Treasury Note (1890–91)
The Treasury Note (also known as a Coin Note) was a type of representative money issued by the United States government from 1890 until 1893 under authority of the Sherman Silver Purchase Act in denominations of $1, $2, $5, $10, $20, $50, $100 and $1000.1 It was issued in two series: an 1890 series with $1, $2, $5, $10, $20, $100 and $1000 denominations, and an 1891 series that added the $50 denomination.2 A $500 note was designed but never issued.3
The Treasury Note was issued by the government to individuals selling silver bullion to the Treasury. Unlike other redemption notes like silver and gold certificates, (which stipulated whether the note was backed by and redeemable for silver or gold coin, respectively) Treasury Notes stipulated only that they were redeemable in coin. This allowed the Treasury to fulfill the note's obligation in silver coin, gold coin, or both, at its discretion when the note was redeemed. This flexibility allowed the Treasury some control over releasing gold or silver when the relative value of the two metals fluctuated. The origin of the term "Coin Note" to describe the note is unclear - it may refer either to the coin it could be exchanged for, or derive from the fact that it was issued to pay for silver that would later be turned into coins.2
Treasury Notes are large-size ("average" dimension is 7.375 x 3.125 inches [187 x 79 mm]) banknotes.4 The portrait of General George Meade on the $1000 Note was engraved by renowned artist and line engraver Charles Burt.56 The 100 Greatest American Currency Notes, a 2006 book by Q. David Bowers and David Sundman, put the $1,000 Treasury Note (Fr#379b), nicknamed the "Grand Watermelon", at the top of its list.7 Of the seven "Grand Watermelon" notes known to exist today, only three are available to collectors: two of the Large Brown Treasury Seal variety (Fr#379a), pictured above; and only one example of the Small Red Treasury Seal variety (Fr#379b).89
On January 10, 2014, at the annual Florida United Numismatist convention, in Orlando, Florida, Heritage Auctions sold a Series 1890 $1,000 Treasury Note (Fr#379b) for $3,290,000, setting a new world record price for paper currency. The same note had set a record in December 2006 when it was sold for $2,255,000 in a private sale.78 The note was previously auctioned in 1944 for $1,230 and in 1970 for $11,000.710
The other variety of $1,000 Treasury Notes, Series 1891 "Open Backs" (Fr#379c), represented by just two notes, has also been involved in the recent string of record-breaking sales. While one of these two notes is owned by the Smithsonian Institution (pictured at bottom), the only Series 1891 $1,000 note available to collectors had set the world record in March 2006.7 It again set the record in April 2013, when it was sold at public auction by Heritage Auctions for $2,585,000 at the Central States Numismatic convention, in Chicago, Illinois.11
|Value||Series||Fr. nb 1||Image||Portrait||Classification/variety|
|$1||1890||Fr.347||Edwin Stanton||347 – Rosecrans and Huston – large brown.
348 – Rosecrans and Nebecker – large brown.
|$1||1891||Fr.351||Edwin Stanton||350 – Rosecrans and Nebecker – small red.
|$2||1890||Fr.353||James McPherson||353 –Rosecrans and Huston – large brown.
354 – Rosecrans and Nebecker – large brown.
|$2||1891||Fr.357||James McPherson||356 – Rosecrans and Nebecker – small red.
357 – Tillman and Morgan – small red.
|$5||1890||Fr.361||George H. Thomas||359 – Rosecrans and Huston – large brown.
360 – Rosecrans and Nebecker – large brown.
|$5||1891||Fr.365||George H. Thomas||362 – Rosecrans and Nebecker – small red.
363 – Tillman and Morgan – small red.
|$10||1890||Fr.367||Philip Sheridan||366 – Rosecrans and Huston – large brown.
367 – Rosecrans and Nebecker – large brown.
|$10||1891||Fr.371||Philip Sheridan||369 – Rosecrans and Nebecker – small red.
370 – Tillman and Morgan – small red.
|$20||1890||Fr.374||John Marshall||372 – Rosecrans and Huston – large brown.
373 – Rosecrans and Nebecker – large brown.
|$20||1891||Fr.375a||John Marshall||375 – Tillman and Morgan – small red.
375a – Bruce and Roberts – small red.
|$50||1891||Fr.376||William Seward||376 – Rosecrans and Nebecker – small red.|
|$100||1890||Fr.377||David Farragut||377 – Rosecrans and Huston – large brown.|
|$100||1891||Fr.378||David Farragut||378 – Rosecrans and Nebecker – small red.|
|$500||1891||William Tecumseh Sherman||
379 – Bruce and Roberts – small red.
|$1,000||1890||Fr.379a||George Meade||379a – Rosecrans and Huston – large brown.
379b – Rosecrans and Nebecker – small red.
|$1,000||1891||Fr.379c||George Meade||379c – Tillman and Morgan – small red.
379d – Rosecrans and Nebecker – small red.
- "Fr" numbers refer to the numbering system in the widely-used Friedberg reference book. These reference numbers indicate varieties existing within a larger type design based on (among other things) variations in design, seal type, Treasury signature combinations, etc. .
- Hessler, Gene and Chambliss, Carlson (2006). The Comprehensive Catalog of U.S. Paper Money, 7th edition, Port Clinton, Ohio: BNR Press ISBN 0-931960-66-5.
- Currency Notes. US Bureau of Engraving and Printing. Retrieved January 16, 2014.
- Hessler, Gene (1979). U.S. Essay, Proof and Specimen Notes, Portage, Ohio: BNR Press ISBN 0-931960-04-5.
- Friedberg, Arthur L.; Friedberg, Ira S. (2010). Paper Money of the United States: A Complete Illustrated Guide With Valuations, 19th Edition (19th ed.). Coin & Currency Institute. p. 7. ISBN 0-87184-519-9. Retrieved 10 September 2013.
- Chapin, Willis O. (1894). The Masters and Masterpieces of Engraving, New York: Harper & Brothers Publishers.
- Keppel, Frederick (1910). The Golden Age of Engraving, New York: The Baker & Taylor Company.
- "Heritage Sets World's Paper Money Record" (Press release). December 16, 2006. Retrieved January 16, 2014.
- "Fr. 379b $1000 1890 Coin Note PCGS Extremely Fine 40". Heritage Auctions. Retrieved January 16, 2014.
- "Fr. 379a $1000 1890 Treasury Note PCGS Apparent Extremely Fine 45". Heritage Auctions. Retrieved March 6, 2014.
- "'Grand Watermelon' Note is World's Most Valuable Currency and Other Surprising Auction Items". ABC News. Retrieved January 17, 2014.
- "Fr. 379c $1000 1891 Treasury Note PCGS Extremely Fine 45PPQ". Heritage Auctions. Retrieved March 6, 2014.