It Was Done Right the First Time: Fr. 165 $100 Legal Tender Eagle Reigns Supreme

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George Washington, Thomas Jefferson, Ben Franklin, Andrew Jackson, Abraham Lincoln and many other historic figures have laid claim to portraiture on USA currency. These old “standbys” were the go-to solutions when an engraver was stumped about who to place center stage on his note. By all accounts, these decisions were not made lightly: every representation of America’s forefathers was painstakingly engraved into plates that would preserve their significance for eternity.

But what about animals? Surely they have a place in American lore? Is the happy Bison on the 1901 $10 legal tender note the only representative from the animal kingdom?

Not so fast! How could we forget the Bald Eagle, the symbol of enduring American freedom? Long before the Bison at the National Zoo made his appearance on the $10 1901 legal tender, the Bald Eagle reared its majestic head and defiant pose on a number of famous American notes. Indeed, the first time it was put on public display was in 1862 with the issuance of the $100 legal tender note, signed by Chittenden-Spinner. This inspiring eagle was “done right the first time” – just like your old man always told you when it came to finishing what you started 8) .

Fr. 165 182 $100 Legal Tender - Chittenden-Spinner
Fr. 165 182 $100 Legal Tender - Chittenden-Spinner - ex. Dr. Edward and Joanne Dauer

The bald eagle perched above the floral decorations of the denominated numbers “100” is awesome and captures the raw emotion of a nation experiencing civil turmoil though not easily forgetting its fiercely original independence.

This particular note is from Dr. Edward and Joanne Dauer, two of the foremost collectors of rare United States currency. It is graded a respectable Very Fine 25 NET by PMG. It is regarded as the finest example known of this note type across both major grading services (PCGS and PMG). To our knowledge no other 3rd party grading service (CGA, CGC, or otherwise) has graded a similar note. In total, only 13 examples are known to date.

The Dauer specimen last hammered for a reasonable $43,125 USD during a Heritage Auction on September 28, 2007. Given the prestige and rarity of this note, we’re surprised it didn’t go for more. When and if it appears again, it will certainly command a high premium and will be the hallmark lot of any auction lot list it finds.

Other important depictions of the Bald Eagle:

  1. Fr. 93 1862 $10 Legal Tender – A small eagle at the top of the note cries out to Lincoln, pictured at left.
  2. Fr. 188 1878 $5,000 Legal Tender – The reverse of this epic note shows a large, proud Bald Eagle gripping an American flag in its talons.
  3. Fr. 189 1878 $10,000 Legal Tender – The reverse has an Eagle remarkably similar to the $5,000 note; except this one means business with an American flag draped over a sharp spear tightly clutched in one of the Eagle’s talons.
  4. Fr. 190 1864 $10 Compound Interest Treasury Note – Although partially obstructed by some markings, a symmetrical Bald Eagle takes center stage between a portrait of Salmon Chase and a female allegory representing Peace.
  5. Fr. 212 1864 $50 Interest Bearing Note – The lean and mean Eagles seen on the other notes is replaced by a much burlier bird; and given this note’s extreme rarity, this portrayal is quite appropriate.
  6. Last, but certainly not the least, Fr. Nos. 226-236 1899 $1 Silver Certificate – This popular note is specifically known as the “Black Eagle Note”. It is a note everyone must have in their collection in one form or another, and despite a high level of interest from collectors on all budgets, it has remained relatively affordable.

There are probably a couple more Eagles we missed. We challenge you to find them and let us know how ticked you were that your favorite Bald Eagle was bumped. It’s just like a Where’s Waldo? game! 🙂

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