Don’t Shake a Stick at Treasury or Coin Notes!

Legal Tenders, Silver Certificates, Gold Certificates, Federal Reserve Notes: these are the usual suspects when it comes to collecting USA currency. Remember your first note? Mine was a 1957B $1 Silver Certificate, now probably grading Extremely Fine after I bent one corner mishandling my small collection as a youngster. At the time I had no idea there were any other types of notes to collect aside from Federal Reserve Notes and Silver Certificates. Further, I thought any notes older than 1934 were only in museums!

Decades 🙂 later, I’ve since learned that there are numerous types of paper money to collect, including notes from the 1800’s that aren’t necessarily out of reach if one picks the right note at the right price. Some $1 1899 Silver Certificates with mid-range grades go for around $200 each and make great additions to any collection. Further, a small step into the 20th Century opens up all kinds of possibilities with early Gold Certificates, some affordable as in the 1922 $10 Gold Certificate, and others not-so-affordable unless you sell your boat like the 1905 $20 “Technicolor” Gold Certificate.

Then, there are Treasury or Coin Notes. What the heck are they? According to the Friedberg book Paper Money of the United States, these notes were issued as part of the legal tender act of July 14, 1890, backed by silver bullion purchased by the Treasury Department. Bearers redeeming the notes could receive either gold or silver coin upon exchange, and the decision which type of coin to release was left up to the Secretary of the Treasury. All notes were series of 1890 or 1891 and are considered some of the most beautifully engraved currency ever created by the Bureau of Engraving and Printing. Overall, because these notes had such a short lived issue, they are all considered relatively rare. Notes in uncirculated condition are exceptionally rare and command the highest premiums and interest from hardcore Treasury Note collectors.

If you haven’t already, take a gander at our inventory, which includes many rare and desirable Treasury or Coin notes. Or, have a look at your Friedberg guide Part VII where you can find a complete listing and identification of all Treasury or Coin notes, ranging in denomination from $1 – $1,000. A few of them have nicknames, including the $100 note called the “Watermelon Note” – so named for the way in which the zeroes of the number 100 were engraved on the note’s reverse – and the $1,000 note known as the “Grand Watermelon Note” for a similar style of zeroes gracing its backside.

Cool fact: Fr. 379B, an 1890 $1,000 Grand Watermelon with signatures of Rosecrans-Nebeker set a world Paper Money Record sale on December 6, 2006 at an astounding $2,255,000. This was a private sale brokered by Heritage Auctions and remains to this day as the highest all time sale value for an example of USA currency (that has been publicized).

Don’t have $2+ million lying around to make an offer? Don’t despair! There are still some great Treasury or Coin notes to purchase that are not too far out of the reach of an intermediate to advanced collector, even in these tough economic times. Have a look at this nice 1890 Fr. 359 $5 Treasury Note with signatures of Rosecrans-Huston, PMG 58 Choice About Uncirculated, with an amazing number 37 serial!

Fr. 359 1890 $5 Treasury or Coin Note - Rosecrans-Huston - PMG 58 Choice About Unc. Serial# 37 -  $7995 from Sergio Sanchez
Fr. 359 1890 $5 Treasury or Coin Note - Rosecrans-Huston - PMG 58 Choice About Unc. Serial# 37 - $7995 from Sergio Sanchez

…And a star with the serial too – even more valuable? Not so fast! Every Treasury or Coin note issued by the government contains a star at the end of its serial number. These notes are the rare exception to the usual increase in value that gets assigned to any other star note, simply because they are all star notes!

Has that sneak preview whetted your appetite for more? Treasury Notes are definitely some of the coolest notes to collect and have consistently gained value over the years. Their purchase prices may seem a bit high, but they have proven to be solid investments, especially in About Uncirculated condition or better. You can purchase these notes from most major USA paper money auctions, including those offered by Heritage and Lyn Knight Auctions.

But why wait for Long Beach to roll around? That good looking $5 with a stunning number 37 serial is for sale now, and it’s just one click away!

