My first memories of Aubrey and Adeline Bebee are as old as my familiarity with the A.N.A. itself, since it was at my first A.N.A. Convention in Omaha, Nebraska in 1955 that I was introduced to them by my parents, Robert and Goldye Friedberg. Admittedly, I don't remember much about it. I was all of five years old at the time and was much more involved with some other age appropriate endeavors than with what was going on in a hotel ballroom at bourse tables over which I could hardly see. Nonetheless, as unbelievable as it sounds, and for whatever reason, I remember being greeted by them. It was only much later that I came to understand how important these two kind and gentle people were to the A.N.A. and the hobby.
Their 1913 Liberty Nickel is legendary, and the fact that the Bebees also owned an 1804 Dollar and formed some other extraordinary collections would be sufficient to cement their status as pillars of twentieth century American numismatics. But the fact is that another collecting passion far surpassed these more famous acquisitions. Our purpose today is to introduce you to their greatest collecting interest, the paper money of the United States.
Dealers and collectors today consider the collecting of paper money on an equal footing with other numismatic interests, a view which was not necessarily accurate back in 1941 when the Bebees got started. Paper money was at best, a poor stepsister, the domain of those who were not so charitably nor endearingly-called "ragpickers." Information was scarce (In fact, until the first edition of our standard reference book on U.S. currency, Paper Money of the United States in 1953, the printing of illustrations of American currency was illegal!), and prices were hardly the stuff of which headlines are written. A good part of the Bebee Collection came in the form of a single bulk purchase in 1956 when they bought the collection of James M. Wade, who was the assistant cashier at the Chase National Bank in New York City. Jaws would drop in astonishment at the prices they paid - not only in relation to the valuations today, but also in comparison to contemporary non-paper rarities. Teeth would presumably fall out of mouths at what Wade must have paid in turn. Other pedigrees in the collection would form a who's who in the hobby, a numismatic hall of fame. In many ways, they were among the trailblazers in turning paper money collecting into a major component of American numismatics.
The collection they created is one for the ages, and which through their generosity in 1988 became part of "our" collection when they donated all 500 plus notes to the American Numismatic Association. A number of years ago, I had the privilege of visiting A.N.A. Headquarters in Colorado Springs and personally going through every note in the collection to select new illustrations for Paper Money of the United States. The Bebees were contributors of long-standing to successive editions of the book and we thought it was only fitting that by including their collection, they would become a permanent part of it. What I thought would be a quick two-day trip turned instead into two trips lasting over a week. I became mesmerized and instead of getting the job done, I spent hours examining nearly every single one of the notes, which after being scanned and enlarged many times revealed intricacies and details of engraving and design which are nearly unimaginable to the naked eye. It was an unforgettable experience for me, and I hope that as you now begin your tour through this fabulous collection, that you are able to experience something similar, and will be able to appreciate, in even a small way, the joy and dedication Aubrey and Adeline Bebee brought to our hobby for generations to come.
Arthur L. Friedberg