An Overview of National Bank Note Types issued 1863-1935

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On February 25, 1863, Abraham Lincoln signed the National Currency Act into law, which provided for the establishment of National Banks and a bond backed national currency. Each National Bank had a minimum capitalization of $50,000, and was required to purchase bonds which were deposited with the Treasury of the United States as security for its bank note circulation. The purchase of these bonds helped finance the Civil War. This bond-secured circulation protected note holders from loss, even if the issuing bank should fail. This replaced the poorly regulated system of State-chartered banks that issued currency with little or no security backing, which often resulted in people holding worthless bank notes if the bank failed.


During the National Bank Note Era (1863-1935) five Series with eleven Types of notes were issued:

Series/Type Years Printed
Original Series 1863-1875
National Gold Bank Notes 1870-1883
Series 1875 1875-1902
Series 1882 Brown Back 1882-1908
Series 1882 Date Back 1908-1915
Series 1882 Value Back 1915-1922
Series 1902 Red Seal 1902-1908
Series 1902 Date Back 1908-1915
Series 1902 Plain Back 1915-1929
Series 1929 Type 1 1929-1933
Series 1929 Type 2 1933-1935

Original Series

The first National Bank Notes issued are called the Original Series, and were printed from 1863 to 1875. These beautiful notes have intricate historical and allegorical designs on the front, with reproductions of historical paintings in the U.S. Capitol on the back. Original Series notes were issued in denominations of $1, $2, $5, $10, $20, $50, $100, $500 and $1000, with 24 different sheet combinations.

National Gold Bank Notes

Prior to 1880 in the United States, the western states were 'hard money' regions, where gold and silver coins were the primary circulating medium. All paper money was suspect and heavily discounted relative to gold and silver, especially after banks and the U.S. Treasury suspended specie payments during and after the Civil War.

To help address this situation, Congress amended the National Bank Act on July 12, 1970 to allow for the creation of National Gold Banks, which would issue notes that were fully redeemable at par into gold or silver coin at any of the National Gold Banks. The costs to the bank for this issue privilege were substantial compared to regular National Banks which were only obligated to redeem their notes at par in 'lawful money' (specifically U.S. Demand notes). Due to these higher costs of operation, and limited opportunities, only ten National Gold Banks were ever chartered.

On January 14, 1875 Congress passed an act that required the resumption of specie payments on January 1, 1879. As a result, on that date, all legal tender notes became fully convertible into gold or silver coin, and all classes of currency circulated at par. With the resumption of specie payments, the end was in sight for the National Gold Banks, and by early 1884 all of the National Gold Banks had either liquidated or converted to (more profitable) regular National Banks.

Between 1870 and 1883, the National Gold Bank Notes were issued using the Original Series and Series 1875 designs, with 'Redeemable in Gold Coin' printed along the top of the note face. They were issued in denominations of $5, $10, $20, $50, $100, $500 and $1000 (No $500 notes are known to have survived, and no $1000 notes ever reached circulation).

Series 1875

Prior to 1875, the printing of the faces, backs and bank serial numbers for National Bank Notes was outsourced to private bank note companies, which also designed, engraved and maintained the printing plates. The Bureau of Printing and Engraving (part of the U.S. Treasury Department) handled the overprinting of the Treasury seal, Treasury serial number, and the bank's charter number on the notes.

In 1875, for security reasons, the Bureau of Engraving and Printing began printing the faces of all National Bank Notes. The backs of the notes were still printed by the private bank note companies until January 1877 when the B.E.P. also took over that printing. A new Series 1875 was initiated to distinguish the National Bank Notes where the face, treasury seal, bank and treasury (sheet) serial numbers, and charter number were printed by the Bureau of Engraving and Printing. Series 1875 notes had the same face and back designs as the Original Series, with a red 'Series 1875' overprint on the face to indicate the new series. They were issued in the same $1, $2, $5, $10, $20, $50, $100, $500 and $1000 denominations as the Original Series.

Series 1882

The Act of July 12, 1882 allowed existing National Banks to receive a 20 year extension, and also called for a new series of note designs to be issued. Over the next 40 years, there were 3 distinct types of Series 1882 bank notes issued: 1882 Brown Back, 1882 Date Back and 1882 Value Back. Brown Backs are the most common type of the surviving Series 1882 bank notes, with 63% of the total notes reported. Value Backs are the rarest type with 12% of the total Series 1882 notes reported, and Date Backs are in the middle with 25%.

