Paper Money

Rare War of 1812 notes headline Heritage’s Nov. 4 Dallas sale

Heritage Auctions offering of 21 War of 1812 Treasury notes Nov. 4 included this fully issued $3 note from the Act of Feb. 24, 1815, with three signatures.

Images courtesy of Heritage Auctions

Among the rarest and most unusual issues of United States paper money are the Treasury notes of the War of 1812. They are not legal tender today and do not strictly meet the definition of federal U.S. currency. Yet despite that, they are often considered the first circulating American paper currency.

Between 1812 and 1815, five issues of these were emitted, in an emergency measure to raise revenue during the war with Great Britain. The first four were in denominations of from $20 to $1,000. No examples are known today from the second issue, dated Feb. 25, 1813. The final issue, in 1815, was of smaller denominations, from $3 to $50, and were used to pay for goods and services, customs duties, and as cash reserves for banks.

A collection of 21 of these notes, from the first, third, fourth, and fifth issues, will be offered at the Heritage Currency Signature auction in Dallas on Nov. 4.

The cheapest of the collection, a trio of notes, each carry estimates of from $6,000 to $9,000.

The most expensive, anticipated to sell in the $150,000 to $250,000 range, is described as a unique, fully issued and uncanceled triple-signature $3 note of the Act of Feb. 24, 1815 (Friedberg TN-16b). It is graded Very Fine 25 by Paper Money Guaranty and is the only known $3 bill issued by the United States.

The note’s pedigree traces back to F.C.C. Boyd, then to John Ford in 1955. After Ford’s death, it sold at auction in 2004 for $60,375. It last sold publicly in 2005 when Heritage got $74,750 for it. The current consignor, Mike Coltrane, bought it privately in 2015 for an undisclosed price.

Unlike the first four issues, the $3 to $50 notes of the fifth issue did not bear interest, but they could be exchanged for 7 percent United States bonds. The three signatures are, at the lower right, F.W. McGeary above C.C. Biddle “In behalf of the United States” and, at the left, Joseph Nourse “Register of the Treasury.”

The note was printed in Philadelphia by Murray, Draper, Fairman, & Co.

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