Paper Money

Treasury notes await bidders at Stack’s Bowers March auction

Stack’s Bowers Galleries’ March 25 auction in Las Vegas offers examples of both the Series 1890 and Series 1891 $100 Treasury notes. Both are rare, with an example of the 1891 note last seen at auction in 2012.

All images courtesy of Stack’s Bowers Galleries.

Some of the most recognizable notes in United States paper money collecting are featured among the items in a 542-lot auction in Las Vegas held March 25 by Stack’s Bowers Galleries. Nine of the notes are offered with estimated prices of $100,000 or above.

Included are the only two types of $100 Treasury notes ever issued, and the rarer one will likely sell for the lower price.

The “common” one is the famous Friedberg 377 Series 1890 “Watermelon Note” with the ornate large oval zeroes amid intricate lathe work on the reverse that are responsible for the nickname. It is graded Choice Extremely Fine 45 by PCGS Banknote. Only 35 of these are known. It is offered with a $200,000 to $300,000 estimate and a starting bid of $120,000.

As attractive as the Watermelon Note has always been to the eye, it was also somewhat attractive to counterfeiters, so for the Series 1891 $50 Treasury note a change was made to an “open back” motif, with more unprinted areas, under the rationale that it would be inspected more closely. Only 13 of these are currently recorded, with five of them permanently in collections that cannot be offered for sale. Paper Money Guaranty graded this F-378 note Fine 12, Restorations. The sale will mark only the second appearance of an F-378 note at public auction since 2012, when Stack’s Bowers sold a Fine 15 for $97,750.

The faces of the notes are the same except for the size and color of the seal, with a bust of Adm. David Glasgow Farragut.

A triumvirate of the most exclusive Treasury notes is completed by one of 22 known F-376 $50 notes, of which only 15 are available to collectors. This Series 1891 Open Back issue is the only type of $50 Treasury note. It has a profile bust of William Seward, secretary of state from 1860 to 1869, and best known today for buying Alaska from Russia. It is graded Extremely Fine 40 by PMG. It was last sold by Stack’s Bowers in 2012 for $138,000.

The highest-priced note in the auction, with a starting bid of $180,000 and an estimate of about double that, is the first piece of U.S. currency to feature the American eagle. The F-167a Series 1863 legal tender note is one of four known graded Choice Uncirculated 63, and of the 23 listed in the Track and Price census, only one, with Uncirculated 65 rating, is graded higher. Stack’s Bowers Galleries sold that one early last year for $432,000.

The sale’s 65 national bank notes include a trophy, the finest known First Charter Period Series 1875 $100 national bank note (F-460) from The Metropolitan National Bank of Cincinnati (Ohio), grade by PMG in About Uncirculated 55 quality. $500 and $1,000 national bank notes are not collectible, and fewer than 100 are known of the First Charter $100 nationals, with none graded higher than this one. The back vignette is John Trumbull’s painting, Declaration of Independence (which was brought back to U.S. currency on the $2 Federal Reserve note in 1976 on the nation’s bicentennial).

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