Paper Money

Thonsand dollar note overlooked for 130 years

“One Thonsand Dollars.” Once its pointed out, it sits there and stares at you, causing you to wonder if you’re imagining things. For over 130 years, not a word was ever mentioned about what may be one of the most significant spelling errors to appear on a piece of U.S. paper currency produced by the Bureau of Engraving and Printing. That was, until Doug Murray got to work.

Murray, a paper money collector and researcher, as well as the best proofreader this writer has ever known, explains: “I had been looking at the Gold Certificate 1882 Smithsonian proofs on-line. First the $10,000’s, then the $5,000’s. When starting the 1882 $1,000’s (Friedberg 1218 – 1218g) I suddenly saw the word ‘Thonsand’ instead of the expected ‘Thousand.’ I thought ‘They (the BEP) did not see this mistake???’ Then even more disbelief when I next saw that all of the 1882 $1,000 plates had ‘Thonsand.’ All eight of the signature combinations had repeated the error.”

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He couldn’t believe it. He said in an email “Art: I was looking at Smithsonian proofs on-line and noticed the word Thousand spelled as Thonsand on Gold 1882 $1000’s. Is this new to you?”

It was new, and not only to me. A search of selected available sales records going back to Barney Bluestone’s Grinnell sales of 1944 to 1946 show that no mention of the error has ever been made in auction descriptions of the note from then until now.

Murray is authoring an article with Peter Huntoon in an upcoming issue of the Society of Paper Money Collectors’ Paper Money that discusses his discovery. Their surprising conclusion is that although most of the lettering on the printing plate was composed using metal rolls of characters from a lettering technology system developed by BEP Chief Engraver George Casilear (see Huntoon’s presentation at the 2017 IPMS in Kansas City and the subsequent 2018 article in Paper Money), the line bearing the denomination on the face was engraved by hand. As proof of this, the researchers point out that if had been done using Casilear’s patented system, the letters would be identical. But if you look closely at the three examples of the letter “n” in “One Thonsand Dollars,” they say, “Notice that the crossbars at the tops are all different in detail, something that could not occur if laid-in from one n from one of Casilear’s character rolls.”

As to how the engraver made such a mistake, we can only speculate. After further research, Murray found that at least one person noticed. The problem was, nothing was done about it. He came across the final proof, the one which was approved for the Lyons-Treat issue in 1906 (Friedberg 1218g). “I finally noticed,” he said, “that the BEP had written a small ‘u’ over the letter ‘n,’ indicating they noticed the error. A corrected plate was not found.”

The Track & Price census lists 28 $1,000 Series 1882 gold certificates for all signature combinations. Eleven are held by the government. The most recent appearance of what could be called the new King of Paper Money Errors is scheduled for Aug. 16, as lot 2056 (F-1218d) in the Stack’s/Bowers auction of the Joel R. Anderson Collection. When informed of Doug Murray’s discovery, Peter Treglia, the firm’s director of currency, said, “Well, I am a bit speechless … How on earth did the BEP let that happen, and how is it no one caught it until now!” 

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