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Fred M. Vinson

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The Chief Justice pays his wife’s department store account

Frederick Moore Vinson, 1890–1953.  Secretary of the Treasury; Chief Justice of the United States, 1946–1953. Personal check signed, Fred M. Vinson, as Chief Justice, March 15, 1950. 

Vinson draws this check on his bank in Louisa, Kentucky, his hometown, to pay his wife’s account at Lansburgh & Bro., a Washington, D.C., department store commonly known as “Lansburgh’s” on the corner of 7th & E Streets.  Mrs. Vinson’s account was not insignificant.  The amount of this check, $105.82, would be more than $1,100.00 today. 

Vinson and his wife, Julia Roberta Dixon Vinson, were married in Ashland, Kentucky, where this check is datelined, in 1924.  The same year Vinson was elected to Congress in a special election.

Vinson represented two Kentucky districts in the House of Representatives 1929–1938.  He later served as a judge of the United States Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit, 1937–1943; as Chief Judge of the United States Emergency Court of Appeals, 1942–1943; as the Director of the Office of Economic Stabilization, 1943–1945; as Federal Loan Administrator and as Director of the Office of War Mobilization and Reconversion, both in 1945; and for 11 months as President Harry S. Truman’s Secretary of the Treasury, 1945–1946.  In the midst of vitriol among Associate Justices—public accusations by Justice Robert H. Jackson, who thought that he should receive the appointment, that Justice Hugo L. Black plotted against him, and with Black and Justice William O. Douglas reportedly ready to resign if Jackson were appointed—Truman appointed Vinson as the 13th Chief Justice to fill the vacancy that occurred by the unexpected death of Chief Justice Harlan Fiske Stone.

Lansburgh’s, a general merchandise store, was opened in 1860 by brothers James and Gustav Lansburgh.  The company supplied the black crepe that was used for the funeral of President Abraham Lincoln.  It had the first elevator, a wooden one, installed in a commercial building in the District of Columbia.  Beginning in 1955, Lansburgh & Bro. opened branch stores in the Washington area, and by the time it went out of business in 1973, it was eighth in the Washington retail market with sales of $28.5 million.

Vinson has signed this check in blue fountain pen with his typical ornate signature.  The check has cancellation holes, a couple of ink stains, and normal bank negotiation stamps on the back that show through a bit to the front, barely touching Vinson’s signature.  The check is in fine condition.


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