Bits & Pieces... by David Sundman

Postcards and National Bank Notes

[photo: Postcard featuring Bristol National Bank in Bristol, CT and large-size $10 National Bank Note, Series of 1902 Plain Back issued by the bank.]

Postcard featuring Bristol National Bank in Bristol, CT and large-size $10 National Bank Note, Series of 1902 Plain Back issued by the bank.

For paper currency collectors, a fun "go with" item is to pick up a postcard picturing the bank that issued a National Bank Note in your collection. Buying a picture postcard of a bank building from a postcard dealer is usually very inexpensive, often somewhere in the $5.00 to $15.00 range. The Bristol (CT) National Bank seen here was founded in 1875 by John H. Sessions and Charles S. Treadway, who were locally prominent industrialists. The Bristol National Bank building was designed by the office of McKim, Mead and White – leading architects based in New York City and with a worldwide reputation. The firm of McKim, Mead and White designed New York's original Penn Station, designed and built many of the Newport, Rhode Island "cottages" (summer mansions of the elite) and had remodeled the White House in Washington, D.C.

[photo: Small-size $5 National Bank Note, Series of 1929, from First National Bank of Gettysburg (PA)]

Small-size $5 National Bank Note, Series of 1929, from First National Bank of Gettysburg (PA)

I bought the $10 Bristol National Bank Note (seen to the right) many years ago, because my dad, Maynard Sundman, grew up in Bristol, CT. He started his first "stamps for collectors" mail-order business there in 1935 before serving in Europe during WWII, moving to Littleton, NH, and adding coins and bank notes for collectors to our offerings.

From 1863-1935, more than 14,000 federally chartered national banks around the U.S. and its territories issued National Bank Notes. These bank notes were printed to order for the particular chartered national bank in various denominations from $1 to $1,000 by the Bureau of Engraving and Printing in Washington, D.C. Each bank had to post an appropriate bond with the U.S. Treasury. The earlier National Bank Notes of 1863-1928 were 50% larger in size than today's paper currency, and are appropriately called "large-size" notes by today's collectors.

In 2016, more than 150 years since the first National Bank Note was issued, collecting both large and small-size National Bank Notes is a very popular specialty with many numismatists. Assembling National Bank Notes is often referred to as collecting "hometown currency." Usually a collector's interest starts out with a local or regional bent, perhaps collecting notes from a particular town, city or county. Later on, a collector might branch out and collect notes from a larger area such as an entire state. There's no one way to collect National Bank Notes – it's whatever strikes your fancy and your budget.

If you wanted to collect notes from a large state like Pennsylvania, it would require a large budget to accomplish. There were 657 towns with a national bank and 1,196 note-issuing banks (some towns had several banks). To set out with a goal to collect one from each town or bank, if they exist, would be formidable. So with larger states like Pennsylvania, you might decide to collect notes from one town or city, or perhaps your favorite county or region.

As to the current price of National Bank Notes, the more modern small-sized notes in the three lowest denominations ($5, $10 & $20) issued from 1929-1935 can often be purchased in circulated grades from $100.00 to $300.00 each – depending on the state, the scarcity and the relative popularity.

Because I live in a small state, about twenty-five years ago I decided I would begin collecting New Hampshire National Bank Notes. Today, I am still having fun with them! Sometimes it's a good idea to collect notes from a region that is not attracting much attention. For example, while collecting my New Hampshire specialty during the past decade, I noticed relatively few collectors, at the time, seemed to be after National Bank Notes from Vermont banks. Not surprisingly, this relative lack of interest meant a note from Vermont would often be less expensive than a comparably scarce note from New Hampshire – sometimes commanding only half the price. Noting this relative affordability for comparable scarcity, several years ago I began to assemble a small collection of National Bank Notes from my neighboring state of Vermont. Today I have one of the best collections of Vermont bank notes in the United States.

As I travel through New Hampshire or Vermont communities today that contained one or more note-issuing national banks, I immediately picture the note or notes I have from that particular place in my collection. If I'm traveling alone and have the time, I try to see where the old national bank building was located, as I have picture postcards of most of the banks. The locations are not hard to find, as the banks were usually built on well-traveled main streets. As I drive through the community and spot that old bank building, I feel a real connection to the place and its history.

Early large-size National Bank Notes bore the signatures of the bank's cashier and president – leading citizens of the town. These early notes were often signed by hand, and the notes cut one at a time with scissors. Think of how slow the speed of commerce and daily life was in those days compared to today! I find collecting National Bank Notes – America's "hometown currency" – is a lot of fun on many levels and challenging as well. If I've sparked an interest in collecting notes from your own hometown or area, give us a toll-free call at 1-800-645-3122 or write to Littleton Coin Company, 1309 Mt. Eustis Road, Littleton NH 03561 and we'll try to help you with your collecting needs.