by Bob Hohertz
Section One of the Revenue Act of March 3, 1883 specified a date of July 1, 1883 for repeal of the two cent tax on checks and drafts. (For some time the Scott Specialized Catalog gave this date as July 1, 1882, but this was corrected several years ago.) Prior to that time there was a need to involve a security printer with authority to print revenue stamps on checks when the customer did not wish to keep a supply of adhesive stamps on hand. With repeal of the tax, any printer enterprising enough to furnish checks bearing something that looked somewhat like an imprinted revenue could attempt to establish a market catering to those who had become accustomed to the presence of such an imprint. A number did so.
August Gast and Company were quick to occupy such a market niche. They were not suppliers of revenue imprints, but they certainly had had experience with printing checks during the period that imprints were being used. They acted quickly to take advantage of what they saw as an opportunity.
Figure 1 illustrates a letter that Gast mailed to the First National Bank of Cooperstown, New York dated July 1, 1883. The text is, to the best I can determine, as follows:
Having had many calls from the East for a class of lithographic work in Drafts, Checks, Certificates of Deposit, Note Heads, Letter Heads, etc, etc, nearly equal to Steel Plate in perfection, and heretofore produced by us only at our large St. Louis establishment, we have found it necessary to meet the increasing Eastern demand for this fine work, by opening an establishment at No 20 Warren Street, New York City. We send you herewith specimens of our work, which besides showing our fine quality, also give you our new copyrighted design for keeping up the appearance of the Internal Revenue Stamp, which has been abolished to take effect from this date. We furnish checks and drafts with this centerpiece either in the prevailing yellow or in any color that may be desired, giving the Coat of Arms of any State of the Union in the center. Those who order first will receive the greatest credit for bringing out this new and unique design, which will, to judge from interviews with Bankers who have been shown it privately, spring into great favor at once. While our work is the best, our prices will be found at all times satisfactory and we shall spare no efforts to merit the great success enjoyed by our St. Louis house. The same efforts will be used to supply in a satisfactory manner all needs in stationery of the Banking Community. Hoping to hear from you, we are
Aug. Gast & Co.
Address all orders to No 20 Warren St."
The letter, while datelined New York, was sent from Saint Louis, as the envelope it was mailed in was still with it.
Gast and Company do not seem to have supplied any check printing services to the First National Bank of Cooperstown prior to July 1, 1883. At least, from the listing in the Castenholz Field Guide to Revenue Stamped Paper, Part 6, the suppliers of Cooperstown checks and drafts were Dennison and Brown, Dennison and Smith, Milton C. Johnson, and Meyer, Merkel and Ottoman, all New York firms. Similar letters were most likely sent out to many banks in New York, and other areas of the country as well.
There is no way to be certain of the number of sample checks sent with the letter to the First National Bank. However, the letter came into my possession accompanied by fourteen different checks and drafts. Each bears the appropriate state seal, in what to my eyes is orange instead of yellow. They show the security printer as `A. Gast & Co. St. Louis & N. Y.' Each also says `Stamp Copyrighted by A. G. & Co.,' and has a three-line motto on the signature line identifying it as a `Sample from August Gast & Co. New York.' These items are as follows:
||Thos. P. Miller & Co. Bankers|
||Merchants National Bank|
||The Bank of Visalia|
||The Exchange Bank of Macon|
||J. C. Plant and Son, Bankers|
||Merchants National Bank|
||Alton National Bank|
||Nokomis National Bank|
||First National Bank|
||Schuster, Hax & Co., Bankers|
||Commercial Bank of St. Louis|
||Citizens National Bank|
||State National Bank of Austin|
||Flippen, Adoue & Lobit, Bankers|
Various users of the state seal facsimile designs are known. Perhaps the most common is the Canton, Dakota Territory draft used by The First National Bank of Canton. An example of the Virginia state seal used on a check of the Planters and Mechanics Bank of Petersburg is illustrated in Figure 8. The author has a check from the Stoneboro Bank of Pennsylvania from this series, and Kimber Wald lists Iowa and Ohio as well the states already mentioned. Apparently Gast & Company met with some success in their attempt to occupy this marketing niche.
This sample draft from a Dallas banking firm was damaged when the checks were removed form the envelope or the file where they were stored. Several other checks, as well as the envelope itself, show a mark to the upper left which would indicate that some sort of fastener had been holding them together.
Figure 4. One of the two Georgia items in the group.
Figure 5. A draft from Saint Joseph, Missouri, with an elaborate safety grill.
Figure 6. An attractive draft from the Merchant's National Bank of Little Rock, Arkansas.
Questions for our readers:
- Does anyone know of a check or cheks bearing a Gast facsimile in a color other than orange or yellow?
- Does anyone know of sample checks other than those listed above?
- Does anyone know of non-sample checks corresponding to those listed above?
- Does anyone know of other non-sample checks than those mentioned? (But see 2007 Postscript at end of article.)
Figure 7. A rather unhappy-looking urchin on a sample check from Gast's original loction, Saint Louis.
Figure 8. A used draft from Petersburg, Virginia, with a Gast facsimile imprint.
Castenholz, B.J. FIeld Guide to Revenue Stamped Paper, Part 6. Castenholz and Sons, 1991.
Wald, Kimber A. A Centennial Survey of the United States Civil War Revenue Stamped Paper. American Philatelic Congress, 1983.
Here is a link to the remaining sample checks with Gast facsimiles that were in the group that came with the solicitation letter. Also here is a link to checks and drafts of known users of Gast facsimiles . Any reported later will be added to either group.
The original story ran in the October - December 1996 issue of The Check Collector.