The Scandalous Story of the 1891 $1,000 Silver Certificate

This $1,000 dollar silver certificate may look like an ordinary bill, but the woman on the left has drama surrounding her the likes of which you wouldn’t expect.

In June 2013, one of two existing bills sold for $2.6 million, a record price. The only other bill of this type known to exist is in the National Numismatic Collection at the Smithsonian.

The woman on the left looks like your typical Lady Liberty, but there’s more story to this woman who was the model for this patriotic purpose. Her real name was Josie Mansfield.

Josie was born in either 1842 or 1853, depending on the source. She started making a living in her teens by becoming an actress and showgirl in San Francisco. To make ends meet, she became a courtesan for the wealthy men of San Francisco through her beauty and charming personality.

She married an actor named James Lawler and soon after their marriage they moved to New York.

In New York, Josie met James Fisk. A brutal businessman, Fisk did such business dealings as betraying businessmen for control of the Erie Railroad and manipulating stocks. He also bought a theater to set up shows with scantily-clad women, which certainly created a reputation for him.

Josie had divorced James Lawler fairly quickly and Fisk himself supplied her with a nice house. Reportedly, the house had a walkway directly to Fisk’s office; Fisk had a wife at the time who lived away from him in Boston, so the affair between he and Josie had to be kept secret.

Here’s where the real scandal comes in. Josie had a number of affairs with both men and women, but eventually she fell in love with Edward Stokes, a business partner of James Fisk. Using Fisk’s love letters to Josie, she and Stokes tried to blackmail him for money. However, Fisk’s rather big connections helped him out when he took the pair to court. His judge friends rejected every lawsuit Josie and Stokes filed.

On January 6th, 1872 at the Grand Central Hotel, the broke and furious Stokes shot Fisk twice in the stomach. Fisk died within a few hours. Stokes served four years in prison.

Josie Mansfield, most likely sick of the drama, moved to Paris after the murder and married American lawyer Robert Livingston Reade, who was put into an asylum for alcohol and chloral hydrate addiction six years later. Josie lived the rest of her life in comfort on Reade’s enormous fortune.

You’re probably wondering where the $1,000 note comes in to all this. The engraver Charles Kennedy Burt designed the Lady Liberty based on a photo of Josie, putting a crown of stars on her head as embellishment.

So Josie Mansfield, a member of this infamous love triangle, found herself forever on the $1,000 bill. Her history and the history of the people surrounding her have been immortalized on this rare collectible.

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