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Making a Bank Note: A Study of El Banco del Estado de Chihuahua Bromide Proofs

20 Dec

by Connor Falk

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The history of El Banco del Estado de Chihuahua (the Bank of the State of Chihuahua) is brief and steeped in the turbulent times of the Mexican Revolution. It was founded on December 12, 1913, as decreed by General Francisco “Pancho” Villa, military governor of the state of Chihuahua and commander of the División del Norte, an armed revolutionary faction. The bank’s stated purpose, in addition to issuing currency, was to “facilitate loans on properties that fully guarantee capital, especially poor farmers who need pecuniary elements to tillage their lands.” The bank’s capital was 10 million pesos, to be distributed in bank notes backed by gold.

notes

Work began quickly to locate a designer and printer for the bank’s notes, and after several unsuccessful forays, El Banco del Estado de Chihuahua contracted with the American Bank Note Company (ABNCo). Design work began in September 1914 with bank representatives choosing the vignettes to be used.

The accompanying lot, #1397, represents an interesting look at the bank note design process. The lot is a unique set of fourteen photographic proofs (also known as bromide proofs) made in 1914 by the ABNCo when designing notes for El Banco del Estado de Chihuahua. These prototypes consist of both obverses and reverses of all seven denominations issued by the bank, including the rare 1 peso denomination.

A variety of obverse vignettes were used for the notes; the reverse vignettes, with minor variations, feature the seal of Mexico. The obverse of the 500 pesos features an allegorical design of two women, “Work” and “Knowledge,” with two young boys and El Banco del Estado de Chihuahua’s monogram in the center. The obverse of the 100 pesos depicts an armored Ceres seated with two men representing agriculture and industry in front.

The obverse vignettes on the lower denominations depict scenes rather than allegorical designs. The 50 pesos features a train pulling into a station, the 20 pesos illustrates a harvesting scene, the 10 pesos shows a rancher driving cattle, and the 5 pesos displays a miner using a pneumatic drill.

Of interest is the 1 peso obverse, which features a logging scene as the central vignette. The same scene is found on the Canadian Bank of Ottawa 5 dollars note from 1906 (Charlton 565-20-06). The later issues from 1913 (Charlton 565-22-02 and 565-26-02) feature a similar scene with the bottom row of logs removed, possibly to avoid cluttering a smaller vignette space than the 1906 issue. However, for the Chihuahua peso, ABNCo designers removed six loggers that were standing on the log pile. On the bromide, this was achieved by pasting the reworked scene directly over the original vignette. Why this change was made is unknown, though it’s possible the six loggers, who are white, looked out of place on what was to become a Mexican bank note.

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The central vignette of the 1 peso (note the whiter paper pasted over the original design)

Other examples of “vignette sharing” were commonplace for ABNCo notes. The following issues share vignettes with El Banco del Estado de Chihuahua notes:

  • Canada, Union Bank of Canada, 5 dollars, 1903-1912, SCWPM-S1493 and S1495, same obverse vignette (harvest scene) as the Chihuahua 20 pesos
  • Haiti, Republique d’Haiti, 1 gourde, 1914, SCWPM-131, same reverse vignette (harvest scene) as on the obverse of the Chihuahua 20 pesos (an example of an overprinted provisional issue, SCWPM-140a is in this auction as lot 2305)
  • Venezuela, Banco de Venezuela, 20 bolívares, SCWPM-S286, S291, S301, and S311, 1910-1936, same obverse vignette (rancher scene) as the Chihuahua 10 pesos

This is not an exhaustive list and I encourage others to provide more examples.

The other interesting aspect about the 1 peso note is its rarity. Although initial plans called for printing one million 1 peso notes, bank officials put the denomination on hold. Instead, an additional two thousand of the 500 pesos note were printed to cover the one million peso shortfall. Although ABNCo received word that plates should be prepared for the denomination, none were ever printed. Just three proofs as well as the bromide in this set are known. What should have been the most common note in the series became the rarest one instead.

