessions will be launched throughout the next few weeks, promising our usual remarkable diversity and character – the hallmarks of our “Weird & Wonderful” philosophy!

How to take part

Starting Sunday, 21 January 2018 you can join on the fun at our eBay auction page Alliance Coin.

Sean Isaacs

Our Latest “Weird & Wonderful” Sale!

Tune in for the next installment of our almost-famous online eBay sales, launching at midnight Friday September 15th, 2017.

This offering of 100 lots features the interesting European medallic collection of a distinguished Canadian diplomat, as well as a delightful and important copy of “Anne of Green Gables”, autographed by Lucy Maude Montgomery!

Join in on the fun at our eBay auction page Alliance Coin.

Sean Isaacs