Paper Money

Grinnell proofs sell for $504,000 in Heritage sale

The individual face and back proofs for the $500 Series 1918 Blue Seal Federal Reserve note are from a nine-denomination set once part of the Albert Grinnell Collection.

Images courtesy of Heritage Auctions.

The $504,000 paid, including buyer’s fee, was in line with expectations for a unique set of large-size Federal Reserve note proofs at Heritage Auctions’ Aug. 3 Signature Sale in Dallas. The sale was originally targeted for the canceled American Numismatic Association World’s Fair of Money in Pittsburgh in early August.

Heritage called the set the “Crowning Masterpiece of the Albert Grinnell Collection.” Grinnell’s collection is considered by most to be the greatest collection of United States paper money ever assembled. Its 5,987 lots were sold in a series of sales by Barney Bluestone in Syracuse, New York, between 1944 and 1946. The $4,050 the set realized on June 29, 1946, was the highest price paid for any item in the collection.

The set dates to the earliest days of Federal Reserve notes, which were authorized by the Federal Reserve Act signed by President Woodrow Wilson Dec. 23, 1913. It consists of 18 face and back proofs of Series 1914 and 1918 Federal Reserve notes of the $5, $10, $20, $50, $100, $500, $1,000, $5,000, and $10,000 denominations.

The $5 through $100 proofs are Series 1914 Red Seal notes from the New York district, all with serial number B0000000A. The red serial numbers and Treasury seal, and the black district seal and district number (2-B), are pasted in place. The engraved signatures are those of John Burke and W.G. McAdoo. Both the face and back designs are the same as on the issued notes. All have SAMPLE stamped on the face.

The $500 through $10,000 proofs are Series 1918 Blue Seal notes, also from the New York district and with serial number 0000000. Again, the blue Treasury seal, black district seal, black district number, and blue serial numbers are pasted in place. The engraved signatures are of Burke and Carter Glass. SPECIMEN is stamped on the face of each.

The plates used were the same as those for the actual currency, but instead of currency paper, they are printed on card stock.

It is possible that up to seven sets of the Series 1914 Red Seal proof were printed by the Bureau of Engraving and Printing The high-denomination 1918 blue seals are even rarer. In fact, the $5,000 and $10,000 notes are only collectible as part of this set. There are no examples of either denomination in private hands. The five examples known of each are in either the Smithsonian or one of the Federal Reserve Bank collections.

It is probable that Grinnell originally got the set by virtue of his friendly relationships within the Treasury Department. This had to have occurred before 1926, when new policies for handling proofs stipulated that they could not be distributed to outsiders, but rather must be destroyed.

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