By Peter Huntoon
Word reached me with the speed of the Internet when Heritage posted the C000005A Type 1 $50 that graces this article from Lovell, Wyo., in their January 2016 Florida United Numismatists sale.
This is such an over-the-top discovery, it all but defies plausibility. Not because it is unique, but rather the fact that another one has turned up.
The only bank in Wyoming that issued $50 and $100 notes in any series was The First National Bank of Lander. The bankers there received only small notes at that.
The killer fact here is that the entire $50 issuance consisted of 10 sheets or 60 notes. The $100s numbered just six sheets or 36 notes. What is the probability that even one from either of those denomination would survive?
What is incredible is that with this new find there are now a whopping four $50s that have been reported. That’s a survival rate of 1 per 15 issued. This is uncanny.
Just about everyone in paper money knows the linkage between Series of 1929 No. 1 notes and Col. Green. Most of the No. 1 sheets and notes in your collections were saved for you by the Colonel.
Green didn’t want $50 and $100 sheets though, simply because he didn’t want to tie that much up in face. However, the existence of the Lovell $50s owe their origins directly to the Colonel so I’ll tell you the tale.
Lovell is a small community in the northern part of the Bighorn Basin in north central Wyoming. The First National Bank there had a small circulation of $30,000 between 1932 and 1935. Not only did the bankers order $50s and $100s, they also got $5s, $10s and $20s. They really didn’t need many $50s or $100s.
I visited the bank in 1982 to determine if anyone there had knowledge of the $50 and $100 issues. Obviously this was a long shot but nothing ventured, nothing gained. My curiosity paid off in spades. I met with owner Jack Pearson.
He recalled cutting the sheets and also the reason for the high denominations. Some eastern fellow—Pearson thought the man was from Pennsylvania—offered to buy the No. 1 sheets from the bank.
Why not cash in and order all five denominations for the gentlemen.
This sounded suspiciously like the work of George H. Blake, who purchased No. 1 Series of 1929 sheets for immediate resale to Col. Edward Howland Robinson Green. The Colonel was the son of Hetty Green, the Witch of Wall Street, the richest women in America at the time. Every numismatist and philatelist knows the Colonel was an avid collector of coins and stamps with unlimited money at his disposal.
He is renowned for having owned all five of the 1913 Liberty Head nickels and all 100 of the 24-cent Jenny airmail stamps with inverted centers. Fewer collectors know that his greatest contribution to numismatics was that he attempted to collect all the low denomination Series of 1929 No. 1 sheets.
The stories of both Blake and Green are best told by one of their contemporaries, the legendary William A. Philpott. Mr. Phil was a pioneer paper money collector and dealer from Dallas (P.O. Box 1466) who also served as secretary to the Texas Bankers Association. He was very well connected and used his connections to his great advantage.
He was one of the early market makers in paper money and fed all of us early collectors amazing notes. He didn’t particularly care for small-size notes, but if there was money to be made with them, he was a player.
This is what Philpott wrote in 1970:
“George H. Blake, 12 Highland Avenue, Jersey City, N.J. was a true ‘dean’ of paper money fanciers. He called himself a ‘collector of paper money,’ and he authored the first listing of U.S. currency in a 1908 booklet titled, United States Paper Money. Mr. Blake was gracious toward young collectors. I credit him with inciting my early enthusiasm for U.S. paper currency. Besides being a seasoned collector and an authority, he was thoroughly versed in selling the specimens he accumulated.
“The comparative proximity of his home to Washington, D.C. and his friendships in the Treasury Department (particularly in the redemption bureau and the comptroller’s offices) gave Blake the “inside track” for many years—with accent on his government activities in the years 1927-36. During this period the small size notes were replacing the old large ones. Hardly a pleasant week would the venerable numismatist miss from his usual rounds at the redemption department, or in the offices of the comptroller of the currency.
“During these years the notorious Col. E.H.R. Green (Hetty Green’s son) was buying everything, numismatically speaking, that was offered. Anybody could sell him an item he did not already own. But he did not purchase duplicates, no matter what. George Blake, widely known as he was in our hobby (more than twentyfive years treasurer of the ANA.), found Green a ‘soft sell’ on the small size National Currency, series 1929, soon to be issued by the 14,000 national banks. Avoiding duplicates, Blake suggested that the No. 1, uncut, six-subject sheets could be made a fascinating project. Green agreed. Accordingly, Blake, through his Treasury Department connections, was notified promptly when any and all banks ordered a circulation of the new size currency. By the time a bank had its currency application approved, the particular bank’s officials had a letter from George H. Blake, in far away Jersey City. True, it was a form letter, with the bank’s title town or city filled in, but signed personally by Blake. The letter was addressed, ‘Gentlemen,’ and went on to say:
“‘From this letterhead you will note I am a collector of United States paper currency for historical, numismatic, and educational purposes. I am desirous of purchasing the No. 1 uncut sheets of your new, small-size National Bank notes, when and as issued. For such I will pay the following premium prices: Sheets of $5, No. 1, containing 6 notes $37.50, Sheets of $10, No. 1, containing 6 notes $66.00, Sheets of $20, No. 1, containing 6 notes $125.00. TOTAL $228.50. Payment for these will be made always in advance. Please advise if you will oblige me in this matter.’
