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First Error of Its Kind Ever Reported


Carefully read the town name in the tombstone on the note illustrated on Figure 1.

You are looking at the first large size national bank note where a misspelling in the town name reached circulation and has been recognized as such by its owner.

This note is from Sausalito – slightly altered from sauzalito meaning “small willow grove.”

I guess the engraver who mistakenly spelled it Saucalito was trying to help us Anglos out by rendering it phonetically!

I got a call from Jess Lipka on February 24 who excitedly told me that he was looking at a national that he had that just didn’t look right. On giving it a closer look, he discovered that the town had been misspelled in the tombstone in the title block.

Jess never calls me unless he has something that is certain to knock my socks off so I was all ears. While we talked, he texted a photo of the prize and I pulled it up on my computer.

I was WOWed to say the least.

Carefully read the town name on this note.

Carefully read the town name on this note.

Immediately, I was wondering how I missed it when we were sorting the large size proofs in the Smithsonian more than a decade ago. Everyone involved was trained to observe every nuance of each bank title as they went by because we also were preparing a listing of the exact titles as they occurred on the notes.

Jess pointed out that the script version of Sausalito was spelled correctly in the postal location in the lower left of the title block. Too good!

Jess said that the note turned up at a small auction in Boonton, NJ, and he was able to purchase it from the dealer who won the lot. The misspelling never registered on him until now when he happened to pull it out.

I’ve been at this game for 58 years, but this type of thing still thrills me. Once I regained my composure, I said “Give me 20 or 30 minutes, and I’ll call you back with what I can dig up.”

The moment he hung up; I was pulling up the scans of the certified proofs from California held by the National Numismatic Collection in the Smithsonian Institution. The proofs always turn out to be revealing. Also, I wanted to see why we missed the misspelling when we worked them.

The big picture quickly revealed itself.

Top subject from the 10-10-10-20 certified proof from the corrected version of the plates. Notice the two sets of printer initials in the top margin that reveal that two printings were made from the plate with the Saucilito error.

Top subject from the 10-10-10-20 certified proof from the corrected version of the plates. Notice the two sets of printer initials in the top margin that reveal that two printings were made from the plate with the Saucilito error.

There are two proofs for the bank, a 1902 plain back 5-5-5-5 certified February 26, 1924, and a 10-10-10-20 certified February 25, 1924. Sausalito is spelled correctly on both.

There were no Saucalito proofs. That was highly unusual, but at least now I could stop kicking myself for having missed them.

As shown on Figure 2, both proofs have two sets of printer initials in the top margin. That is big.

Each time a plate is checked out to a printer for use, he had to stamp his initials in the top margin of the plate as part of a BEP quality assurance protocol. You know, if the next printer found that the plate was damaged, they would know who to go after. That sort of thing.

However, a proof lifted from a new plate never has printer initials, because the plate hadn’t gone to press yet.

Clearly, these plates had been used twice before these proofs were lifted from them.

It is obvious that the proofs were lifted after the plates had been repaired in order to prove the correction so the plates could be certified for use.

Someone finally had noticed the misspelling. Very rarely in situations involving engraving errors is there any hint of who caught the mistake; a printer or inspector at the BEP, a clerk in the Comptroller’s office, someone at the bank?

The Saucilito is a tough error to spot if you aren’t specifically looking for such things. All the dealers and collectors who have owned this note and even the PMG graders missed it.

My traditional response after being presented with an error on a national bank note printing plate is to get into the National Currency and Bond Ledgers in the National Archives in College Park, MD, in order to determine the range of serial numbers that were impacted. Also, I look to see if anyone flagged the problem or if any of the misprinted sheets were condemned by the Comptroller’s clerks.

This task will have to wait in this case because thanks to COVID, the National Archives are not expected to open until the fall of 2021 at the earliest. Consequently, documenting and publishing the technical aspects of this find will have to wait.

However, this error is so newsworthy, I want to get this announcement out post haste.

Let me put this error into some perspective. There are some 43,000 certified national bank note proofs for Series of 1875, 1882 and 1902 face plates for some 10,000 banks in the National Numismatic Collection in the Smithsonian.

Among that huge number, we found only one other town name that was misspelled by the plate makers. That involved the Series of 1882 5-5-5-5 plate for The Peirce City National Bank, Missouri, charter 4225. In that case, Peirce is the correct spelling but Pierce ended up on the plate. A printing of 625 sheets with the error was printed and sent to the Comptroller’s office. A clerk there spotted the error and the entire printing was cancelled.

A misspelling is defined as a variant on the town name provided by the bankers in the title they submitted upon organizing. Generally, whatever the bankers submitted was treated as sacrosanct even if it didn’t agree with the post office spelling.

There are a few tens of instances where the presentation of a town name was incorrectly submitted by the bankers or transcribed to a plate order by one of the Comptroller’s clerks. A good example of one incorrectly submitted by the bankers was Leroy rather than Le Roy for the first 1902 plate made for The First National Bank of Le Roy, Kansas, charter 6149. A likely plate order transcription mistake was Elkhorn instead of Elk Horn on the 1902 plate for The First National Bank of Elk Horn, Wisconsin, charter 873. Entire series of notes in such cases were issued with these minor glitches. They don’t raise eye brows, having little more than curiosity value to most collectors.

The fact is, the Saucalito error with a wrong letter is presently unique for a large size note. Consequently, you can understand my excitement upon learning of it.

The Sausalito bank was small so notes from there are scarce.

Wikipedia nicely describes the town as follows.

Sausalito is in Marin County, California, 4 miles north of San Francisco. Its population was 7,061 as of the 2010 census. It is situated near the north end of the Golden Gate Bridge, and prior to the building of that bridge served as a terminus for rail, car, and ferry traffic.

Sausalito developed rapidly as a shipbuilding center in World War II, with its industrial character giving way in postwar years to a reputation as a wealthy and artistic enclave, a picturesque residential community incorporating large numbers of houseboats, and a tourist destination. The city is adjacent to, and largely bounded by, the protected spaces of the Golden Gate National Recreation Area.