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Pen-signed Bank of Italy discovery


Pen-signed Bank of Italy note with the signatures of Arnold J. Mount, vice president, and R. B. Burnister, cashier.

By Peter Huntoon

The Bank of Italy National Trust and Savings Association, charter 13044, was organized in 1927 as the successor to the Bank of Italy, and quickly developed into one of the largest banks and most prolific issuers in the country. The officers ordered Series of 1902 5-5-5-5, 10-10-10-10, 10-10-10-20 and 50-50-50-100 plates.

From the outset they carried the signatures of president J.A. Bacigalupi and cashier R.B. Burnister, which were neatly and rather delicately overprinted. The two signatures were reproduced from fine-line samples. A spectacular set consisting of the serial No. 1 notes from the A positions of all five denominations crossed the auction block as lot 2638 in Lyn Knight’s June 2004 Memphis sale and even those first notes carried the overprinted signatures.

It didn’t take long before the bankers determined that dealing with overprinted signatures was not the way to go, so they ordered engraved signatures for their existing set of plates. Those plates were in good shape at the time, although they were already on their second 5-5-5-5 plate, so the BEP added the signatures to the existing plates. The lines under the signatures were removed as part of the alteration, which was customary. The engraved signatures of Bacigalupi and Burnister were reproduced almost identically to the previous overprinted versions.

Collectors of notes from the bank were astonished when Bill Litt turned up a $5 that had penned signatures from the A-B-C-D plate. His find, purchased from a dealer, carried bank sheet number 59940 so it was signed well after the first $5 notes had been issued.

Not only did it have penned signatures, it was signed by vice president A. (Arnold)J. Mount. No one recalled seeing a penned-signed note from the bank before, let alone a note signed by a vice president.

Mount replaced Bacigalupi as president of the bank in 1929 and served in that capacity until 1931 or 1932. His signature as president and that of Burnister, therefore, became the second set of bank signatures to appear on the Series of 1929 Bank of Italy notes. That combination was used briefly until W.L. Vincent replaced Burnister as cashier in 1930.

The Mount-Vincent combination finished out the Type 1 issues for the Bank of Italy and continued onward into the Type 1 issues for the Bank of America after the title was changed in October 1930.

Vincent and Burnister were replaced by president W.F. Morrish and cashier R.G. Smith in 1932.

Litt’s pen-signed note clearly is an anomaly in the grand sweep of the affairs of the bank. Although its pedigree is lost, it obviously represents a keepsake or presentation note that was created especially by Mount and undoubtedly passed down through his family until it was sold into the numismatic market without fanfare.

Probably a sheet or two were withdrawn from a batch before being sent off to be overprinted with Bacigalupi’s and Burnister’s signatures so that they could be personally signed by Mount as vice president and Burnister as cashier.

At least the D note from sheet 59940 survived to titillate those of us who seriously revere notes from that important bank.


Arnold J. Mount, Dec. 18, 1929.

An obituary for Mount in the Monterey Peninsula Herald advised that he built his entire career in San Francisco Bay area banking, starting as an office boy in a Palo Alto bank.

He served as president of the Central National Bank of Oakland, charter 9502, up until the early 1920s before becoming affiliated with the Bank of Italy.

Subsequently he was chairman of the board of the Oakland Bank of Commerce, which he founded. He was elected to the presidency of the California Bankers Association in 1929. Mount was born Oct. 7, 1884 and died Dec. 16, 1942 at age 58.

This article was originally printed in Bank Note Reporter. >> Subscribe today.

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