“While this ‘premium’ only amounted to $18.50 on the face value of the eighteen notes, many a bank cashier (and president) sold Blake their No. 1 uncut sheets. It was in the depression years; the new notes (shabby, compared to the beautiful, old large ones) would never amount to much, so national banks by the scores sent Blake their No. 1, uncut sheets.
“What did Blake do with these uncut sheets? As fast as he received them he delivered them to Green. Cost to the latter (Blake told me, himself): the $5’s – $50; the $10’s – $80; and the $20’s – $145, per sheet.
“Blake bought both types of this series for Green. However, Blake did not offer to purchase the $50 and $100 sheets. Comparatively few banks in the depression years ordered the higher denominations, and the new size currency looked cheap, compared with the large size notes of the yesteryears.
“After Green died and his estate was administered, there was little interest among collectors in these sheets. A few of us borrowed money and bought (at 15% above face) as many sheets as we could afford. A few months later the large remainder of this sheet-hoard was turned in to the Federal Reserve Bank, New York, at face value by the administrators. The New York bank segregated the sheets, according to the twelve districts. Each of the other eleven banks received a list of sheets from banks in the respective districts, offering the sheets at face for the eleven banks to distribute, ‘as a public relation act,’ sheets to the national banks of issue who sold them to Blake.
“When the Dallas bank received a list of the 11th District sheets available, and the New York bank’s suggestions of a ‘good will’ gesture, this letter was referred to me, saying I could have any or all of the Texas No. 1 sheets at face value. If I did not want them, the Dallas bank would write New York to dispose of the notes elsewhere, as there was no interest in Texas.
“Again, I heaved a sigh, signed another large note or two at my bank and rescued another score or so of uncut Texas sheets, all number 1. I learned later that the remainder of sheets from the 11th District were eventually sent to the Treasury for redemption.”
Without question, the Blake-Green connection bears on the Lovell $50 and $100 issues. The $5 Type 1 Lovell No. 1 sheet did get saved, first appearing publicly as lot 5427 in the Grinnell sales of 1946. It represented one of only two Wyoming sheets in that landmark sale. William P. Donlon purchased it for $76 and sold it as part of his No. 1 state sheet set to Johnny O. Bass in the late 1960s. Bass resold the set to David Levitt a couple of years later.
The big question is, of course, were the $50 and $100 No. 1 sheets saved? They’ve never been seen so the answer mostly likely is no. Philpott offers the strongest evidence. Blake didn’t buy high denomination sheets.
In fact it appears that the No. 1 $10 and $20 Lovell sheets didn’t survive the liquidation of Green’s estate either. Those two sheets, or notes from them, have never been reported.
There is no ambiguity that the $50 and $100 Lovell notes entered circulation. The redemption records for the Lovell bank in the National Currency and Bond Ledgers at the National Archives reveal that they began to dribble in one or two at a time before such record keeping ceased in 1935. By June 28, 1935, 12 $50s and five $100s already had been redeemed.
Incredibly three other $50s are reported besides the Heritage note featured here. The first to be discovered numismatically was E000008A in Fine to Very Fine condition that I first saw in Tom Mason’s collection in the mid-1970s. I was stunned to see it because I knew the statistics. I was wondering at the time if one would ever show up. A specimen was near the top of my want list.
Tom had a shop in Cheyenne so was a big player in the silver dollar market. I vaguely recall that he told me he got it from one of the big silver dollar dealers in Montana. I bought it from his estate in 1980. It was unquestionably the centerpiece of both our Wyoming small note collections because it remained unique for the type for decades.
The next to appear was D000004A, a note that graded Very Good that came with a story that knocked me off my feet. A banker in Lovell who ended up with it told me the note came in over the counter at a small town Pennsylvania bank sometime around the early 1990s, whereupon the cashier at that bank wrote to the Lovell bank offering to return it at face value if anyone there was interested in it.
Jess Likpa came up with B000002A in About Uncirculated condition in 2003, and told me that the note showed up in a coin shop somewhere in the Dakotas, maybe Bismarck. This one appeared to be the second to turn up north of Lovell, which made sense. Lovell is in the Bighorn Basin, which opens topographically northward toward the Missouri River, so commerce there traditionally has been channeled north rather than south into the rest of Wyoming.
The origin of the C000005A note in the Heritage 2016 January FUN sale has not been revealed.
We now are waiting for the arrival of the first Lovell $100.
Bluestone, Barney, Nov. 25, 1944-Nov. 30, 1946, The Albert A. Grinnell collection of United States Paper Money: Barney Bluestone, Syracuse, NY, 650 p. (1971, reprint of the seven sale catalogs by William T. Anton Jr. and Morey. Perlmutter).
Philpott, William A., Nov. 10, 1970, Why no. 1 sheets, Series 1929, are not too rare: Numismatic News, p. 14. 27.
This article was originally printed in Bank Note Reporter.
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