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The greyed out “L” on the 500 pesos

The other denominations are more common, and this bromide set provides insight into their design process. Edits were made on the notes throughout production. The 500 pesos obverse bromide displays this best. Above the central vignette, a banner with the decree date reads PAGARA AL PORTADOR EN EFECTIVO SEGÚN DECRETO DEL 12 DE DICIEMBRE DEL MIL NOVECIENTOS TRECE. The second “DEL” should be “DE”; the ABNCo designers realized this and greyed out the erroneous “L.” On the printed notes, the sentence reads correctly and the letters are slightly shifted to fill in the space.

Another design change on the 500 pesos is the change in signatories. Spaces are available for the interventor del gobierno (government controller), the cajero (cashier), and the presidente (president of the bank); however, presidente is crossed out and gerente (manager) is written below. All printed notes display gerente printed in place of presidente.1397_500pesogerente

1397_oro

Changes were made to both the signatories and the gold backing clause.

A major change between the working copies and the printed notes is the valuation. On September 14, 1914, the valuation of the 10 pesos read ORO MEXICANO. The 5 pesos bromide displays a similar valuation stating VALOR ORO MEXICANO, but by October 1, 1914, this was changed to VALOR ORO NACIONAL, as seen on the rest of the bromides as well as the finished printed notes.

Although the notes were printed and delivered in early 1915, El Banco del Estado de Chihuahua would not exist much longer. Prendergast notes that “because of the depreciation of Villa’s currency after his defeat at Celaya (April 6-15, 1915), within a year the bank found it could no longer operate.” By November 23, the bank had closed, having never issued the notes both the ABNCo and bank officials had worked hard on. Instead, the series found new life first as advertising and novelty items, and now as numismatic pieces to be bought, sold and researched.

Acknowledgements

A full history of El Banco del Estado de Chihuahua written by Simon Prendergast can be found online at http://www.papermoneyofchihuahua.com. His work has been invaluable to my interest and research on this bank note series.

Mexican Paper Money by Cory Frampton, Duane Douglas, Alberto Hidalgo, and Elmer Powell is an invaluable tool for both El Banco del Estado de Chihuahua specialists as well as Mexican bank notes in general.

Notes can be seen and purchased following these links:

Mexico, Banco del Estado de Chihuahua, Bromide “Photographic” Proofs Set, 1914  

 The “Mesuno Hoard” Revisited 

19 Nov
(First Published April 7, 2009) by Daniel Frank Sedwick, LLC.

Shipwreck gold cobs are valuable and exciting items today, but in 1959 you could not give them away for much more than melt value. They had very little public interest until massive quantities of them from the 1715 Fleet off the east coast of Florida started to hit the market in the 1960s. But there was a small warm-up act before that big show, and its name was the “Mesuno Hoard” of 1636.

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Aerial view of the Magdalena River, taken during a flight to Medellin n 2014. (source: AGB)

The first Mesuno coin to hit the market was in 1939, offered by Spink of London as a Bogotá two escudos cob “found at the shores of the Magdalena river” (for the whopping price of about £15), but sales of these coins did not begin in earnest until 20 years later, with public offerings by Schulman and Stack’s Coin Galleries in New York (for about $50 to $75 each), backed up by hundreds of specimens that went directly into jewelry. These were all Bogotá two escudos cobs of 1628-35* (mostly 1635, but usually without the date visible), with mintmark NR (for Nuevo Reino) and assayer A (for Alonso de Anuncibay) or P (for Miguel Pinto Camargo) when visible, and usually in choice UNC grade (what we would call Mint State today) as from a hoard originating in Colombia. It was known that the hoard was found in 1936 at a bend known as “El Mesuno” in the Magdalena River near the town of Honda in Colombia. Also called the Yuma River, the Magdalena is the longest river in Colombia, flowing northward about 950 miles through the western half of the country, navigable by ship through much of its lower reaches but plagued by shifting sand bars at the mouth of its delta. There was a short article about the “Mesuno Hoard” by C.S. Wilcox in 1943 in Stack’s Numismatic Review, republished by that firm in 1959, but little else was said about the hoard, and still in 1959 no one but hardcore numismatists cared about these lumpy cob coins.

