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Collector, author honored by Numismatics Society

Retired dentist Dr. Wallace Lee was honored for the 1,000-page book he wrote on obsolete bank and scrip notes. (click for larger version)
December 22, 2010 - Collecting is something that everyone can do.

Whether it be baseball cards, stamps or classic cars, everyone has that certain item they would pay lots of money to be able to own.

For retired dentist and Oxford resident Dr. Wallace Lee, he collected bank notes from the state of Michigan and complied his finding into a 1,000-page book that tells the history of Michigan Banking.

For his efforts, he was awarded the President's Award from the State of Michigan Numismatics Society in November for his "outstanding contributions to numismatics and Michigan in particular."

Lee received a standing ovation from everyone in attendance, including his wife and three of his five children, when he accepted the award.

"It was really a surprise," Lee said.

Lee received the award because his book entitled "Michigan Obsolete Bank & Scrip Notes of the 19th Century/National Bank Notes 1863-1935."

The book covers every note that he collected and every note that the state of Michigan produced. Over the course of 25 years, he went and visited all 286 Michigan National Banks to record their history and to purchase one of their original bank notes.

"I went into each of those towns that produce the bank notes and I went to the archives and studied them," he said.

Lee remembered spending a week in a trailer camping in the Upper Peninsula conducting research for his book two or three times a year.

"I stayed there and worked out of that place and went to these town to try and find where the old bank was," he said. If he couldn't find the bank, he either went to the town's library or the local numismatics to get his answers.

By the time he completed his book, Lee had purchased 280 of the 286 national bank notes in his possession.

Lee would also attend auctions across the United States looking for particular bank notes. "I got about eight or nine different auction companies and they would put out an auction catalog three times a year listing the bank notes they had for sale," he said. "Therefore I would go to different auctions all over the United States hunting for certain notes."

It was at those auctions he well known for his knowledge and collection of Michigan bank notes.

Bank notes wasn't always his top priority when it came to collecting.

He started off collecting coins in 1960 when silver was becoming scarce in coins and quickly became an amateur numismatist (one who studies currency and it's history) when he realized how lucrative coin collecting could be.

He started out by bringing home $1,000 worth of coins and having his wife and five children help him sort through it. After a few years of doing that, he moved on to going to coin shows to begin his collection.

After becoming well-known for his collection of half-cent pieces, he eventually stopped collecting when the coins he was looking to purchase were out of his price range. "It came to the point where to buy one coin was $25,000," he said. "So right about then I decided to collect something different."

Thus began his award winning bank note collection.

Lee admitted that it was a great con job that his wife did to get him to the ceremony.

"I told them that I didn't want to go down there, that I had been there 40 or 50 times and that I wasn't going again," he said. He convinced himself to go after his wife told him that he was going to present this year's Wally Lee award.

Instead, he was presented with the Presidents award.

Andrew Moser is a staff writer for the Oxford Leader.
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