Imported from: Google Blogger site
Original publish date: July 22, 2015
Complete revision: January 12, 2024

"The Crossing"

It was not long after I began cataloging railroad scripophily that I came across an article by Arlie Slabaugh in the Bank Note Reporter about a vignette called The Crossing. By that time, I had encountered the vignette several times on railroad certificates, mostly in lithograph form.

Like the bulk of steel plate engravings we see on scripophily, The Crossing was probably engraved for use on domestic and foreign currency. Its first use seems to have been on the first issuance of currency printed by National Bank Note Company (NBNCo) for the Confederate States of America in May, 1861. Its image appears as the primary vignette on the famous and sought-after $500 note (Type 2, Criswell 2.) See Figure 1.

Figure 1. Image courtesy Wikimedia Commons (see reference bottom)

NBNCo is known to have reused The Crossing at least three more times in the next year or two on: 

  • a $1 note of the North Western Bank (Warren, Pennsylvania, 1861, Figure 2.)
  • a $5 note of the Exchange Bank of Attica (Indiana, '186-,' Figure 3.)
  • a $5 note of the Clarksburg Branch of the Merchants & Mechanics Bank of Wheeling (Virginia, '186-,' Figure 4.)
Figure 2. Image courtesy Heritage Auctions (see reference bottom)
Figure 3. Image courtesy R. M. Smythe & Co (see reference bottom)
Figure 4. Image courtesy Heritage Auctions (see reference bottom)

Federal taxation wiped out the printing of private domestic currency (by the National Bank Act of 1863) and state bank currency (by the Internal Revenue Act of 1865). Consequently, NBNCo turned even more heavily to printing currency for countries outside the United States, especially in South America. Intervening uses of The Crossing are highly probable, but the next verifiable depiction can be found on a stock certificate of The Central Rail Road Company of Iowa, dated October 7, 1870. 

That certificate is currently represented by a single surviving example, printed by the National Bank Note Company. The Crossing obviously came from the same source die as the bank notes above. I am calling that particular depiction Vignette 1. Later alterations and all known lithograph imitations share these common characteristics:

  • a train crosses a stone arch bridge left to right over a small creek
  • a 4-4-0 locomotive with a funnel stack pulls the train
  • the train consists of a baggage car and one visible passenger car 
  • a boy holding a cane pole wades in the creek with five cows
  • two fences at right define a trail that leads from rail level to the creek 
  • a large fallen log bounds the trail on the right side
  • a man on horseback herds seven cows down the trail toward water
  • a man holds a sign high overhead where the trail crosses the railroad grade
  • two trees on either side of the creek lean inward to frame the scene

Vignette 1 appears to be a fully completed work and measures about 3.54 inches wide (90 mm) in most uses. So who created the vignette and when?

Figure 5. Vignette 1 (image courtesy Kevin Nesbitt.)

Without equivocation, Slabaugh said the famous and prolific James Smillie engraved The Crossing. Gene Hessler, in The Engravers' Line, agrees by saying that, "...engravers who have examined this engraving say it is the work of James Smillie." However, he also points out that records at the American Bank Note Company stated that NBNCo purchased an engraving called The Crossing fron engraver Robert Hinshelwood in 1859.

To clarify, NBNCo organized in November, 1859. ABNCo, NBNCo, and Continental Bank Note Company consolidated on Dec. 27, 1878 to form the much larger American Bank Note Company. NBNCo records and all its dies ended up at ABNCo, Since NBNCo acquired the engraving barely a month after its formation, we are left to wonder whether it used The Crossing elsewhere prior to its appearance on the CSA $500 bill in 1861.

Hessler further explained a long-term relationship between Hinshelwood and Smillie. They had been partners in a short-lived engraving company called Smillie and Hinshelwood in the mid-1840s. In fact, Smillie had helped Hinshelwood emmigrate to the U.S. from Scotland and they were brothers-in-law through Hinshelwood's marriage to Smillie's sister Margaret. Finally, it seems James Smillie joined NBNCo in 1861, at roughly the time the Confederate States of America contracted with NBNCo to produce its first currency. Is this when Smillie became involved with The Crossing, or was it earlier?

