Olan Douglas Chiles was one of the outstanding check collectors in America. Chiles amassed and classified thousands of checks autographed by thousands of famous people or individuals who were in some way associated with famous personalities. His methods of check collecting, the quality of his collection, and the amazing number of checks he amassed are a credit to his perseverance and ingenuity.
Chiles was born April 14, 1931 in South Carolina. As a youngster he grew up knowing baseball player Shoeless Joe Jackson. Although Chiles began to collect autographs much later in his life, he always regretted not obtaining an autograph from Jackson. Jackson was illiterate; his autograph was simply a pattern that he emulated. Jackson's wife fulfilled many requests for her husband's autographs. Chiles had many in-person opportunities to obtain authentic autographs from this legendary baseball player.
However, Chiles was successful in obtaining other important autographs on checks from famous neighbors. Chiles obtained an autograph on a personal check from Francis Rogallo, the inventor of Rogallo Wing that served as the precursor for the hang glider. Rogallo’s check for one cent was written in 1983, several years after Chiles began his foray in check collecting.
Chiles’ method for collecting checks was simple: he would send a check for $2.00 to a notable person with a letter that described his passion for check collecting along with a request for sending a $1.00 check made payable to himself in a self-addressed stamped envelope. Of course he was not always successful. In 1981, aviator James Doolittle responded to Chiles’s inquiry by sending him a signed card and returning his check for $2.00.
Chiles bought cancelled checks signed by virtually anyone who was associated with fame, either as single pieces or by purchasing the entire inventory of an estate. At one time he possessed most, if not all, of the business checks signed by American entertainer Rudy Vallee. Chiles continued his check collecting hobby through his entire life while living in such diverse places as Bowie, Maryland and Oceanside, California. In 1999, he moved back to his home state of South Carolina from his residence in California.
Chiles maintained his checks in individual Mylar-D currency holders. On the upper right corner of the holder he wrote in a black felt marker the name of the check signer and their significance. The bottom left of the holder had a code written by Chiles in back felt marker that described the date and cost of his acquisition. The code was virtually uninterpretable to anyone except Chiles. Many of the autographed checks that currently appear on the autograph market are still enclosed in Mylar-D holders that once belonged to Chiles.
Chiles loved the chase of collecting autographs on checks. He enjoyed learning about the accomplishments of check signers and the significance of events associated with a check signed by a famous individual. For example, he possessed a check signed by Sir John Franklin that was associated with his ill-fated expedition of the treacherous Northwest Passage. Another check owned by Chiles was by Mark Lemon, cofounder of the famous British weekly paper known as Punch. The check by Lemon was dated May 22, 1870, the same day that Mark Lemon died.
In his senior adult years Chiles sold large portions of his check collection. A collection of marvelous signed checks that he consigned to respected New York City autograph dealer Charles Hamilton proved to be a disaster. Hamilton declared bankruptcy and Chiles lost his consignment. Years later Chiles jokingly reminisced about how he considered taking framed autographs from Hamilton’s New York City gallery as compensation for his lost consignment of treasured autographs. In 1994, Chiles also had a negative experience with an autograph auction held at the Roosevelt Hotel in Los Angeles. Many of his checks signed by famous historic personalities were sold for considerably less than his acquisition costs. Discouraged by his experience selling autographs at auction, Chiles sold most of his autographed checks to private collectors.
Chiles died March 23, 2010 in Simpsonville, South Carolina, and is buried alongside his wife Carlene Judith Chiles in Woodlawn Memorial Park, Greenville, South Carolina. His son Gary consigned the bulk of his remaining check collection to an auction company in Los Angeles where they were sold on December 17, 2010 for almost $40,000. His consigned check collection consisted of over 19,000 checks, including 14,000 that were signed by Rude Vallee and 250 that were signed by Count Laslo Szechenyi (husband of Gladys Vanderbilt). Some of the highlights of his consigned collection were checks signed by Jay Silverheels (Tonto from The Lone Ranger), Roscoe “Fatty” Arbuckle, and entertainer Eddie Cantor. The television program Hollywood Treasures featured several fascinating checks from his collection including those signed by Frank Sinatra, Alfred Hitchcock, Orson Welles, John Belushi, and Jack Haley.
Olan D. Chiles was an affable, bespectacled, engaging check collector with a ready laugh who pursued his hobby with a passion. Always willing to share his enthusiasm and knowledge, Chiles wrote several landmark articles for The Check Collector. Chiles is remembered by those fortunate to know him for his down-to-earth style and for assembling one of the finest check collections of the twentieth century.
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