Kirtland Safety Society Notes, , Geauga Co., OH, 4 Jan.–9 Mar. 1837; printed notes with additions in handwriting of , , , and unidentified scribes; signatures of , JS, A. B. Hull, and Ovid Pinney; eight pages; Coin and Currency Collection, CHL.
In early January 1837 the opened for business and began issuing notes through loans or in exchange for the notes of other banks. The notes then functioned as currency. Through its agents and other business arrangements, the society tried in the following months to introduce notes into circulation across northern and in parts of , , and .
Notes for the Kirtland Safety Society were engraved by the printing and engraving firm Underwood, Bald, Spencer & Hufty in late 1836. likely commissioned the printing plates for the notes in October 1836 while on a trip to to purchase goods for mercantile firms in , including the firm of Rigdon, Smith & Cowdery. Cowdery appears to have left Kirtland in December 1836 to collect the finished printing plates; he likely also had the Underwood engraving firm print a significant quantity of paper notes. According to newspaper reports, Cowdery picked up the plates at the firm’s office—rather than their New York office, where he presumably ordered them—and he returned to Kirtland by the end of December.
The notes for the Kirtland Safety Society were engraved on three, or possibly four, printing plates. Each plate contained the engraving for four notes. The letter A, B, or C was included on the upper right or left of each note, designating whether it was the first, second, or third note of that denomination on the printing plates. After printing, the notes were signed by the officers of the Kirtland Safety Society before the sheets were cut into individual notes.
Because the name and organization of the Safety Society changed on 2 January, the first notes it issued were modified. The characters “ANTI” and “ING CO.” were hand stamped onto the original printed notes to reflect the institution’s revised title, the Kirtland Safety Society Anti-Banking Company. Stamps were also used to cancel the titles of president and cashier printed on the notes. The society hand stamped only the earliest bills it issued and abandoned the practice in early January, possibly by 5 January. The only extant notes that bear these hand-stamped alterations are one-dollar, two-dollar, and three-dollar denominations. Despite the brief time the society hand stamped alterations on its notes, some newspapers in northeastern Ohio reacted strongly to the practice. For instance, an article in the Cleveland Weekly Gazette discussed the perceived deception:
We look upon the whole as a most reprehensible fraud on the public, and cannot conceal our surprise that they should circulate at all. For instance, the large letters engraved on the bills appear, on a casual examination, to read like a Bank bill, and the unsuspecting would in the hurry of business, take them as ordinary Bank bills. But on scrutiny it will be found that previous to the word “Bank” in capitals, the word “anti” in fine letters is inserted, and after the word “Bank,” the syllable “ing” is affixed in small letters also, so as to read in fact, instead of Bank, “ANTIBANKING.” We do not object to private or company banking, as a system, provided it is done upon a system and made safe, but we consider this whole affair a deception.
Although JS and appear to have signed most of the extant notes, others were also involved in writing additional information on, signing, and recording the distribution of the notes. Clerks for the society often wrote the date, serial number, or name of the bearer on the notes. Notes bearing the date of 4 January 1837 were signed by three interim officers for the society—, , and —who assisted the elected officers by signing notes. In each case the men wrote their position as treasurer or secretary after their signature and added “PT,” an abbreviation for pro tempore, demonstrating their temporary status as officers.
Notes were issued by the society from January to July 1837. The notes featured here, dated between 4 January and 9 March, are the earliest known examples of each denomination currently held by the Church History Library of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. JS and resigned as officers of the society sometime between 8 June and 7 July 1837, and the new officers, and , issued additional notes in July 1837. No extant notes bear dates after 20 July 1837, and the institution soon closed, likely by August 1837.
The engraving firm took Cowdery, JS, and fifteen other Kirtland residents to court in June 1837 for defaulting on a promissory note for $1,450, likely the cost of the engraved plates and any printing done by the firm. (Transcript of Proceedings, 16 Apr. 1839, Underwood et al. v. Rigdon et al. [Geauga Co. C.P. 1839], Geauga Co., OH, Court of Common Pleas, Record Book X, pp. 34–36, Geauga County Archives and Records Center, Chardon, OH.)
Geauga Co., OH, Court of Common Pleas, Final Record Book X. Geauga County Archives and Records Center, Chardon, OH.
A 14 November 1836 letter to the editor of an Ohio newspaper states that Kirtland residents had “procured plates from New York,” but several contemporary accounts indicate the plates came from Philadelphia, including a late December 1836 article in the Cleveland Weekly Advertiser announcing that “the bank will go into operation immediately, the plates for bills being soon expected from Philadelphia.” (“Mormonism in Ohio,” Aurora [New Lisbon, OH], 19 Jan. 1837, ; “Bank at Kirtland,” Cleveland Weekly Advertiser, 29 Dec. 1836, ; see also Editorial, LDS Messenger and Advocate, July 1837, 3:535; and JS History, vol. B-1, 750.)
Uncut sheets exist for two plates; the arrangement of the third plate is not certain, and partially uncut sheets containing ten- and twenty-dollar bills suggest there may have also been a fourth plate of notes. (Kirtland Safety Society Notes, Jan.–Mar. 1837, Coin and Currency Collection, CHL; Nyholm, Mormon Currency, 17–22.)
Coin and Currency Collection, no date. CHL.
Nyholm, Douglas A. Mormon Currency: 1837–1937. By the author, 2010.
“A New Revelation—Mormon Money,” Cleveland Weekly Gazette, 18 Jan. 1837, , italics in original. This article was reprinted in several Ohio newspapers. (See, for example, “A New Revolution.—Mormon Money,” Huron Reflector [Norwalk, OH], 24 Jan. 1837, ; and “A New Revolution.—Morman Money,” Painesville [OH] Telegraph, 20 Jan. 1837, ; see also “Rags! Mere Rags!!,” Ohio Star [Ravenna], 19 Jan. 1837, .)