While The Crossing shows all the hallmarks of James Smillie's hand, questions remain about whether the die for Vignette 1 was a re-working or re-engraving of Hinshelwood's work, or an entirely different depiction. All three eventualties were common in the world of bank note engraving, so without new discoveres, we will probably never know.

At present, I have recorded uses of Vignette 1 on stocks and bonds from six railroad companies.

Known uses of Vignette 1
1870 stock Central RR of Iowa
1879 bond Texas Central Ry
1881 bond Des Moines & Fort Dodge RR
188- stock Milwaukee & Northern RR
18-- stock Michigan Midland & Canada RR
1896 stock New York Ontario & Western Ry

Vignette 2 (see Figure 6) is a widened modification of Vignette 1. Additions include:

  • two full passengers cars with the end of the train visible
  • trees and bushes between the viewer and the second passenger car
  • a man and a small dog in a field to the right
  • five snow-covered peaks and two lower mountains in the distance

Figure 6. Vignette 2 (author's image.)

To my eye, the passenger cars, trees, rocks, man, and dog are the same as in Vignette 1. However, I do NOT feel the mountains were engraved to the level and quality of detail typical of James Smillie.

Vignette 2 measures 5.13 inches wide (130 mm). If the vignette had appeared anywhere else, it would have needed to have been used on large documents like stocks and bonds or the backs of bank notes. The only occurrence known to me is found on a Peruvian railroad bond dated January 2, 1872. Figure 7 shows the 500 soles bond of La Compañia National del Ferrocarril Mineral de Pasco (The Pasco National Mineral Railroad Company) engraved and printed by NBNCo.

Figure 7. Peruvian railroad bond (Author's image.)

In both Vignettes 1, 2, and 3, a classic Smillie detail can be seen on the sign held by a man near the junction of the trail and railroad tracks. The sign is only 0.083 inches wide (2.1 mm), but engraved in microscopic letters is the warning, "Look Out For Bell Rings." The enlargement of the sign was scanned from the Peruvian bond in Figufre 7. Even when scanned at 12800 dpi, the lettering is still hard to decipher. The lettering on the sign in the three Smillie vignettes is identical.

Figure 8. Detail of tiny sign.

Figure 9. Vignette 3 (image courtesy Vern Alexander.)

NBNCo engraved and printed Vignette 3 which shows all the common details and the quality of The Crossing original. At 4.88 inches wide (124 mm), Vignette 3 is a bit narrower than Vignette 2, but wider than Vignette 1. It retains all original details, but with these expansions:

  • two full passengers cars with the end of the train visible
  • trees and bushes between the viewer and the second passenger car
  • trees beyond the passenger cars
  • an open field and a rural station added to the right
  • seven people and a porter on the station platform 
  • two rounded mountains and secondary hills in the distance.

Whle Vignettes 2 and 3 show similar modifications (passenger cars, trees, and rocks added to the left), they are not identical. In other words, the modifications were made separately and neither is a direct derivative of the other. The first appearance of Vignette 3 currently known on railroad securities was in 1879.

Table 2.  Table of Vignette 3 appearances.

Known uses of Vignette 3
1879 bond Nevada Central Railway (Co)
1881 bond Carolina Central Railroad Co
1882 stock The Virginia Midland Railway Co
1883 bond Carthage & Adirondack Railway Co
1883 stock The Virginia Midland Railway Co
1884 bond Milwaukee & Northern Railroad Co
1887 stock Elizabethtown Lexington & Big Sandy Railroad Co

NBNCo produced yet another vignette I am calling Vignette 4. It is similar to Vignette 1, but shows several key differences:

  • the vignette is only 3.0 inches wide (76 mm)
  • all of the cattle and people are gone
  • the tree on the right is gone
  • the locomotive has a diamond stack instead of a funnel stack
  • there is a short waterfall in the creek.

The earliest confirmed use of Vignette 4 was in 1872 as the central element of a Peruvian 1 sol bank note engraved and printed by NBNCo for El Banco de Tacna (Figure 10.)  Vignette 4 was later used on certificates from at least four American railroad companies.