The 1960s changed everything, however, with the introduction of thousands of 1715-Fleet coins to the general public and the publication of important studies by X.F. Calicó and A.M. Barriga-Villalba finally establishing a knowledge base about the early Colombian cob coinage. It soon became clear that the 1636 “Mesuno Hoard” had compelling numismatic significance, since it had provided virtually the only known specimens from the first decade of production at the Bogotá mint. When properly researched by Leopoldo Cancio starting in 1959 (culminating in a series of articles in the 1970s), the discovery of the hoard was shown to have been sloppily reported in the 1930s, mostly due to intentional obfuscation by the finders. In addition to studying hundreds of the coins from the hoard personally at the Banco de La República in Bogotá, Cancio conducted some general interest research and ferreted out the names of the finders and distributors of the coins in Colombia, among other things. But as we shall see, there was much more to the story.

In November of 2007 the Colombian newspaper El Nuevo Día published an article about the “Mesuno Hoard” with some interesting and rather dramatic revelations, which we summarize here. Entitled “Así se despilfarró el tesoro de El Mesuno,” meaning “This is how the Mesuno treasure was squandered,” the article tells how three fishermen brothers by the name of Guzmán found the hoard and rapidly depleted their profits from sales of the coins. It is basically an interview with 89-year-old Don Alfredo Gutiérrez, who in the 1930s was the best friend of the youngest of the three brothers, and it reads like a Latin American novela.

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“Tesoro del Mesuno” exhibit: Casa de Moneda – Coleccion Numismatica del Banco de la Republica. Bogota, Colombia. 2014. (source: AGB)

Gutiérrez relates that on August 22, 1936, at about noon, his friend Domingo Guzmán went down to the river to check on fishing lines. While there, he noticed something bright in the water, like the sun reflecting off a metallic surface, and jumped into the river to investigate. There he found the remains of a small iron box, inside which were more than 1600 gold cobs as well as gold chains and diadems (ornamental headbands). Domingo immediately grabbed some of the coins and then buried the treasure box on land and placed a rock to mark the location (hence the enduring myth that this was a “land hoard”). Screaming something like “We are saved! God sent us these coins!,” Domingo ran to inform his two older brothers (identified by Cancio as Aristóbulo and Jorge), who apparently thought he had been eaten by a caimán (big alligator), since he had taken so long to return from the river.

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Bogota, Colombia, cob 2 escudos, (16)28 assayerA, from the “Mesuno Hoard”

The three brothers then rushed down to the river to the place where Domingo had buried the treasure. They divided the coins into three even parts and put them into metal cans of a type used for butter. Then they also divided the chains and diadems three ways. Gutiérrez made a comment that back then greed and jealousy were not an issue; nevertheless, before telling the news to his brothers, Domingo had secretly set aside a few cobs that he later gave to their mother.

 The first thing the Guzmán brothers did with their new-found wealth was to start frequenting a casa de citas, literally translated as a “dating house,” a euphemism for brothel. One of the most famous brothels in an area of Honda known as the zona tolerancia (“tolerance zone”) was located on Quebrada Seca street and was owned by Tulia Manzanares (the “madam”). Every time the brothers visited the brothel, the madam called out something like: “Girls, the coin doctors are here!” As the girls sat with the brothers drinking and dancing, the brothers paid for the favors with their gold cobs, up to five per girl—about a $10,000 value to collectors today!

As the main river port in its time, and the only means of transportation between the Caribbean coast and the inland capital city of Bogotá, Honda was very prosperous and was an obligatory stop for merchants distributing goods. Englishmen, for example, could always be found there trying to negotiate the price of tobacco that was cultivated in the Department (State) of Tolima (which contained the town and municipality of Honda). The substantial foreign presence there attracted the most beautiful prostitutes from all over Colombia and around the world (particularly Italy and Cuba) to work in Honda.

 So it seems most of the gold-cob fortune was wasted on luxuries, girls and liquor. But the article also relates a couple more subtle tales about the brothers and their gold. For one, in the middle of town the Guzmáns opened a puesto de carne (butcher shop), which at first sounds like a legitimate and prudent use of the money; but the truth was that, according to Gutiérrez, they sold libra y media por el precio de una libra, meaning 1½ pounds of meat for the price of one pound, with the presumed intention of attracting their female friends. The second “new rich” tale involved the requisition of a dozen custom-made suits for each of them to use on—wink wink—special occasions.

