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Note by Gem - Famed 'Bison' Note

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The $10 United States Note, Series 1901 $10 Legal Tender Note was issued as a one year series. This currency note which pictures Meriwether Lewis and William Clark commemorates their expedition centennial. Portraits of the two explorers, engraved by George F. C. Smillie, are featured on either side of the bison image. On the back of the note is the allegorical female figure of Columbia, representing "the spirit of the country and American ideals," standing between two pillars and scrolls. Columbia was largely displaced as the female symbol of the U.S. by the Statue of Liberty circa 1920.


The image of this bison, came to signify the majesty and excitement of the American West. It was a bold, powerful symbol of a country still wild and unknown. Additionally, it is considered by some to represent anxiety and nostalgia during a volatile time of shifting national boundaries. Viewed as a cultural mirror, albeit a small one, the 1901 bison note reflects underlying societal currents as Americans struggled with concepts of collective identity and an uncertain future at the beginning of the 20th century.


The 1901 bison note can be viewed as a microcosm of symbolic national identity. The choice to feature western and patriotic imagery on an object that would circulate through millions of hands did more than commemorate the significant centennial of the Lewis and Clark expedition—it also suggests a universal crisis of character occurring at that time. In 1890 the Census Bureau declared the western frontier "closed" since the population had reached more than two people per square mile; expansion and settlement had officially "combined to forge a single nation from coast to coast." This closure incited anxiety and apprehension across the country, for Americans thought they were losing part of what it meant to be American. The Bison note—featuring an animal nearly extinct that roamed a frontier no longer open, two explorers who had accomplished their adventurous and heroic task a century before, and an allegorical woman who personified the entire country—suggest an effort to capture a fundamental part of the country's identity before it disappeared.


As the frontier was closing and apprehension mounting, the bison were vanishing. Before the arrival of Europeans, bison roamed the grasslands of the North American continent from northern Canada and Alaska down into Mexico. Westward expansion and pioneer settlement during the 19th century, however, resulted in widespread slaughter. The National Park Service estimates that in less than 100 years a bison population of millions was reduced to less than 300. This rapid loss may have added to the anxiety of the disappearing frontier. It seems fitting that the bison, a powerful animal native to North America and on the brink of extinction, was chosen as the central image of a currency note during a time when society was simultaneously celebrating the frontier and lamenting its loss. Due to conservation efforts the Bison population has since rebounded.


Like many others its the beauty of the Bison note that turned me into a serious collector.


After many years and 5 or 6 upgrades later I'm pleased to be able to share this example.


With its bright white paper, razor sharp corners, incredible paper surfaces, and deep red colors its secured its place as favorite in my collection.






Personified Columbia, from a World War I patriotic poster.

Columbia was largely displaced as the female symbol of the U.S. by the Statue of Liberty circa 1920.



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