Figure 10, (Image courtesy Wikimedia Commons.)

Engraved details of Vignette 4 (Figure 10) are less exacting than in Vignette 1, suggesting that a different engraver created this vignette. Speaking strictly for myself, I consider the bridge, locomotive, cattle, boy, and horseman to be crucial features of the vignette known as The Crossing. While obviously related to The Crossing, Vignette 4 (enlarged in Figure 11), is a different creation. I cannot help but wonder whether this engraving might have been closer to Hinshelwood's engraving from 1859.

Fignure 11. Vignette 4 (Author's image.)

Known uses of Vignette 4
1876 stock Michigan Midland & Canada Railroad Co
1880 bond The Housatonic Rail Road Co
1881 stock Flint & Pere Marquette Railroad Co
1883 stock The Adirondack Railway Co

Once The Crossing began to show use on NBNCo and ABNCo stocks and bonds, imitations appeared. All of the ones I have cataloged show elements copied from Version 1. No imitations of the other versions have appeared on any railroad stocks and bonds cataloged to date. The quality of those look-alikes ranges from excellent to poor. Although variations of The Crossing are plentiful, it would nonetheless be a huge challenge for a collector to compile a complete collection of all variations. So far, I know of lithographed imitations of The Crossing on certificates from twenty-one rail-related companies:

Known lithograph imitations of The Crossing
1870 stock St Louis & Iron Mountain Rail Road Co Arkansas Branch
1870 stock Cedar Rapids & Missouri River Rail Road Co
1874 stock Baltimore & Drum Point Railroad Co
1875 bond Illinois & St Louis Railroad & Coal Co
1876 bond Henderson & Overton Branch Railway Co
1877 stock Rock Island & Peoria Railway Co
1878 bond Burlington & Lamoille Rail Road Co
1880 stock Lexington & Southern Railway Co
1880 stock Kansas City Leavenworth & Atchison Railway Co
1880 stock Columbus & Maysville Railway Co Southern Division
18-- stock The Solomon Valley Phillipsburg & Northern Railroad Co
n.d. stock Calvert Waco & Brazos Valley Railroad Co
1884 stock The Springfield & Southern Railway Co
1885 stock The Cleveland Indiana & St Louis Railroad Co
1886 stock The Western Tie Co
1886 bond Timber Hill Township Kansas (in aid of Kansas Nebraska & Dakota Railway Co)
1887 stock Arkansas & Louisiana Railway Co
1892 bond Chase County Kansas (in aid of Chicago Kansas & Western Railroad Co)
1899 stock The Kansas & Southeastern Railroad Co
1902 stock Rock Island & Mercer County Railroad Co
1910 stock Idaho Northern Railway Co Ltd
1916 stock Sussex Railroad Co


37th Congress, Feb. 25, 1863, National Bank Act of 1863, (offically An Act to provide a national currency, secured by a pledge of United States stocks, and to provide for the circulation and redemption thereof,) Session III, Chapter 58.
38th Congress, Mar. 3, 1865, Internal Revenue Act of 1865 (officially An act to provide internal revenue to support the government, to pay interest on the public debt, and for other purposes,) Statutes at Large, Session II, Chapter 78, Sec 6.
Heritage Auctions, Dec. 7, 2010, Internet Currency Auction #31012, Lot 31199 (North Western note.)
Heritage Auctions, Sep 5, 2018, Long Beach Expo Currency Signature Auction #3567, Lot 22393 (Merchants & Mechanics note.)
Gene Hessler: 1993, The Engraver's Line, BNR Press.
Arlie R. Slabaugh, Jan., 1991, "'The Crossing' vignette migrates through notes and securities" in The Bank Note Reporter.
R. M. Smythe & Co, Mar. 28-29, 2006, New York City Spring Auction 160, Lot 1544 (Attica note.)
Wikimedia Commons, user Godot13, Oct 4, 2014, photograph of $500 CSA note in possession of the National Numismatic Collection, National Museum of American History (Smithsonian Institution.)