Excerpts from the E-Sylum: First American Bank Robberies – March 29, 2015


By Wayne Homren for The E-Sylum eNewsletter….

Each week, CoinWeek, in collaboration with the Numismatic Bibliomania Society, brings you a highlighted feature from the current volume of the E-Sylum eNewsletter.

New York’s First Bank Robbery

[Last] week I came across a blog article on New York’s first bank robbery. What was most interesting to me was the description of the 1831 haul, which included both bank notes and Spanish doubloons. Ads run afterwards by the bank detail the issuers of the banknotes. Together, these provide a view into the money circulating in the country at that time. -Wayne Homren, Editor

Reward Notice from NYC Bank Robbery
That’s $3,000 in 1831 money…

When workers arrived at the City Bank at 52 Wall Street on Monday, March 21, 1831, they were in for a rude shock. Sometime over the weekend—probably the evening of March 19 or the early morning hours of March 20—the bank had been robbed of $245,000 in bank notes and Spanish doubloons. This was New York’s first-ever bank heist.

Though suspicion immediately fell on workers at the bank, the police had little time to investigate the employees before they received a tip from Mr. Bangs, the proprietor of a “respectable private boarding house” (according to the New-York Evening Post) who was leery of his newest tenant.

On the Monday following the robbery, a man calling himself “Mr. Jones” had arrived at Mr. Bangs’s boarding house on Elm Street with three small trunks, asking for a private room in which to write. He paid for the room in advance. After a few days, the landlord became suspicious over Mr. Jones’s apparent anxiety, especially concerning the contents of his trunks. When one of the trunks disappeared, Mr. Bangs contacted the police. The police–seemingly without probable cause or a warrant–picked the locks of the two remaining trunks and found bank notes they could positively identify as being from the City Bank robbery.

When Mr. Jones returned to the boarding house, he was promptly arrested. The robber was soon discovered to be Edward Smith, who lived on Division Street with his wife and two children and ran a shoe store. He was well-known to police, having been arrested for a store robbery in Brooklyn.

Of the $245,000, only about $176,000 was recovered from Smith. The bank soon began advertising for people to keep an eye out for the other bank notes (and the Spanish doubloons). One apparent accomplice was arrested in Philadelphia in April when some of the missing bank notes were identified on his person. But it is unclear if the remainder of the money was ever recovered or if that man was, indeed, part of the robbery.

A jury found Edward Smith guilty in a one-day trial (that one day included jury selection, testimony, and deliberations) and he was sentenced to five years hard labor in Sing-Sing prison.

Is the blog author correct in calling this New York’s FIRST bank robbery? 1831 seems late – banks had been around in this country for decades. Does anyone know of an earlier New York robbery? Or the earliest one in the country? -Wayne

To read the complete article, see: New York’s First Bank Robbery

Early Bank Robberies in Virginia

Eric Schena submitted these notes about some early bank robberies in Virginia. Thanks! -Wayne

Reward Notice for Virginia Bank Robbery
…and 21 years later, the Bank of Virginia in Portsmouth is offering $5,000.

I saw your piece on that blog article about the putative “first” New York bank robbery in the 1830s and was reminded of two bank robberies in antebellum Virginia, one from 1841 and another from 1852, that folks might be interested in hearing.

The first I came across in an original copy of the Richmond Enquirer from September 7, 1841 that I found in a flea market many years ago. In it there was a $5,000 reward notice on the front page for information regarding the theft of $92,135 from the Danville branch of the Farmer’s Bank of Virginia on the 23rd of August. Apparently, someone made a false set of keys and made off with that sum all in currency. All but $20,000 was cancelled and due to be shipped back to the mother bank in Richmond for destruction, but the remainder of the loot was still current. Most interestingly, on page three of the same paper there is a notice indicating that the $20,000 was recovered in a graveyard and that the bank’s teller was found hiding the money by the cemetery’s sexton. I’ve included both the reward notice and the follow-up article.

In addition, the Library of Congress has in their collection a handbill announcing a $5,000 reward regarding the theft of over $66,000 from the Portsmouth branch of the Bank of Virginia in January of 1852. Included in the notice was a list of what was taken, including “$75 in Georgia $5 pieces, and a Portuguese half-Joe.” I would hazard a guess that the “Georgia $5” pieces were likely Bechtler Georgia coins as those were specially singled out for notice. I have not been as successful in tracing down if this robbery was solved.

Reward Notice for 1841 Danville, VA Bank Robbery[The initial reward notice for the 1841 Danville, VA bank robbery of $92,135 bank notes. Click on any of the pictures to enlarge. -Hubert Walker]

Follow-up to 1841 Danville Bank Robbery Reward Notice[The follow-up to the initial reward notice reads like something out of Poe. -Hubert]


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  1. The 1852 Portsmouth robbery was the work of the Rand brothers, Abram, Richard, and most of all, John W. (Jack) Rand. In a nation that celebrates infamous criminals, the Rands have been sorely neglected. They were born in New Hampshire, but were longtime residents of Massachusetts–but ranged far and wide to commit robberies. Jack Rand voluntarily appeared and testified at the Portsmouth robbery trial of his brothers, knowing full well that doing so would incriminate himself. He even was grudgingly complimented in newspapers for giving himself up.
    Jack Rand, it should be said, wasn’t very fearful of jail. He was convicted in October, 1852 and escaped from jail a couple of weeks later. It was a trick he repeated several times.


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