Appreciation of local history pays off

Mary Davidsaver
Lars Jenner (center), archivist at the Vasa National Archives in Bishop Hill, receives a donation of a very rare sheet of original Bishop Hill colony currency from Willard and Karen Larson of Lee’s Summit, Mo. The Larsons brought the gift while visiting the area for Galva Day last month.

People return for Galva Day from all corners of the country; this year was no exception. However, one former Galva resident brought back a little something extra.

Willard Larson came all the way from Lee’s Summit, Mo. with a unique donation to the Vasa National Archives in Bishop Hill.

“My intent is to give all interested parties a chance to view something (special) and have a little bit of the history in back of it,” Larson stated as he made the presentation to Lars Jenner, archivist in charge of the Vasa collection.

Larson, a longtime Vasa member, considered the Bishop Hill building the best place to entrust with his special find, a very rare sheet of Bishop Hill Colony currency.

Larson began collecting money 30 to 40 years ago and his early interest centered on coins.

“I was more interested in Morgan dollars and silver eagles,” conceded Larson, who credits John Girven of Galva with helping him become interested in the older paper money.

Girven is a retired businessman who often sold old sheets of Bishop Hill currency in barn wood frames at his Galva stores. He came across them at a long-ago auction.

The Bishop Hill notes are attractive, two-color engravings with scenes of river boats, trains, Indians, and small portraits of unidentified men. An uncut sheet contains the denominations of 1, 2, 3, and 5 along with a serial number and places for signatures on each note.

There’s no way to be sure how widely the money was used in this area; informed sources vary. Most of the sheets in circulation with collectors are unsigned.

That’s why when Larson finally found a sheet signed by Leroy Tuttle, secretary for the Western Exchange Fire & Marine Insurance Company – the issuer of the Bishop Hill currency – it was a surprising and pleasing discovery.

“Those early ones I’ve had weren’t signed, none showed up,” he remembered. “I thought I really had a find.”

Larson uses eBay as a way to facilitate his transactions and that’s were he came across sheet #15 in March of this year. It had the lowest series number found so far and it was complete with the signatures of both Tuttle and Johnson.

“This needs to stay in Bishop Hill,” he thought to himself after he won the online auction.