Paper Money

Second example of error note heading to auction in April

The sale of the collection of Albert A. Grinnell from 1944 to 1946, considered the greatest U.S. currency sale of all time, consisted of 5,898 lots. Included were well over a hundred error notes. The opening session on Nov. 25, 1944, had 38 of them, including a unique double-denomination note, the type referred to as the “King of Errors.” Yet cataloger Barney Bluestone designated another note, with an engraving error, as “The Greatest Error in This Sale.”

At the time, Bluestone wrote, it was unlikely that another would ever present itself. It turns out there is a second, and that note will be offered by Heritage Auctions as part of the Richard Merlau error collection at the firm’s Dallas headquarters. The auction was originally scheduled for the Central States Numismatic Society Convention in Schaumburg, Illinois, from April 22 to 25, but that event was canceled due to the coronavirus pandemic.

The error is on a Friedberg 227 $1 Series 1899 Black Eagle silver certificate. It is so small that you have to know to look for it and also know that it only occurs on plate 2985, position B. Under the engraved signature of Charles H. Treat are the words “Treasurer of the United State” instead of “Treasurer of the United States.”

Merlau’s example bears the serial number H13107350. The Gengerke census lists it as being sold by Superior on May 30, 1994. Merlau says he bought it from Art Kagin in the 1990s, but beyond that says he does not have any exact pedigree. Paper Money Guaranty, who brought the note to our attention several weeks ago, assigned it a grade of Extremely Fine 40 Exceptional Paper Quality.

The other piece, serial number H3301878, was owned by Col. E.H.R. Green before going to Grinnell. When it appeared as lot 1015 in the Grinnell sale, it was estimated at $250 but only sold for $140, still a lot of money in 1944. From there it was offered by Federal Coin Exchange at the 1954 auction at the American Numismatic Association convention. Subsequent listed owners are Charles Deibel, and Joseph Breyer in 1966.

The cause of such a bizarre error is anyone’s guess. Microscopic examination shows it is clearly an engraving error and not a partial obstruction that left just a touch of the final S to make it look like a period. Also, the wide gap between the two serial numbers indicates that it is not a function of a partially filled plate (stuck ink in the lettering, or example), but a legitimate engraving error.

The engraving of the letters was most certainly done by a pantograph, a machine that the engraver uses to copy letters onto the printing plate by tracing an original engraving. Was this mischievous on the part of the engraver? Highly unlikely. Perhaps the engraver, for whatever reason, picked up the stylus after doing the bottom of the “S” and forgot that he wasn’t finished? A look at the note under 72 times magnification shows the period located above the baseline, whereas it is usually situated on the baseline.

We may never know the answer. As Heritage Vice President Dustin Johnston said, “The real answer is likely lost to history.”

Heritage estimates a selling price of $2,500 or more. Bidding will start at $1,250.

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