Wednesday, May 27, 2009

A Banknotable Anniversary for Crane & Co.

I was wandering through the Crane Museum of Papermaking the other day and just happened to notice part of an exhibit I really hadn't paid much attention to lately. I guess I should be more attentive more often, as I almost let a big anniversary get by me.

The exhibit is about Crane and United States currency paper, which they have proudly made since 1879. Let's the math, Peter! 130 years. And guess what? Here's the original letter from The Ohio Icicle, Treasury Secretary John Sherman:

Yup; that's today.

There's a story behind that letter; a story that can be long or short depending on the talents of the storyteller. I'll do the short version.

W. Murray Crane, then only 26, took up lodgings in Washington, DC, when it was learned that the Treasury Department was dissatisfied with its current supplier of currency paper and was issuing a request for bids. He and a dozen or so other bidders camped out in the capital, with Murray corresponding with his father, Zenas Marshall Crane, almost daily.

May 27, the deadline by which to submit bids, arrived and all the competitors handed in their sealed envelopes well in advance of the final hour.

As the story goes, all believed they had submitted their best and final price, and were gathered in the bar of one of the local hotels, trading stories. Murray must have gotten wind of what was believed to be the lowest bid, and left for his hotel room to prepare another, lower bid.

Once it was discovered that young Crane was about to pull a fast one on the crowd, they locked him in his room and repaired in good spirits to their liquid spirits.

But Murray was a tall, slender New Englander - built like a buggy whip - and managed to climb out through the transom and rush to the Treasury building to submit a second bid only minutes before the close.

That bid - a half-cent per pound cheaper than the next lowest - won the company its first contract to manufacture United States currency paper, 130 years ago today.

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