A new discovery, the first-ever Series 1902 Red Seal national bank
note from the First National Bank of Ely, Nev., sold for $120,750 on
April 18 at a local auction of miscellaneous ephemera in Williston, Vt.
The quoted price includes the 15 percent buyer’s fee.
The $5 note (Friedberg 589, Charter No. 8561) was one of just 10
lots of paper money in a 451-lot sale consisting mainly of old photos,
books, posters, stamps, memorabilia, and about a dozen lots of coins.
The national bank note’s description in the online catalog of Duane Merrill
& Company belied its importance. It said only: “1902 US
First National Bank of Ely, Nevada $5 National Currency banknote –
rare, red seal, 2 folds, otherwise crisp.” It gave a starting bid of
$1,000 and a $2,000 to $5,000 estimate.
At least a few of the six bidders listed as participating obviously
did their homework and recognized the note’s uniqueness and rarity.
Richard Martineit, a Vermont collector who attended the sale and
examined the note, remarked as to its condition that it was very clean
and crisp, but that the inked bank signatures were nearly invisible (a
known occurrence on clean national bank notes).
Rather than the note being cut from its four-subject sheet, it
appears that it was torn off using a straight edge as a cutting guide.
As to the sale itself, the bidding started with an Internet bid of
$16,000 and quickly proceeded to $41,000. A war ensued from there
between two bidders who pushed the price in $1,000 increments until
the hammer fell to a floor bidder, telephone in hand, with the winning
Nevada national bank notes, and particularly the large size ones
like this note, are among the rarest and most desirable. Only 16 banks
in 13 towns issued notes, of which about 281 large-size and 992
small-size are known.
A Nevada Red Seal note from anywhere but a Reno bank is very rare.
With this discovery there are now 35 small-size and 13 large-size
notes known from First National Bank of Ely. The last recorded sale of
a large-size Ely national bank note was in November 2013 when Stack’s
Bowers Galleries sold one of five known $20 Plain Back issues in About
Uncirculated 50 for $21,150.
Ely, in the eastern part of the state, was founded as a stage coach
stop on the Pony Express. It came to prominence as somewhat of a boom
town with the discovery of copper in 1906 and its population soared
from 525 in 1900 to 2,055 in 1910. The 2010 census listed 4,255
inhabitants. Despite the town’s remoteness and small size, its total
issue of $1,001,880 in face value national bank notes ranks it fifth
in the state.
A pair of 1897 Canadian $1 and $2 notes described as in “circulated
condition” that had an estimate of $200 to $400 also raised eyebrows
as they were finally knocked down to a floor bidder at $6,500.
Ethan Merrill, a principle at the auction house, told Coin World
that he was picking up a consignment of New England paintings at an
old home in rural Vermont, and almost as an afterthought, the elderly
couple handed him an envelope containing some paper money with the
comment that they did not know what it was but that perhaps it may be
“Something,” when all was said and done, came to around $120,000.
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