Bits & Pieces... by David Sundman

The 1866 $20 Gold Certificate –
Held by one family for four generations

$20 Gold Certificate

Above: The hand-dated 1866 signature (indicated by the red arrow) of H.H. Van Dyck, assistant secretary of the U.S. Treasury in New York, makes this note even more rare. One of only two known specimens with his authographed signature. Right: This coin's reverse is shown of the back of the note.

For four generations, the note was in the possession of an anonymous New England family. Authorized in 1863 and issued in 1866, this $20 Gold Certificate was handed down by a great-grandfather who was a New York City banker. It was meticulously kept in a red leather wallet because the family thought it was special and worth more than simply face value. Yet, it took the owners several attempts to learn how important it really is.

The owners told me they thought it might be valuable, but couldn't locate any information. They had approached two New England dealers who offered them around $2,000 or less for their entire collection. Their collection included this note and 64 other large-size and fractional notes. Fortunately, they sought a third opinion and brought it to us.

$20 Double Eagle

Above: the collection included 64 other large-size and fractional notes. Right: the gold coin of the era, the $20 Double Eagle, whose reverse is shown on the back of the note.

“That's a rare note!”

As you may know, I collect paper money. So when I first saw the note I was about 5 feet away and immediately said, “That's a rare note!” Then we helped the owners place it at an auction to be held on March 3rd in Rosemont, Illinois.

Here's the history of the note! Its an original $20 Gold Certificate, part of a series authorized by Congress on March 3, 1863 in denominations of $20 to $10,000 to help finance the Civil War. These notes were redeemable in gold, and issued between 1865 and 1878. (The back of this rare note displays the reverse of the $20 Gold Double Eagle, current gold piece of the time.) By 1895 all but nine of the 48,000 issued had been redeemed. The auction house estimated this ultra-rare note's value as between $250,000 and $500,000, an amount considerably higher than the owners were first offered.

Find out what happened to this note at the auction.