 Of course not everything was drunken, carnal fun for the Guzmán brothers. The last story we hear is that they bought a car, probably with their final few Mint State “bogeys,” and drove to Medellín for more fun. Domingo eventually returned to Honda penniless and so desperate that he stole some chickens, got caught, and landed in jail for a few weeks. Still despondent after his release in the first week of February 1937, Domingo Guzmán committed suicide in dramatic fashion during the celebration of Santa Lucía by blowing himself up with a stick of dynamite in the center of town. Nobody seems to know whatever happened to his older brothers.

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Bogota, Colombia, cob 2 escudos, 1635 assayer A, from the “Mesuno hoard”

For this article the newspaper also contacted the Banco de La República in Bogotá, which had eventually acquired most of the gold cobs, presumably from the people who had been paid with them by the Guzmán brothers, but also from other lucky fishermen who had found some loose coins that had spilled from the original chest. (The ones found by the Guzmáns, it should be noted, were in choice condition compared to some of the loose coins.) Cancio identified two of the fisherman as José Ardila and Manuel Valdés, who sold hundreds of coins to wealthy locals Victor Guillén and David Londoño, with the bank’s permission, as it was not otherwise legal to sell the coins within the country. The Bank confirmed that today its numismatic collection still publicly displays some 500 of these gold cobs. The other 1100 or so cobs went out of the country, with the majority of the coins ending up in New York, as we have seen.

 As for why the hoard was in the river in the first place, Angélica Araújo, vice director of the numismatic collection of the Banco de la República, commented that archives mention the loss of a champán (a large boat used in river navigation) in the Magdalena River at the time, and she believes these coins may have been a shipment to Cartagena to finance the construction of the castle of San Felipe. Since that would mean a whole ship, and not just one chest of coins, it is believed that the bulk of the treasure is still in the river, yet to be found. Perhaps of more importance to collectors now is that we can and should refer to the coins as true “shipwreck treasure,” in the sense of Spanish doubloons from a Spanish ship, and not just a “hoard” with no specific record of loss or intent. Even if we do not have a name for the ship that yielded these coins, the “Mesuno hoard” will always be important as one of the world’s largest single sources of gold cobs, and practically the only source for early Bogota two escudos.

 ———-

* The dates 1627 and 1636 are also possible from this hoard. Prior to the revelation of stylistic differences (particularly the size of the fleurs in the quadrants of the cross) between the early 1630s and the mid-1630s, it is likely that coins formerly attributed to 1630 were actually 1636, as in so many cases just the bottoms of the digits of the date are visible. And while no 1627 specimens are officially recorded for this hoard (or known so far),[2009] that date is clearly possible, as there is record of the Bogotá mint having received enough gold in December of that inaugural year to make about 750 two escudos, and also Calicó mentions the existence of an assayer-P specimen with overdate 1628/7.

The Admiral Vernon Medals of 1739 and 1741

10 Oct

by Daniel Frank Sedwick

If the heart of collecting is visual and intellectual stimulation mixed with historical study, then the “Admiral Vernon” medals crafted in England in the period 1739-1741 are the perfect collectibles. The sheer number of different varieties of these medals makes collecting them both challenging and feasible. Fascination with these historic pieces has spawned more than a dozen studies over the past 180+ years, culminating in the book Medallic Portraits of Admiral Vernon (2010), by John Adams and Fernando Chao (the “AC” reference we quote in our lot descriptions). With this well-illustrated book alone, one can spend many enjoyable hours attributing each piece down to exact die details. The biggest challenge with these medals is condition, as they were heavily used and abused, which makes the present offering comprising the collection of Richard Stuart an exceptional opportunity.

The conflict began with the capture and torture of the British merchant ship captain Robert Jenkins by the Spanish off Havana, Cuba, in 1731. His alleged punishment for smuggling was the removal of one of his ears, which he physically produced for British Parliament in 1739, setting off what became known as the “War of Jenkins’ Ear” starting that year, effectively “Great Britain’s first protracted naval war in the Americas.”[1] In a burst of vengeful braggadocio, the experienced British admiral Edward Vernon reportedly said he could take the Spanish port of Portobelo, Panama, “with six ships only,” the larger goal being to disrupt the flow of Spanish shipping of treasure from the New World. It is easy in retrospect to see why the Spanish viewed this as simple piracy under the guise of war. While the British lauded Vernon as a hero and the Spanish vilified him as a pirate, the truth is somewhere in between.