Series 1882 Brown Backs

1882 Brown Backs were the first of the Series 1882 Types to be issued, and were so named due to their backs printed in brown. Brown Backs were first issued in August of 1882, and discontinued in 1908 as a result of the Aldrich-Vreeland Act. These notes were issued to newly chartered National Banks, and to replace the current Original Series and Series 1875 notes as existing National banks extended their charters for 20 years upon expiration. Series 1882 Brown Backs were issued in denominations of $5, $10, $20, $50 and $100, and in plate combinations of 5-5-5-5, 10-10-10-10, 10-10-10-20 and 50-100.

Series 1882 Date Backs

1882 Date Backs were the second of the Series 1882 Types to be issued, and were so named due to the 1882 * 1908 dates printed on their backs. They were first issued in 1908, as a result of the Aldrich-Vreeland Act, which allowed additional securities to back increased note circulation during financial emergencies. 1882 Date Backs were issued to newly chartered National Banks, and were also issued to existing National Banks that had been issuing the now discontinued Brown Backs. Date Backs were issued mainly from 1908 to 1915, but a few continued to be issued until 1922. Series 1882 Date Backs were issued in denominations of $5, $10, $20, $50 and $100, and in plate combinations of 5-5-5-5, 10-10-10-10, 10-10-10-20, 50-100 and 50-50-50-100.

Series 1882 Value Backs

1882 Value Backs were the third of the Series 1882 Types to be issued, and were so named due to the 'value' (denomination) spelled out on their backs. They were first issued in 1916, after the expiration of the Aldrich-Vreeland Act on June 30, 1915. 1882 Value Backs were issued to newly chartered National Banks, and were also issued to existing National Banks that had been issuing the now discontinued 1882 Date Backs. Value Backs were issued from 1916 through 1922. Series 1882 Value Backs were issued in denominations of $5, $10, $20, $50 and $100, and in plate combinations of 5-5-5-5, 10-10-10-20 and 50-50-50-100.

Series 1902

The Act of April 12, 1902 allowed existing National Banks to receive a 20 year extension, and also called for a new series of note designs to be issued. Over the next 28 years, there were 3 distinct types of Series 1902 bank notes issued: 1902 Red Seal, 1902 Date Back and 1902 Plain Back. Plain Backs are by far the most common type of the surviving Series 1902 bank notes, with 80% of the total notes reported. Red Seals are the rarest type with only 5% of the total Series 1902 notes reported, and Date Backs are in the middle with 15%.

1902 Red Seals

1902 Red Seals were the first of the Series 1902 Types to be issued, and were so named due to their red Treasury seal. These notes were issued from 1902 to 1908. Series 1902 Red Seals were issued in denominations of $5, $10, $20, $50 and $100, and in plate combinations of 5-5-5-5, 10-10-10-10, 10-10-10-20 and 50-100.

1902 Date Backs

1902 Date Backs were the second of the Series 1902 Types to be issued, and were so named due to the 1902 - 1908 dates printed on their backs. They were first issued in 1908, as a result of the Aldrich-Vreeland Act, which allowed additional securities to back increased note circulation during financial emergencies. Date Backs were issued mainly from 1908 to 1915, but some banks continued to issue $50 & $100 Date Backs as late as 1926. Series 1902 Date Backs were issued in denominations of $5, $10, $20, $50 and $100, and in plate combinations of 5-5-5-5, 10-10-10-10, 10-10-10-20, 50-100 and 50-50-50-100.

1902 Plain Backs

1902 Plain Backs were the third of the Series 1902 Types to be issued. These notes used the same front and back designs as the 1902 Date Back series, with the 1902 - 1908 dates removed from the backs, which is why they are called Plain Backs. They were first issued in 1915, after the expiration of the Aldrich-Vreeland Act on June 30, 1915. Unlike previous Series Types, the Bank Serial numbers did not start over at 1 with the new Type. Plain Backs were issued from 1915 through 1929. Series 1902 Plain Backs were issued in denominations of $5, $10, $20, $50 and $100, and in plate combinations of 5-5-5-5, 10-10-10-10, 10-10-10-20 and 50-50-50-100.

Series 1929

In 1929, all types of Federal currency were transitioned from large size to small size. This change was made for two reasons: Small size notes were cheaper and simpler to produce, and the Treasury wanted to adopt a uniform design for all types of paper money (for example, all small size $10 notes would have the same central portrait of Alexander Hamilton, the same counters on the corners, and the same back design).

1929 Type 1 & Type 2

Series 1929 small size National Bank Notes were issued from 1929 until the end of the National Bank Note Era in 1935 in denominations of $5, $10, $20, $50 and $100. There were two distinct types of small size National Bank Notes issued, with the same design, but different overprints: Type 1 notes were issued from July 1929 to May 1933 with the charter number overprinted twice in black, and Type 2 notes were issued from May 1933 to 1935 with the charter overprinted four times (twice in black, and twice in brown). Type 1 are much more common with 75% of the total small size survivors reported, with 25% for Type 2 notes.