The term courtesy signature for banknote collectors has a special connotation. It is a bank note that has the real signature of the Secretary of the Treasury or the Treasurer of the United States, on the note above their printed signatures.
I’m sure folks have been doing it for a long time. They are known with some Secretary of the Treasury officials going back to the beginning of federal currency in the 1860s. (Actually some of the early notes have real signatures anyhow).
Often the officials had an opportunity to purchase the low serial numbers, and would then autograph them and present them to friends. This probably started in a major way with the introduction of the Large Size Federal Reserve Notes in 1917.
But what I’m showing today are two examples of the signature of Mary Ellen Withrow, Treasurer on the 1993-1999 series Federal Reserve notes.
When one has a real signature, the person signing never can really sign twice. There are subtle difference in the flourishes and the length of the signature.
Politicians since the late 1950s have had access to a machine called the autopen. It produces a signature on any document. It follows a template. Thus at the start and stop of words, there is often a larger dot of ink than that formed when writing by hand. In addition, there is often waviness in the strokes of tall letters and descending letters like t’s, l’s and g’s or y’s.
If you write by mail, most often these days you will get an autopen, especially if it is from the Secretary of the Treasury. It is always best to get them in person, and thus you should also have nice new bills handy, with a pen of your choice!
Know what a real signature looks like, be careful out there.