Using Jamaica as a base of operations, Vernon made good on his boast in December of 1739 (with Commodore Charles Brown), but from there things went south. While news of his victory at Portobelo was reaching England, Vernon’s squadrons were battling storms and the threat of a French fleet. Vernon’s subsequent attack on Cartagena, Colombia, in March of 1740 was unsuccessful and resulted in his taking a sort of consolation prize: Fort Chagre in Panama (near Portobelo). More than a year went by, as both sides beefed up forces, the British side (including ships under Rear Admiral Chaloner Ogle) eventually becoming “the largest force yet deployed in the West Indies.”[2] A renewed assault on Cartagena utilizing over 100 ships and 12,600 troops (almost a third of which were colonial Americans, thus representing “the first deployment of Americans abroad”[3]) began in the spring of 1741 and delivered Vernon’s ships and foot-soldiers into the harbor before yellow fever and miscommunication between Vernon and Brigadier-General Thomas Wentworth forced a retreat. Most interestingly for us numismatists, upon breaching the harbor the boastful Vernon had already sent word back to England of his “victory” at Cartagena against his Spanish counterpart, Admiral Blas de Lezo, spawning a new round of medals dated 1741. Vernon’s final attempt was against Cuba that same year, initially planned for Havana (and, once again, reported back to England as a victory there) but instead visited upon Santiago on the south coast and successfully repelled by the Spanish and their mosquito-borne partner, yellow fever, as in Cartagena. In sum, Vernon’s only victories were in relatively quiet and unimportant Panama.

The medals themselves depict all these events in the most favorable light possible for Vernon, to the point of comical misrepresentation. Beyond the basic organization based on location (Portobelo, Fort Chagre, Cartagena and Havana), these medals are grouped according to legends (on both sides, often with errors) and figures of Vernon and the other players in the events (often almost cartoon-like in quality), in addition to icons like cannons and ships and scenery like forts and cities (most depicted without regard to perspective or scale). Minute details like where Vernon’s finger points and where a church steeple sticks up are integral to pinpointing exact dies. Since so many of these medals are well worn, it is not always to make attributions right away, but almost always one small, visible detail can make the difference.

Besides a few examples in silver and tin (plus a unique specimen in gold), the primary metal used to make these pieces was copper alloyed with a variety of other metals, like zinc and tin. Often the generic term used is brass or bronze, but more specific references mention “pinchbeck,” referring to a proprietary alloy invented by a family of clock and watchmakers in London named Pinchbeck, who advertised their metal as resembling gold in color and ductility. Presumably the Pinchbecks were the makers and purveyors of the Vernon medals. Relatively few of the medals are signed by engravers, most of whom are unknown. Overall it is clear these medals were made in haste to satisfy and capitalize on demand from a brief hysteria.

While every collector seeks a reason or connection to collect a certain thing (like Richard Stuart’s connection with Panama for these medals), the Admiral Vernon medals can and should be collected simply for their “collectibility” as a well-studied series that has been appreciated by top numismatists for over 180 years.

Link To Admiral Vernon Medal Collection

[1] Adams-Chao, page 21

[2] Adams-Chao, page 22

[3] Adams-Chao, page 159

Chop Chop: Quick Guide to Chopmarks, Countermarks and Counterstamps

2 Mar

Last week, a reader asked about chopmarks on cobs and how they impact their value. That’s a field unto itself, isn’t it? But I thought it would provide a good platform to discuss the types of markings you might see on cobs and coins, namely counterstamps and countermarks (as well as chopmarks).

What’s a chopmark?

