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Duplicate sheet serials on nationals
By Peter Huntoon
November 17, 2017

The clerks in the Comptroller of the Currency’s office on two occasions in 1916 found printings for banks wherein the bank sheet serial number on the first sheet duplicated the sheet serial number on the last sheet from the previous printing. Requests were sent to the Bureau of Engraving and Printing to correct the problem. Those requests are reproduced in their entirety here.

“Comptroller of the Currency
“Treasury Department
“January 20, 1916
“Bureau of Engraving and Printing
“On July 23, 1915, this office ordered 80 sheets of $10-$10-$10-$20 notes for the First National Bank of Pleasanton, California. The previous printing from this plate ended with bank number 871, and the 80 sheets ordered on July 23, 1915, were numbered from 871 to 950 inclusive, thus duplicating the first sheet.
“A description of this sheet is as follows: Series 1902, $10-$10-$10-$20, First National Bank of Pleasanton, California, Charter number 9897, Geographic Division P, bank numbers should have been numbered from 872 to 951 inclusive.
“I will thank you to print a sheet for this bank, with bank number 951, upon its receipt the sheet number 871, which has been duplicated, will be returned to you for destruction.

“T. P. Kane
“Deputy Comptroller”

Hand written on the letter was the following:

“Exchange made Jany 25.
“W. S. Davenport
for Chief of Div.”

“Comptroller of the Currency
“Treasury Department
“February 9, 1916
“Bureau of Engraving and Printing
“The last sheet of a package of 160 sheets of $10-$10-$10-$20 notes, for the First National Bank of Los Banos, California, delivered to this office on October 26, 1914, was numbered 931. This sheet was duplicated in a delivery of 80 sheets for this bank, on October 28, 1915, which was numbered from 931 to 1010 inclusive.
“Will you please print me a sheet of $10-$10-$10-$20 notes of this bank to be numbered 1011. When this sheet is delivered the duplicate sheet number 931 will be returned to you for cancellation. The sheet to be destroyed has bank number 931, Treasury number R786756B, Charter number 9933.
“Your attention is invited to the fact that on January 20, 1916, this office returned one sheet of $10-$10-$10-$20 notes of the First National Bank of Pleasanton, California, for correction, the number 871 being duplicated.
“[initials illegible] Fowler
“Acting Comptroller

Hand written on the letter was the following:

“Exchange made OK
“W. W. Eldridge
“Chief Issue Division”

Sounds simple enough. The offending first sheet in each printing with the duplicated bank serial was swapped out for a new sheet with the correct ending serial. It is clear in both cases that only the sheet with the duplicated bank serial number was involved in the swap, not the entire printing.

Case closed. Interesting, but no big deal. Or was it?

What about the Treasury serials? They were still printing Treasury serials in 1915 and continued to use them until August 1925.

We know what the serials were on the Oct. 28, 1915 Los Banos printing; specifically, R786756B-931 through R786835B-1010. Sheet R786756B-931 was canceled. Was it replaced by R786836B-1011?

No way. Treasury serial R786836B already had been used on the first sheet in the order that followed the Los Banos printing back in October 1915. They couldn’t duplicate that number any more than duplicate bank sheet number 931.

The fact is, no one was using Treasury sheet numbers for anything, with the possible exception of allowing the BEP to easily calculate the total numbers of each sheet combination delivered to the Comptroller of the Currency during each fiscal year for the BEP annual reports.

At the time, the Treasury serial numbers appeared on the daily manifests of deliveries to the Comptroller’s office on a form labeled “Schedule of Work to be Delivered;” however, once the sheets arrived in the comptroller’s office, no use was made of them. They weren’t entered in the National Currency and Bond Ledgers, which contained the record of sheets issued to the banks.

In reality, the use of Treasury sheet serials in 1915 was an artifact of tradition, not practicality. Finally, they were abandoned as superfluous in 1925.

The BEP couldn’t assign a lone Treasury serial to the new sheet because there was no bookkeeping provision to handle it. The order already had been logged through the system both on the bureau’s end and the comptroller’s, so to run the replacement sheet through the system would ruin the counts.

The notations on the bottom of both letters reveal that the replacements for the duplicated bank serials was handled off the books. A simple exchange was affected without entering anything on the daily manifests. The BEP had to account for every sheet of currency paper and they got the sheet with the duplicated serial back. Consequently, they could enter it into their mutilated account and be done with the matter.

So, what happened? There is no record. But I am willing to bet that what they did was reuse the Treasury serial number from the duplicated sheet on the replacement.

Specifically, in the Los Banos case, R786756B originally placed on duplicate 931 ended up on new 1011. Yes, there was now one out-of-sequence Treasury serial number on the last sheet in the press run, but who cared because they weren’t using those numbers for anything anyway. And yes, all the books balanced, and yes, there now were no duplicated bank or Treasury sheets serials.

Notice that neither letter addressed the problem of the Treasury serials—probably quite deliberately.

Both of these letters involved an historic lost opportunity.

When the comptroller’s clerks caught a misprinted sheet during this era, they would request a replacement identically as occurred in these two cases. The requesting letter was passed down from the BEP director’s office to the printers who had to make the replacement sheet and then the letter was passed on to the woman who printed the serial numbers onto the replacement using a paging machine. Generally, she would hand set the numbering register to the required serials and before applying each to the sheet, she would verify their correctness by printing them on the letter.

Thus, when we find those letters, we get to see exactly what numbers were involved. Sadly, the paging machine operators did not stamp the serials on either of the two letters under consideration here. Otherwise we would have unambiguous evidence of exactly what was done.

Source of letters

Bureau of Engraving and Printing, 1916, Central Correspondence files: Record Group 318, U. S. National Archives, College Park, Md. (318:450/79/11/2/boxes 24-27).

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