Lot 3025
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Brooklyn Sale & John J. Ford, Jr. Collection, XVII - 3/20/2007
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Listed in category: Currency >  Lot 3025
Rawdon, Wright, Hatch and Rawdon, Wright, Hatch & Edson Specimen Sheet.

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Item Description

Rawdon, Wright, Hatch and Rawdon, Wright, Hatch & Edson Specimen Sheet. Steel. 27.5 x 35.5 inches. Without a doubt the most important and impressive printing plate revealed thus far from the amazing American Bank Note Company archives. Indeed, this may be one of the most important items from bank note history ever offered at any time in any place in the history of numismatics. This plate is the largest of any plates we have seen and as such it is of an extremely rare class for in this regard alone. Fortunately, its imprint clearly identifying it as an artifact of the famous firm of Rawdon, Wright and Hatch places it categorically among the most desired plates from the archive, as it is among those connected to the engraving of obsolete bank notes of the 1850s. While the archive has much to offer in diversity of subject and theme, the plates connected to banking, currency, and the engraving firms themselves have proven to be the most highly prized by collectors. Narrowing the scope to focus on the significance of this type of plate, it is useful to mention that many plates from the archive are known to have produced large numbers of printed subjects and in many cases considerable quantities of the printed forms exist, including some of the more popular plates engraved for printing currency issues. In other cases, printed forms are known in Proof format or not at all. The present plate is among the latter, as not a single printed sheet is known to us. We have never before seen this design. In general, specimen sheets of the various engraving firms were printed in relatively small quantities or simply not saved. It is likely that their low survival rate can be attributed at least in part to that fact that they have no face value, and thus upon their obsolescence, there would be little reason not to discard them as useless. Therefore, as a class they are relatively scarce today with only an occasional offering being the norm, and the appearance of a dozen or so examples in the July 12, 2006 R.M. Smythe sale being a landmark offering. The typical printed specimen sheet seen is of a considerably smaller size than would have been printed by the plate offered here, generally ranging from 6 x 8 inches in small format up to about 21 x 26 inches for the larger examples. The largest pieces we know of include only a very small group of very rare designs. We know of two examples that were printed in multiple panels and later joined to produce a very large final product. These are essentially the same designs, with two different imprints, those of Danforth, Bald & Company, and Danforth, Wright & Company, and in their final assembled form they are 32 x 36.5 inches. We are aware of a third multi-panel form by Rawdon, Wright, Hatch and Edson, but we have never seen the complete design. As for the large format pieces printed from a single plate, this present example and only one additional design are known to us. The latter one, with a large vignette of George Washington after Houdon at center, in an oval frame set into a large and ornate urn, under the title of Rawdon, Wright, Hatch & Edson, is a great rarity and only a small group of surviving examples are known to us. One of these brought $19,550 in the above mentioned R.M. Smythe sale, an outstanding sum for one of these sheets and a figure that accentuates the importance of the present plate, again, featuring a design unknown to us in printed form. The plate exhibits light oxidation near the bottom edge, apparently having gotten wet while being stored on end. However, this appears to be fairly shallow in its effect on the steel and it could likely be removed with some ease, and treated so as to guarantee the preservation of this valuable and historic artifact. Some smaller areas of oxidation are seen near the upper left of the plate, and to a far lesser degree scattered along the other edges where the plate would have been most susceptible to contamination from handling over the years. There are obvious burnishing marks around each of the approximately 278 tightly spaced engraved elements, laid down during the finishing of the plate, as made, and giving the steel a lively lustrous quality. Some handling marks are also seen, including a few light scratches, and there are traces of old masking tape adhering to the edges. We detect no stress fractures or other serious defects. The vignettes included on the plate are elegantly arranged, nicely balanced, and create a lovely and interesting aesthetic effect that captures the attention of the observer. They vary widely in theme from numerous counters, to portraits of famous persons, to historical vignettes such as The Capture of Andre, to a nice variety of allegorical, pastoral, industrial vignettes and other styles. Many will be easily recognized by the obsolete currency specialist. Numerous coin vignettes are also featured, including two draped bust silver dollar reverses, two capped bust quarter reverses and a selection of Spanish colonial issues with mint marks of Mexico City, Lima, and Potosi, all coins that would be commonplace in circulation in the United States as late as the 1850s. All are around the imprint of the firm, centered high in the middle of the plate, given in six lines as follows, "BANK-NOTE ENGRAVING / RAWDON, WRIGHT & HATCH / MERCHANTS EXCHANGE / NEW-YORK / RAWDON, WRIGHT, HATCH & EDSON / NEW-ORLEANS" in five different type styles, with long ornamental flourishes around all elements. These titles and offices date the piece to the period between 1847 and 1858. A magnificent presentation of the pre-Civil War engraver's art. A centerpiece rarity delivered at long last from the quiet, dark, and nearly forgotten stores of American Bank Note Company that has probably not been seen by anyone other than associates of the engraving firm for comfortably more than a century. A pleasure to behold, to study, to catalogue, and undoubtedly to own and display. An engraved prize of the highest order.

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