Chopmark coin, Lot 1040, TA 9

Chopmark coin, Lot 1040, Auction #9

This is a small mark or marks, sometimes recognizable as a Chinese character, that can appear on either or both sides of a coin. Typically these were made by Chinese bankers when Spanish-American coins circulated in the Orient to ensure that the composition of the coin was genuine. The coin may even have passed from one banker to another who verified its authenticity with a different mark and hence some coins bear several unrelated markings. And, chopmarks may have been added in other areas of southeast Asia such as Vietnam, so while we might say that a coin bears a Chinese chopmark, that chopmark might not necessarily have been put on the coin in China. As you might expect, there are collector groups (the Chopmark Collectors Club, for example) and books (Chopmarked Coins, A History, by Colin Gullberg) that are devoted to the topic. While chopmarks are interesting, they generally do not add value to the coin.

What’s a countermark?

Puerto Rico countermark

Puero Rico countermark, Lot 1459 Treasure Auction #15

Unlike chopmarks which were added to coins by a banker or merchant verifying the genuineness of a coin, countermarks were put on coins by a government or by official permission to a merchant to allow a coin to be circulated in the country where the mark originated. It was a way to use another country’s currency. Sometimes countermarks are more valuable than the host coin: for example, the Puerto Rican fleur-de-lis mark on a coin increases its value because there are very few Puerto Rican coins for collectors to collect. The countermark is the next best thing! Also, with countermarks, you’re adding another layer to the value of the coin since without the mark, you have one country’s coin to examine and with the countermark you have another country or merchant to add to the mix. Hence, countermarks can add numismatic value. If you want to learn something about merchant countermarks, Merchant Countermarks on World Coins by Gregory G. Brunk is a good place to start.

What’s a counterstamp?

Counterstamp coin, Lot 842, Treasure Auction #16

Counterstamp coin, Lot 842, Treasure Auction #16

These odd creatures are double-sided countermarks, sort of like using an incomplete hole puncher to punch both sides of a coin. Like countermarks, a counterstamp can add numismatic value since there are now two countries or an important merchant that are represented on one coin. Unlike countermarks, the stamp on each side of the coin is different.

We will feature a few coins from each category (chopmarked, countermarked, counterstamped) in our upcoming auction, Sedwick Treasure Auction #17, in April.

Assayer P Coins minted under Charles and Joanna from the Mexico City Mint

21 Jan

Did you know that the Banco de Mexico has photos of almost all of their Charles and Joanna coin holdings online? A friend pointed me to the site last year, and I have been slowly incorporating these coins into my census database of both early and late series Charles and Joanna coins of all denominations. I’ll share more surprises from the Banco de Mexico’s large and beautiful trove of coins in later blogs, but for now I want to tell you something about Assayer P coins.

It finally dawned on me that there is a distinction between earlier and later coins minted under Assayer P, and you can tell this in several ways, but the most distinguishing characteristic can be found in the pillars-side legend. If you have any of these coins, take a look. Does the legend begin with HISPANIE or HISPANIARVM? If it’s HISPANIE, then you have a coin of the earlier variety.

To confuse matters more, there are a couple of varieties of HISPANIE.

Lot 251, Sedwick Treasure Auction #15, May 2014

Lot 251, Sedwick Treasure Auction #15, May 2014

I’m not sure which coins were made before the others, but one variety (pictured above) is KIS : PANIE (note the K instead of H) and the other is simply HISPANIE. You can even see that the KIS : PANIE variety is followed by INDIAR : AM instead of INDIARVM! Below is an example of HISPANIE with no funny letters.

Lot 252, Sedwick Treasure Auction #15, May 2014

Lot 252, Sedwick Treasure Auction #15, May 2014

The later varieties (see below) all use HISPANIARVM ET INDIARVM. It doesn’t matter which way the rhomboid panel points–left or right–or what sort of ornaments were used as stops between words.

Lot 253, Sedwick Treasure Auction #15, May 2014

Lot 253, Sedwick Treasure Auction #15, May 2014

Why were coins with HISPANIE minted before coins with HISPANIARVM? You have to go back to Assayer R, the predecessor to Assayer P and look at his coins. He used HISPANIE (with often a retrograde N), and it stands to reason that when Assayer P took over at the mint, he started with HISPANIE before settling on the more common HISPANIARVM.

You can also see the HISPANIE vs. HISPANIARVM varieties on 1 and 2 reales denominations.

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