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Tennessee's 'S' Lost in Plain Sight
By Peter Huntoon, Bank Note Reporter
June 10, 2013

This article was originally printed in Bank Note Reporter.
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Notice how Tennessee is misspelled on the fabulous $5 Original Series full-face proof featured here.

This is one of a handful of $5 Original Series full-face proofs that has been handed down to us. This particular proof has been numismatically known for at least two decades as it made its way through a series of collections and major auctions.

What is remarkable is that the misspelling was never mentioned by any previous owner or cataloger. Certainly they would have highlighted the misspelling had they noticed.

The fact is, the misspelling was not recognized, not even by meticulous Bruce Hagen, its last owner, or the catalogers at Stack’s who last packaged the proof for sale.

Hagen provided this detailed pedigree for the proof: (1) June 1978 NASCA T. James Clarke Collection lot 2984, (2) Glen Jackson collection, (3) June 1990 NASCA Memphis sale lot 3253, (4) November 1990 Smythe Grand Central sale lot 1990 and (5) June 2010 Stack’s Bruce Hagen Collection lot 5505.

Furthermore, even this scribe has been tainted by not spotting the error along with Charles Dean the foremost collector of Tennessee nationals, who has been in the game forever.

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Dean and I co-authored with Matt Hansen an article in the May-June 2007 issue of Paper Money titled “Confederate National Banks” where we chronicled the tale of eight national banks that operated inside the Confederacy during the Civil War. We prominently featured the proof of the title block from this $5, also shown here, which has been in Dean’s collection since June 1987 when he purchased it from veteran collector Roy Pennell at a Memphis show.

The fact is, most people don’t see typos. What you generally read is what you expect to see. If it weren’t for computer spell checkers, meticulous reviewers and vigilant editors, my articles would be even more chock full of misspellings than they are because I just don’t see them.

The full-face proof and the title block are perfect examples that have eluded all who have owned them until now.

Greg Culpepper, a collector-dealer from Tennessee, is the person who gets credit for finally seeing it. He spotted it when he was perusing the Hagen sale catalog. He immediately called Charles Dean to point it out, and Dean immediately looked at his own proof and had one of those “I’ll be darned, how could I have missed this” moments.

Dean, of course, contacted me at the speed of the Internet. I, in turn, contacted both Dave Bowers of Stack’s and Bruce Hagen with the plea that they provide the scan of the full-face proof so I could illustrate this article. To say the least, all of us were amused, and Bruce in particular was chagrined that he missed it. He wondered what else like it might have slipped by in his sale.

The First National Bank of Nashville was Tennessee’s first national bank, and was organized in 1863. The 5-5-5-5 plate for the bank was made in 1864, and, of course, carried the first title block prepared for Tennessee by the Continental Bank Note Co. However, a correctly spelled Tennessee had preceded it for the bank’s 10-10-10-20 plate made by the American Bank Note Co.

We have found no record of how the mistake was made, whether the result of a misspelling on the order form submitted by the Comptroller of the Currency’s office to the Continental Bank Note Co. or a mistake made during the engraving of the title block. Either is possible, or any other of the myriad ways these things happen.

The big question is, did the misspelling made it to the 2,750 sheets of Original Series 5-5-5-5s that were sent to the bank and pressed into circulation? None of those $5 Original Series notes have been reported, so the fact is, we just don’t know.

Certainly the siderographers wouldn’t have proceeded to make the plate from which Hagen’s proof was pulled if they knew of the mistake.

Additionally, we have no record that it was noticed after the notes went into production, perhaps by the bankers, and later fixed.

There are three places to look in the comptroller’s records at the National Archives where occasionally, but not always, errors caught by the comptroller’s clerks of this vintage are flagged. These include: (1) the ledgers listing receipts from the engravers, (2) the National Currency and Bond ledgers, and (3) a duplicate record of shipments to the national banks maintained by the issue division.

I occasionally have found that misprints were flagged in these records, but the method for doing so was ad hoc and at the whim of the particular clerk. Finding such a notation when you search the ledgers is simply good luck.

The first printing of the Nashville $5s arrived at the comptroller’s office in three lots delivered as follows: May 24, 1864 1-500, 612899-612298 red; May 25, 1864 501-1000, 619413-619912 red and May 26, 1864 1001-1500, 622927-623426 red. The first 1,250 of these sheets were shipped to the bank July 14, 1864.

Usually when the clerks found misprints, all you see on the ledger is that the unissued part of the order was canceled without explanation. However, there are no unissued gaps in the Original Series Nashville $5s.

Had the clerks spotted the misspelling, chances are it wouldn’t necessarily have caused them to cease issuing the notes. There are a number of cases where they continued to issue mis-engraved plates after the error was discovered, so long as the problem didn’t involve the serial numbers or, on the later series, overprinted charter numbers.

The Original Series 10-10-10-10 and 20-20-20-50 plates for the bank were altered for use in printing the Series of 1875 by the Bureau of Engraving and Printing, but the bankers didn’t issue 1875 $5s so the 5-5-5-5 plate wasn’t altered. This is most unfortunate because otherwise there would be a proof from the $5 1875 version of the plate in the National Numismatic Collection in the Smithsonian, so we could determine if the misspelling persisted on it. No such luck.

This is one of those frustrating cases where the available leads that we normally follow either are silent or don’t exist.

My bet is that the Original Series $5s were issued with the misspelling. I don’t think the plate ever was repaired. But we won’t know until an issued note turns up.

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