Stacks Bowers Sale Yields Cache of Epic Obsoletes

The recent Stack’s Bowers Galleries official auction of the Whitman Coin and Collectibles Baltimore Expo on November 15 to 19, 2011 netted $15.6 million in total sales. Among the paper money highlights were a cache of 19 obsolete bank notes from Minnesota, four of which are unique and six more that are semi-unique. Practically all the notes are at the top of their census for condition. Described by cataloger Bruce R. Hagen as some of the most exceptional obsolete notes to cross his desk, the notes are nothing less than spectacular in their rarity, beauty and condition.

All of the notes are remainders – being unissued notes that were left over and not deployed to banks for circulation. We can only go on the evidence on the notes themselves, but the collection of notes was likely assembled at the end of the note-issuing period for state banks, which was about 1866. It appears that they were given to someone connected with office of the Minnesota State Auditor, who kept unsigned notes on hand, ready to be distributed to state banks. They were a collection kept intact for over 145 years.

The notes were printed around 1859 by the newly formed American Bank Note Company, a conglomeration of smaller bank note companies. Bruce Hagen, who is at the pinnacle of his profession of cataloging obsolete notes, accurately notes in his descriptions the telltale signs of which ABN firm was the lead engraver for certain notes. The $3 Bank of Austin exhibits patent lathe work in the style of Cyrus Durand, while the $1 People’s Bank note appears to be of Bald, Cousland style.

The rundown on the collection is:
• Bank of Austin: $3 and $5, both semi-unique. The Newman Foundation holds the other known notes, an uncut pair of proofs. $3 condition census.
• Bank of Chatfield: $1 and $2. Both condition census.
• Farmers Bank of Mankato: $1, $2, $3 and $5, with the $1 unique, the others semi-unique. All condition census.
• State Bank of Minnesota, Minneapolis: $1, $2, and $5. All tied for best.
• Minnesota Valley Bank, New Ulm: $1, $2, $3 and $5, the first three are the first to be uncovered, the $5 semi-unique. All condition census.
• People’s Bank, St. Peter: $1, $2, $3 and $5. All condition census except for $5, which is tied among numerous remainders.

Minnesota notes are typically very rare, even remainders. A general observation about remainders from most states is that they usually exist in quantity. With few exceptions, remainders of state bank notes from Minnesota were not saved en masse, and those that were saved are typically folded or show rough handling. The discovery of a collection like this is perhaps a once-in-a-lifetime event for Minnesota enthusiasts.

However, it is possible that more notes will be discovered. After all, these were unknown to collectors for over a century. When the next such batch will be uncovered, if ever, is anyone's guess.