U.C.V. HAT OF MACERATED U.S. CURRENCY

$95.00

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Item Code: 1202-142

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This miniature brimmed hat was made in a two-part mold from macerated U.S. currency, a genre of tourist souvenir popular in Washington, D.C., from about 1875 into the 1920s. The hat still shows some tiny bits green and has a light blue hat band tacked to its base.  A paper label pasted inside reads: “Made of United States Bank Notes/ redeemed and manufactured at the / U.S. Treasury, Washington, D.C. / Estimated $3,000.” The amount referred to the value of batch of currency destroyed to make the pulp from which this was made, of course, adding to its value as a novelty and souvenir. The printer, though, made a slip, inserting “manufactured” instead of “macerated.”

Instead of burning old currency taken out of circulation, which still left some fragments floating around that might be found and redeemed, the government switched to maceration in 1874, which ground it while wet into pulp. The prospect of seeing many  thousands of dollars destroyed was a novelty and the resulting pulp itself, containing small bits of paper and traces of ink, became the medium for molded souvenirs for sale to tourists of the Capital, with several producers creating portrait busts of notables, patriotic Lincoln or Uncle Sam top hats, miniature buildings like the Washington Monument, but also a wide variety of knickknacks like small animals, shoes, etc. They remained for sale in souvenir shops well into the 1920s, but lost a lot of appeal after 1908 when the government added chemicals to the pulp, destroying the bits of color, though a few entrepreneurs then added their own bits of paper.

Opinion here is somewhat divided on whether this a G.A.R. or U.C.V. souvenir hat. The G.A.R. held at least two national reunions in the city while these souvenirs were popular, and overtly marketing to veterans of the army seeking to destroy the Union seems unlikely but we do note that the ribbon is a light blue, which is seen on some secession cockades, so it might be subtle play for Confederate veterans who chose to tour the nation’s Capital and might be pleased to own some Federal greenbacks now worth no more than the Confederate variety.     [sr][ph:m]

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