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What's Up With the Eagle on this Mills Check?
By Bob Van Ryzin

So I made it to Rosemont, Ill., for the Chicago Paper Money Exposition. It was great show and while I was there, I picked up a new check for my collection. It's nothing rare, but it does have an interesting overprint - "National Gold Bank of D.O. Mills & Co." - and links to one of my areas of interest.

Upon closer examination, I realized it also has a depiction of a train, something I hadn't noticed when I purchased it. By chance, this fits in with Neil Shafer's "Paper Money News & Views" column in this issue of BNR. He depicts several interesting checks including some with trains.

More surprising to me than the train was the female figure at the left with an eagle next to her. The female figure is well done, but the eagle is probably the worst I've ever seen.

Eagles have often been the target of criticism when appearing on U.S. money. For instance, some called the Flying Eagle cent the "buzzard cent." When the Walking Liberty half dollar came out, an ornithologist claimed sculptor Adolph Weinman had made the bird look like it was "wearing overalls and marching through tar."

And of the Peace dollar's bird, a Chicago newspaper thought it looked like a tom turkey.

Actually, as most numismatists know, Benjamin Franklin, argued for adopting the turkey as the national bird, as he thought the bald eagle was of "bad moral character."

The eagle on this check appears to be looking up at the female figure, which I assume is Liberty. It has its left claw on some arrows (and presumably, though they can't be seen, its right on an olive branch). But what's it doing with its left wing - beginning to salute the flag she's bearing, is it waving at her, or does it want to ask a question?

Looking at this eagle, I'm beginning to think there may have been something to Franklin's argument.

 



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