Paper Money

National gold bank notes are rare, but 30 are in sale

The presence of an astounding 30 California national gold bank notes, the largest offering of such notes in over 70 years, dominates the Heritage Currency Signature auction at the Central States Numismatic Society convention outside Chicago on April 26. Dustin Johnston, director of currency auctions for Heritage, said this is “the single finest offering of national gold bank notes at auction since Albert A. Grinnell’s collection was sold by Barney Bluestone in the 1940s. Grinnell had nearly three dozen, including many of these rare types.”

This category of federal currency is among the rarest and most unusual. In Paper Money of the United States, we call them the “most romantic of all American currency issues.” Gold bank notes trace their existence to the California Gold Rush, when so much gold was trading hands daily that it was impossible for local banks to keep up with it. The national gold banks were created by an act of Congress in July 1870 to help alleviate the situation. The act established 10 gold banks, nine in California and one in Boston, under the same National Banking Act that authorized national bank notes.

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Evidence that the notes were well-accepted is that the normal condition in which they are found today is usually Very Good or lower. They are hardly ever seen in a condition better than Very Fine, and then, restorations and repairs are to be expected.

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Surviving notes issued by the First National Gold Bank of San Francisco far outnumber those from all others. Yet, the Heritage sale offers notes from each of the California banks (those from the Kidder National Gold Bank in Boston never entered circulation). Foremost among them is a Friedberg 1161 (as cataloged in Paper Money of the United States by Arthur and Ira Friedberg) $50 note from the Farmers National Gold Bank at San Jose that has an estimated price of $350,000 to $550,000 in PCGS Currency Very Fine 20, one of which sold for $178.50 in the Grinnell sale. 

Also expected to reach six-figure results are $100 notes from banks in Santa Barbara, Oakland, and Petaluma, a San Francisco $20 note, an Oakland $10 issue, and several other notes from Santa Barbara and Petaluma.

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