Welcome to The Joe I. Herbstman Memorial Collection.
Presented here are some of the documents that have shaped the course of American financial history for well over two hundred years- from the Revolutionary War era through the 1980's and the end of paper Treasury Bonds. Each piece tells a small story of America's financial history. Although most of items are federal debt instruments, there are many other fascinating exhibits as well, including publications of Congress, Treasury Department ephemera, and war bond advertising to name but a few. The mission of this collection is to serve as an educational resource to the public- preserving and presenting a visual history of the nation's debt. There is a particular pride in our 20th Century material, which may be the finest publicly known outside the archives of the Smithsonian.
How This Collection Began...
My name is Joshua Tobias Herbstman, and Joe Herbstman was my dad. For all of my adult life, I have loved bonds- a trait I most certainly inherited from my father. I grew up watching my dad buy and sell bonds on the telephone with his various brokers. He was a retired orthodontist; a man who loved his family, his food, his flowers, and finance. My childhood is filled with memories of my dad taking out various scraps of paper, jotting down figures, percentages, and unintelligible scribble. I remember every month the dull hum of his ALL CAPS typewriter as he completed the interest coupon envelopes he would take to the local bank. One need not have typed coupon envelopes, as there was no banking regulation against handwriting. But that would suppose one have legible handwriting in the first place.
Once when I was about ten, much to my dear mother's dismay, he opened a package containing a stack of negotiable bearer bonds on his Archie Bunker chair ottoman. "Joshua, here is $50k in bonds." He smiled as my mom scolded him about not telling his young son about that kind of money. And although I didn't really understand why mom was mad, I just loved that he was showing me these interesting certificates while simultaneously aggravating his wife.
As I grew older, I felt a personal connection to investment finance, born from my father's teaching and my own curiosity about how the world manages its money. As I embarked upon my college career, I felt that finance and economics were going to be part of my future. I remember how proud I was to telephone my father and tell him how my freshman economics professor told me that I knew more about finance then any other student he had ever met. I felt him beaming with pride over the phone.
Not but a few weeks from that phone call, my life was shattered as my beloved dad was diagnosed with terminal cancer. For many years after his passing, I figured my academic career should stay clear of economics, as I believed the subject would be too painful to deal with. Yet I still found myself very interested in Wall Street, banking, and bond finance. I then earned my Bachelor's degree in communications and a Master's degree in history, all the while involved somehow in the investment world. And having tried my luck down a few different paths, I find myself working as private investor some twenty years later.
On a whim in 2011 I went to Florida's largest numismatic show. While browsing the floor I came across a beautiful document signed by Abraham Lincoln. I never had fancied myself as an autograph collector, but seeing Lincoln's signature up close was very exciting for me. I am a historian who loves old things. And the date of this document had a special significance to me: February 19th, the day my dad passed. I did not buy it though, as I wanted to sleep on the idea. Two weeks later, I called the dealer as I had decided to purchase old Abraham. (He detested the nickname Abe, just so you know.) While on the telephone, he enticed me into something else- a 1917 $50 Liberty Loan. He sent me a photograph. A few days later, I received the Lincoln appointment and the bond. I was instantly hooked on two rather expensive hobbies.
As the next few years went by, I found myself buying one bond after another after another. Bearer bonds, along with their registered cousins, had been phased out of the investment world during the 1980's and 90's. Now in the collecting world, you can easily get paper bonds, because many entities (corporate and sovereign) simply failed to honor the debts they incurred. You can find railroad bonds from the 1840's, Confederate bonds from the 1860's, Mexican bonds from the 1890's, and Russian bonds from the 1900's, among many others to be sure. There is a lot of defaulted paper out there. There is even a hobby built around collecting old stock and bond certificates: scripophily.
That said, one thing there wasn't a lot of was paper U.S. Treasury Bonds. They have always been "money-good" financial instruments, and there has never been a time when an investor could not redeem his bonds at maturity. But unlike stamps, coins, and paper money, no one ever thought to systematically collect or save U.S. government debt certificates as hobby. Finding these bonds became a classic treasure hunt. As my collection grew, I realized that save a couple of dedicated individuals, there really wasn't much attention being paid in the numismatic world to Treasury bonds. There was one book that illustrated the history of these bonds, but it stopped at the year 1898. And there was hardly much fanfare when a rare bond was discovered or came up for auction. The U.S. national debt, the most important financial instrument on the planet next to the U.S. dollar, was really a collecting backwater. There wasn't even an educational website that had actual images of bonds. Even the U.S. Treasury Department didn't publish any photographs.
These bonds represent the financial strength of the United States. But they also represent the largest debt any nation in world history has ever accumulated. And as there is no sign of paying down this massive obligation, our national debt is akin to a can kicked down a road... an $22 trillion can at that. The Treasury doesn't issue paper bonds anymore, so to see the national debt, you have to look at a clock on 44th Street in Manhattan or look to the paper bonds of the past.
As I contemplated all of this, I realized that I had already built one of the finest known collections of 20th Century bonds ever assembled. I should keep going, and assemble the greatest collection of this material possible. My father spent much of our time together teaching me. I felt I should use this collection to honor those memories of him. So, in 2013, with the loving support of my dear mother Barbara Herbstman, I established The Joe I. Herbstman Memorial Collection of American Finance. With a goal of preserving these bonds for future generations, the collection hopes to serve as a public resource presenting a visual history of America's national debt. It is my sincere wish that educators, students, numismatists, and anyone interested in the subject matter will utilize this collection. I want to thank you for taking the time to visit this site, and hope you enjoy learning something about the financial history of the United States.
This collection could not have been possible without the love, friendship, and support of several individuals. Above all, I would like to thank my mom Dr. Barbara Herbstman. She is the best mom a son could ever want, and source of love, wisdom, and great humor. My father knew how to pick ‘em.
I would like to thank Dr. Brent Swanson and Craig Weiner. (He only has a double masters, in case you were wondering). You are more than friends. You are my brothers. I would also like to acknowledge the friendship of Steven Dobler, Robin Goins, Nick Schroeder, and Michelle & Kent Jones.
I owe a tremendous thanks to the professional framers and photographer who have helped in preserving this collection. I would like to thank Trish Zylinski, Don Cavanaugh, Linda Santucci, Al Avci of Art & Frame of NY, and Johnston Photography of Gainesville, Florida. And I would like to gratefully acknowledge paper conservationists Nancy Poli and Rebecca Silvius. They are the best.
Within the field of numismatics, I would like to extend my deepest thanks to currency expert Rahul Arora, the noted financial historian Gene Hessler, and Liberty Bond historian Larry Schuffman. I would also like to thank Rosemary Lazenby and Steven Vella, both formally of the Federal Reserve Bank of New York, Dave Cowen and Kristin Aguilera of the Museum of American Finance, Dr. Robert E. Wright of Augustana College, and Dr. Franklin Noll of the BEP.