Reverse of 1976 $2 Bill – Signing of the Declaration of Independence a Slight Historical Inaccuracy

Anyone catch the HBO series “John Adams” marathon on the 4th of July (it finished long before the fireworks went off 🙂 )? In the final episode, an aging John Adams (played by Paul Giamatti) reviews the famous John Trumbull painting, “The Declaration of Independence”. The actor playing Trumbull is surprised by Adams’ angry reaction to his work: he believes he has created an amazing portrayal of a seminal moment in American history. Adams strongly disagrees, citing an obvious historical inaccuracy. In fact, there was no formal gathering of all the signers who eventually put their signature on the document. When Trumbull tries to placate an obstinate John Adams, Adams replies that, in reality, the individuals who signed the Declaration were running in and out of Philadelphia, often in secrecy to avoid detection by people favorable to the British government. Indeed, Mr. Trumbull’s depiction is nothing more than historical fantasy.

Any paper money fans who caught this show, or who are familiar with Trumbull’s painting that has hanged in the Capital Rotunda since 1826, will also recognize it as the reverse of the Fr. 1935 1976 $2 Federal Reserve Note, celebrating the bicentennial of the nation.

John Trumbull's "Signing of the Declaration of Independence", adapted for Fr. 1935 1976 $2 Federal Reserve Note
John Trumbull's "Signing of the Declaration of Independence", adapted for Fr. 1935 1976 $2 Federal Reserve Note

There are a couple interesting facts about the original Trumbull painting and the version eventually adapted for use on the 1976 $2 bill. Trumbull originally set out to include all 56 signers of the Declaration of Independence, but was only able to include 42 (Source: Wikipedia, “Trumbull’s Declaration of Independence”). Additionally, Trumbull included a few individuals that did not sign the document but who were active participants in the debate that led to the drafting of the Declaration.

Signers NOT included in Trumbull’s painting include: Matthew Thornton (New Hampshire), John Hart (New Jersey), John Morton (Pennsylvania), James Smith (Pennsylvania), George Taylor (Pennsylvania), George Ross (Pennsylvania), Caesar Rodney (Delaware), Thomas Stone (Maryland), Thomas Nelson, Jr. (Virginia), Francis Lightfoot Lee (Virginia), Carter Braxton (Virginia), John Penn (North Carolina), Button Gwinnett (Georgia) and Lyman Hall (Georgia).

When the painting was engraved on the 1976 $2 bill, a few more people were slighted but the total count of figures depicted remained at 42. From Wikipedia:

“Trumbull’s painting is the source of the picture on the reverse of the two-dollar bill, which cuts out the farthest four figures on the left (George Wythe, William Whipple, Josiah Bartlett and Thomas Lynch, Jr.); the farthest two figures on the right (Thomas McKean and Philip Livingston); and seated in the left rear, George Walton. The bill features 40 of the 47 figures from Trumbull’s painting. Two other unknown figures are superimposed in the engraving in between Samuel Chase and Lewis Morris and between James Wilson and Francis Hopkinson, bringing the total number of figures on the reverse of the two-dollar bill to 42”

So, as you can see, those that often make history might not be documented for posterity, or painted in historical artwork, either. If you ever sign anything important, make sure you get your picture taken with it! 🙂

When the “John Adams” marathon concluded – just in time for a beer and hamburger – it ended with another amazing AND true historical footnote. BOTH John Adams and political rival and eventual friend, Thomas Jefferson, died together on the same day, July 4, 1826, exactly 50 years after the birth of the nation. It seems the often quarrelsome founding fathers were ultimately two stubborn believers in “Life, Liberty, and the Pursuit of Happiness”, even though they disagreed on the finer points of how this was to be achieved.

Jefferson’s and Adams’ political differences yet ultimately amicable friendship should serve as a lesson for today’s divided and polarized national discourse. We don’t have to agree on everything, we just have to agree to move things forward for the benefit of the country. Their wisdom and good humor should serve as a lasting example of a productive and deliberate American political process.