You Federal Reserve Note lovers have it easy: one date, a couple design variants, and usually nothing more. This style of “low maintenance” note classification appeals to many collectors who believe in the K.I.S.S. rule.
If you’re more into “high maintenance” endeavors 🙂 you should definitely get a “date” with a National Bank Note – or, should I say a National Bank Note WITH a date! With 4 different charter periods and 10 different charter design variations, properly identifying an un-slabbed National Bank Note can be a daunting task.
Don’t worry: we’ve done some research for you. Below, please enjoy our guide to dating and identifying National Bank Notes by charter and design type. When all else fails, we highly suggest visiting www.nbncensus.com. (The National Bank Note Census website – click here) which offers the most expansive database of National Bank Notes known. It was created out of information collected by National Bank Note legends like Don Kelly.
National Bank Note Charter Periods and Identification Guide
- First Charter – 1863 Original Series – The first National Bank Notes ever printed. These notes were printed exclusively by the Treasury department, unlike later issues which may have been printed at a specific National Bank. Their appearance is dramatic with intricate engraving and identification marks. In all but rare cases, these notes DID NOT bear their bank’s charter numbers on note obverses or reverses.
- First Charter – 1875 Series – This is the second issue of the First Charter. This issue included notes from newer banks that weren’t chartered until after the original series issue. Unlike their immediate predecessors, these notes DID bear their charter number on the obverse.
So, if you’re looking at multiple first charter notes and trying to figure out which notes are from the original series and which are not, look for a bold red charter number on the front of the note to identify it as an example from 1875. Otherwise, you have an Original Series note (*in ALL but rarest of circumstances).
- Second Charter – 1882 Series Brown Back – Brown backs were issued by new banks in the Second Charter period and by some surviving banks from the previous First Charter. Remember that the first issuance of notes in this charter period had NO date and NO denomination on the back. In terms of rarity, this type of Second Charter note falls in the middle between “Denomination Backs” (rarest) and “Date Backs” (more common).
- Second Charter – 1882 Date Back – As their label implies, these Brown Back notes had the dates “1882-1908” engraved on the back. These notes were the direct result of the Aldrich-Vreeland Act. At the time the notes were also known as “emergency money”.
- Second Charter – 1882 Denomination Back – Similar to the date back, except these notes replaced the date with the actual denomination of the note. These notes tend to be the rarest of the Second Charter period, as at their time of printing after 1916, various banks from previous issues had gone under. Therefore, this particular note type is generally rarer than its predecessors.
- Third Charter – 1902 Red Seals – The Red Seal third charter notes are among the most popular of all National Bank Notes. They were issued between 1902-1908, up until the passage of the Aldrich-Vreeland Act, at which point their production immediately stopped. Red Seals are scarce and usually valuable from any bank, save the largest banks that printed thousands of them.
- Third Charter – 1902 Blue Seals Date Back – This issuance of notes is very much similar to the date-back 1882 Brown Backs of the Second Charter period, and these notes were also known as “emergency money”. Unlike their close cousins, however, these notes bore the same appearance as the 1902 Red Seals, except they had blue seals on the front and the years “1902-1908” engraved on the back. These notes are generally more common than Third Charter Red Seals, although this can vary bank by bank.
- Third Charter – 1902 Blue Seals Plain Back – Notes from this issue of the Third Charter Period were the last Large Size National Bank Notes printed, with final runs concluding before the changeover to Small Size notes in 1929. Plain Back Blue Seals are the most common of all large size National Bank Notes and don’t command nearly as high premiums as Red Seals and Date Backs.
- Fourth Charter – 1929 Type 1 Notes – The fourth charter brought forth new banks and a complete redesign of National Bank Notes. Just as all other currency was reduced for the series of 1928, so were National Bank Notes for the series of 1929, their final series issue. Type 1 1929 National Bank Notes have two instances of their respective bank’s charters printed boldly on the front of each note – at the far middle left and far middle right.
- Fourth Charter – 1929 Type 2 Notes – Type 2 notes from the Fourth Charter Period nearly resembled Type 1 notes except for one minor detail: in addition to the charter numbers printed at middle left and middle right, charter numbers were also added next to the note’s serial numbers. For example, a 1929 Type 2 serial number might be A958298 115. The “115” at the tail end is not really part of the serial number even though it uses the same typeface and brown color as the actual serial number. It is just another way of identifying the issuing bank’s charter number.
Compared to previous issues of National Bank Notes, 1929 notes appear rather drab and boring. The engraving of bank names was much simpler and more institutional in appearance, and designs resembled those of 1928 Federal Reserve Notes save the brown and black color used on the obverse. Be assured, though, there are plenty of rare 1929 notes to be found!
We hope you’ve enjoyed our quick-and-dirty guide to identifying and dating National Bank Notes. If you choose to “go steady” with Nationals for a while, be prepared for all sorts of ups and downs. After all, variety IS the spice of the life, right?