Before you spend old coins and dollar bills or put them in the bank, it could pay to check with a local coin shop first.
Case in point: a $5 bill designed in 1882 and printed locally by the First National Bank of Washington, likely in the early 1900s, that’s worth a lot more than its face value.
The bill, from an anonymous seller, is currently up for auction online through Scotsman Coin and Jewelry in St. Louis until July 23. The sale concludes at the St. Charles Convention Center at 6 p.m.
The highest bid for the bill to date is $3,000. Scotsman Coin estimates the bill’s value between $3,800 and $4,200. It is assigned lot No. 31 in the company’s July 23 auction.
Like baseball cards and other collectibles, the graded condition of a bill impacts its potential value.
The bill was reportedly found in an old cash drawer. It and others like it, known as an 1882 $5 brown back, were printed at national banks across the country. Such bills would differ somewhat in appearance from bank to bank, bearing the name of the town where the bill was printed in large letters on the face side.
“There’s all kinds of different reasons why somebody would want (bills from) that particular bank,” JL Laws, numismatist and paper money expert for Scotsman Coin, said. “They could be from Washington. It could hold sentimental value. They could have relatives that signed the note. Or the name Washington is kind of a unique name for a town. There’s people that collect Washington memorabilia — there’s also Washington, D.C., and Washington, Pennsylvania. There’s very few at auction. There could also be people collecting from the state of Missouri or somebody who just wants to collect from all the banks that were in that county.”
On the $5 bills, the name of the bank appears right beside the image of former U.S. President James A. Garfield, who was assassinated in 1881.
According to antiquemoney.com, The First National Bank of Washington printed $175,400 worth of currency in $5, $10 and $20 bills. The bills would be printed four to a sheet, and 1,420 sheets of the $5 variety were printed.
“That is a small output,” according to the Antique Money website. “National bank notes from here should be scarce. This national bank opened in 1900 and stopped printing money in 1932, which equals a 33-year printing period. That is a fairly normal lifespan for a national bank. ... Don’t expect too many of these to be available to collectors.”
Laws estimated there are a dozen or fewer bills like this one known to still exist. In his 25-year career, Laws said this was only the second bill of its kind he had seen.
“They’re extremely rare,” Laws said. “There’s probably only 10 or 12 of them left in existence. Most of them were deemed (unfit for circulation). Basically, when they were too old, they’d be sent back to the Federal Reserve to be destroyed.”
Along with the portrait of President Garfield, the Washington $5 bill bears the date May 12, 1900 — when the national bank was chartered — along with the bank’s charter number of 5388 and the national treasury serial number and local serial number.
The number 738, appearing below Garfield, is the local serial number, meaning the bill came from the 738th sheet to be printed by that bank.
It is signed by Bank President Anton Kahmann in the lower right, as well as E.C. Stuart, the cashier who issued the bill, just to the right of the local serial number.
“They were hand-signed, most of them, at the smaller banks,” Laws said. “They could have had one of their secretaries sign it for them, if they were lazy. Sometimes there were stamped signatures, but a lot of times the smaller banks would be hand-signed. If it was a really big bank, they’d be engraved.”
The bank’s charter number, 5388, appears much more prominently in the center of the back of the bill. The state seal of Missouri appears on the left-hand side of the back.
Barring the value to collectors, such bills could still potentially be spent as legal tender at face value if one was unaware of its potential value to coin and currency collectors.
“It’s still worth $5 and is legal tender still to this day,” Laws said. “A lot of countries can’t say that about their money that’s 100 years old — it’s still exchangeable.”