MelÕs Bank Note Memories:
#1) At a recent auction, a set of 1939 Bradbury Wilkinson printed Syrian notes, 1, 5, 10 and 25 livres, was hammered down for $8000! An amazing price even if the set was UNC as advertised. I first encountered these notes when I purchased a similar set in lower grade, of course, for $1.20. In fact, I purchased quite a few sets at this price.
It was the Summer of 1972. We were living in Lindos in the Island of Rhodes with our four children and Merryl, our English au pair. I was on a sabbatical year from Antioch College in Ohio where I taught mathematics. We took advantage of an inexpensive flight from Rhodes to Beirut. I believe it was $50 round trip. We made three trips to Beirut that Summer. On each trip we took one child with us and left the others with Merryl.
Pre civil war Beirut was a beautiful, charming place to visit. However, we did not stay in Beirut. We hired a service taxi to take us over the mountains to Damascus.
It was quite an exciting ride. Often there were four cars abreast on a two lane highway.
We spent most of our time in the Damascus souk, a wonderful ancient place to shop for exotic crafts. While my wife shopped for Bedouin jewelry and clothes, I went from stall to stall asking for old banknotes. I was quite excited and pleased when I finally received a positive response. I was told to come back the next day.
Of course, I did. But there were no banknotes. Instead I was asked to please wait while the owner went home to get the notes. It was August and very hot. But I waited and waited.
About three hours later the owner returned with a metal chest full of 1939 Bradbury Wilkinson printed banknotes. It seems his father was a money changer. In 1948, Syria demonetized the 1939 issue. Lebanon, by the way, never demonetized itÕs notes. That is why Lebanon notes are much scarcer. But that is another story. For some reason his father was stuck holding these ŅworthlessÓ notes.
He wanted one Syrian pound each, about thirty US cents. Many of the notes were in terrible condition. I carefully picked out about ninety pieces of the best notes.
Later, I offered sets of 1, 5, 10 and 25 livres to Stanley Gibbons in London for $50 a set. I had no idea what these notes were worth. I just made up the price. To my delight and surprise, they bought several sets. It seems I was one of the first to bring these notes out of the Middle East and into the world paper money market. It was also one of my first experiences buying and selling banknotes. That was fun. It was definitely worth trying again.
#2) I bought and sold my first banknotes thirty seven years ago. Jeremy joined the company twenty two years ago. We have traveled the world, purchased great collections and rare and wonderful individual notes. I enjoy telling the stories of our triumphs. Here is the story of one of our deals that was somewhat less than a triumph.
In the early 1980Õs, I helped a collector build a very nice Thailand collection. The key note in the collection was a 1902 1000 ticals note (p13a) in VF, which I sold to the collector for $1,750. In 1988, we had a second opportunity to own this great note. We purchased the entire collection. I figured our cost for the 1000 ticals note to be $2,750.
After some thought, I decided to offer the note to a good friend and dealer in Bangkok. I figured $4,750 was a fair price and a good profit for us. As I was waiting for him to answer the phone I made a snap decision to increase the price to $5,500. Imagine how pleased I was when he agreed to the price.
The transaction took place two weeks before the first Singapore International Coin Show. We did not attend this show, though we subsequently attended all the others. We quickly received our $5,500 payment and arranged to have a friend deliver the note at the Singapore show.
The Spink auction catalog for the 1988 Singapore show did have a nice selection of Thailand notes including a 1902 1000 ticals note. The estimate for the Spink note was a modest US$2000 Š US$2500. Obviously, I thought, we had done quite well selling our note for $5,500. Our Thai friend knew a lot more about the Thai banknote market than we did but in this case we surely did not have to worry that we had significantly underpriced our note.
The auction results were an eye opener and stunning! The 1000 ticals note brought US$30,000 plus 15% (if I remember correctly). A 50 ticals overprinted on a 1 tical (p15), which is much rarer and estimated US$450 Š US$600 brought even more.
Evidently, the local Thai market was incredibly strong and active. We found out later that several wealthy Thai collectors were competing to see who could accumulate the most rarities, including the most 1000 ticals notes.
Two years later, I asked my Thai friend if he had sold the 1000 ticals we had sold him. He said he sold it the year before. How much, I asked? $50,000, he responded. Clearly, this was not one of our triumphs.