Down County’s rarest stamps and coins will be on exhibit through June 31st at The Overmeyer Historical Society on Slopeside. The exhibit, called Down County’s Most Ludicrous Stamps & Coins, will showcase the entire Overmeyer collection, and is sure to draw visitors from far and wide.
Some stamps, like the 1911 Vermouth 2 1/2 deca cent “Glaring Czar” which featured The Stunted Grape Czar, Umlatz Karshlev, daring lickers to affix postage, will appear for the first time in public.
Deca cent stamps are especially collectible due to rarity of the denomination. Deca cents were minted between 1898 and 1912, and only in Vermouth. They were designed to increase circulation of the czar’s worthless currency by forcing people to carry ten times as many coins. But the ploy failed when Great Grape Famine drove ink prices higher than the price of lead.
Another stamp not seen since its inception is the Daring Darius, a sixty-five cent air mail stamp that features Darius Overmeyer in his Infernal Machine on its doomed flight across the Miasma. The stamp, minted in 1924, was rarely used due to its prohibitive cost and the fact that no one believed escape from Flubug was possible. The fact that he never returned has only confirmed those suspicions.
Overmeyer’s Infernal Machine is featured again on another stamp – the dreaded Postage Due issue of 1926 which gave postmen the leverage to assign arbitrary costs to insufficient postage, driving some families into bankrupcy.
The policy, embodied in this unfortunate issue, only fueled the rage against Overmeyer whose ludicrous flight became emblematic of Flubug’s collective inadequacy. The stamp was abandoned in 1926 and was never reissued. It was the last stamp to feature Darius Overmeyer.
But not all stamps were government issue. Beer stamps became an easy way for workers to transfer paychecks to company-run taverns – and an easy way for companies to cut wages even further by adding service and transfer fees.
Erskine Dobbins, father of the bridge to nowhere (Barking) was quick to seize on this trend with a variety of “Dobbins Currency Notes.” This note, at 16 and 2/3 cents, was impossible to cash at face value since a cent was the smallest denomination in circulation. Dobbins thus charged a $15 “conversion fee” to cash his own bank notes, leaving his workers with less than a penny for beer (which he then sold on credit).
A 1935 Tanwater State Park Hunting Stamp will also be on exhibit. The mint condition stamp, which allowed hunters to shoot any number of migratory birds within a six month period, was discontinued after the birds changed their migratory routes and began soiling hunters’ vehicles. Subsequent efforts to revive the hunting laws were unsuccessful.
Of the coins on display, none is so dramatic as the Rilesville Nickel, which touted the area’s legacy of archeological finds from 1923 to 1936. In 1937 the reverse design was changed from an (alleged) Alostegosaur to “Lucy,” the world’s oldest human skeleton at 600 million years old. The design was changed again in 1938 when those claims were debunked and replaced by a mummy with two heads. The Rilesville Nickel is considered the finest example of this particular mintage.
Other coins on display include the Barking Nickel which was wildly popular in its day. The Barking nickel would never be included in an exhibit of rare coins were it not for The Barking Fire of ’43 which consumed the Bank of Barking, next to the bearded lady, Barking Loan & Investment, next to Ralph the Elephant Boy, Barking Real Estate, next to Bart’s World of Mirth, and the First National Bank of Barking which faced Margot the Maggot Girl. Every known Barking nickel melted in that fire, thanks to pickpockets who retrieved the coins for their circus paymasters. On display will be one of only two known coins featuring Rumbus The Original Whistling Elephant (also lost in the fire).
And what exhibit would be complete without a nod to the days of the graphite industry? This “Wage Coin,” issued from 1930 to 1937 by the Flubug Mining Co., was given a purposely vague value to generate speculation during the Depression. A mere rumor of increased wages could increase a man’s pay by increasing demand for the coins. This made the Wage Coin very popular especially to the company who paid far less in tin than they would have for real currency. Unfortunately, most Wage Coins were lost in cave-ins, explosions and other mining disasters. By 1938 the coins were shunned by workers in favor of hard currency.
Perhaps the most spectacular coin in the exhibit is the Jenny Penny, the only one known in existence.
Minted during the first two years of the Civil War, the “Jenny Penny” paid homage to Jenny, the Confederacy’s finest warship that sunk four Union sailboats, a catamaran and three inner tubes before being sunk in the Battle of Kirk’s Creek by a floating log. Jenny Overmeyer was named after this historic vessel. Both have been lost to time.
Almost as rare is the Quag Cent, a coin which kept numismatists arguing for decades over its existence. It wasn’t until an odd-looking peasant tried to use the coin for bus fare in 1977 that its existence was confirmed. This Quag Cent is particularly interesting as it portrays Erick The Idiot, a bearded tyrant who accidentally united Quagmire while selling rats door to door in the 14th century.
Early Mulligan is also represented with a Drunken Fool two cent piece and a Five Bones nickel, both minted before the Depression. After the Depression, tokay, cigarettes, dry matches and Mulligan Stew replaced coins.
If you love stamps and coins, want to learn more about Down County’s history, or just want to get out of the house for a day, visit the Down County’s Ludicrous Coins & Stamps Show at the Overmeyer Historical Society. The Glaring Czar alone is worth the price of admission (which by the way is $10). And don’t forget to check out the Gift Shop on the First Floor.
Tell ’em The Bugle sent you and we won’t have to bust our ass selling them ad space next year.