Auction preview: ‘Extremely rare’ British Honduras note to be offered by Stack’s next week

A first issue British Honduras $1 banknote will be offered publicly for the first time—having been in private hands since the mid 1890s—by Stack’s Bowers Galleries next week.

The note, which will be offered as Lot 30070 of Stack’s New York International Numismatic Convention (NYINC) World Paper Money Auction on Jan. 12, has an opening bid of $18,000 USD (about $22,650 Cdn.). It’s expected to bring between $30,000 USD and $50,000 USD (upwards of $62,900 Cdn.).

According to auctioneers, the 1894 British Honduras $1 issued notes are “prohibitively rare”—only three pieces are known to exist, including the one to be offered by Stack’s. The other two include the Pick plate note, which is in “abysmal condition,” as well as another in private hands that’s reputed to be part of a private British Honduras collection. No issued example of any of the five higher values has ever come to light.

ABSENT FROM WORLD’S GREATEST COLLECTIONS

First issue British Honduras notes in any form are absent from “virtually all of the world’s greatest collections,” according to auctioneers, who added this issued 1894 example “clearly rivals in rarity, exclusivity, and desirability even such major pieces as the much-vaunted Zanzibar notes.”

The 1894 British Honduras issue was withdrawn and destroyed after only two months, while the Zanzibar series ran for 20 years. The note issuance for British Honduras was scaled for an insignificant colonial backwater with a minuscule population and economy; for centuries Zanzibar was one of the world’s major spice sources and slave exporters as well as an international seaport at the nexus of the trade routes of Africa, Arabia, India, and the Orient.

The $1 1894 British Honduras note being offered by Stack’s is the only issued example for 1894 British Honduras in the Paper Money Guaranty population report; in contrast, Zanzibar pieces have a much higher population.

The design features stylized floral borders, intricate lathe work (including floral pattern) and stars within circles. Also noted are the Crown above “CC” (Crown Colony) watermarks. PMG mentions splits and rust in the comments section; these are more noticeable on the reverse. They also mention an “ink stamp”; however, PMG did not realize this stamp is officially printed, indicating city of issue, Belize, and the date, “OC 17, 94.” The left margin is serrated where the counterfoil was once attached.

IMPORTANT PROVENANCE

The $1 note bears an “important, unbroken” provenance to Albert E. Morlan, the American Consul in the city of Belize, British Honduras through two appointments in the late-19th century.

Morlan was born in 1850, into a well-to-do Quaker family whose fortune was lost in the Panic of 1857. His father died when Albert was 16 years old, and at age 21, Morlan apprenticed with a German jeweller, from whom he learned the German language along with the trade.

At 22, he began work in New Orleans, where he became proficient in French. By the time he was 30, he established a jewelry and general merchandise business in Belize City.

In 1882, based on his sterling (“NPI”) reputation, he was appointed U.S. Consul there by President Chester A. Arthur. Morlan resigned his post in order to re-establish his business in New Orleans with branches in Belize and elsewhere in Central America.

In 1895, President Grover Cleveland re-appointed him as consul, where he distinguished himself and his office by submitting to the U.S. Government insightful reports on trade. He facilitated varied commercial initiatives in Belize by American businesses and promoted bi-lateral export and import between British Honduras and the U.S. He became widely known in the highest political, business and social circles for his engaging personality and language skills and created much good will toward the U.S.—a commodity often in short supply in Central America.

“The paper money collecting community is fortunate that Consul Morlan was present during the brief 1894 note emission, and safeguarded this extraordinary example for posterity,” reads a statement issued by Stack’s.

“At his death in 1926, this note was bequeathed by him to his son, Edward Morlan, from Edward to his son, Charles Morlan, and from Charles to his daughter, our consignor and the great granddaughter of Albert.”

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