AFTER 50 YEARS OF COLLECTING, BILL YOUNGERMAN IS CONSIDERED THE DEAN OF FLORIDA NATIONAL BANK NOTES
Interview by David Stone ● Photographs by Al Diaz
Bill Youngerman started his rare coin, currency and precious metals business more than 50 years ago.
Over the past 25 years, the collector and businessman from Boca Raton, Fla., has put together the most extensive collection of Florida money ever assembled, from colonial to modern issues. His specialty is Florida National Bank Notes. His reference booklet on the series, Collecting Florida National Bank Notes, is widely respected in the hobby, and his online museum, HometownCurrency.org, celebrates the history of Florida currency.
The Intelligent Collector talked to Youngerman about collecting, his remarkable accomplishments and plans for the future.
Florida National Bank Notes are certainly an advanced collecting discipline. Was it the first thing you collected?
No. Like many collectors of my generation, I started collecting pennies and nickels from circulation as a kid in the 1950s. My collecting interests continued to grow over the years, eventually leading to my career in numismatics and my collection of Florida money.
Did you have other collections?
Yes. I graduated to more expensive and exotic collectibles as soon as I could afford them. For instance, I have collected gold in every form and from every country, U.S., world, coins and bullion, rotating my collections over the years as opportunities developed. I finally settled on obsolete currency around 1990.
With your many numismatic interests, what factors convinced you to focus on collecting currency?
The currency field was definitely undervalued when I began collecting in the early 1990s, making entry costs minimal. Even the better issues were relatively affordable. As an entrepreneur, I was fascinated by all the great values I saw in early U.S. currency, especially National Bank Notes. As a collector, I found the history behind the notes especially rewarding. Each note has its own individual story, inextricably linked to a particular time and community. The history of Florida banking, its towns and people, is illustrated in its National Bank Notes. In addition, the notes are beautiful. Each one is a miniature work of art, a real pleasure to contemplate.
What exactly is a National Bank Note?
National Bank Notes were authorized by the National Currency Act, signed by Abraham Lincoln on Feb. 25, 1863. The monetary system of the country was in chaos at the time, due to financial stresses and uncertainties of the Civil War. The measure was enacted to “provide a National Currency, secured by a pledge of United States stocks, and to provide for the Circulation and Redemption thereof.” The notes were issued by chartered National Banks that purchased U.S. bonds and deposited them with the Treasury Department. Each chartered bank could then obtain and issue National Bank Notes with its title, charter number and town name for up to 90 percent of the value of the bonds. The notes exhibited the engraved signatures of the current Registrar and Treasury Secretary and were hand-signed or stamped by the cashier and president of the bank. Treasury seals of various colors appear on the front of each note. Large size notes were issued until 1929, when the Small size notes were first authorized. The National Bank Notes were replaced by Federal Reserve Notes by 1935.
You live in Florida. Did you focus on Florida Nationals as sort of a “hometown” series?Yes. Florida National Bank Notes are a fascinating series. The state claims 109 chartered National Banks, located in 59 different towns. National Bank Notes are known for 102 of the charters, providing collectors with a wide variety of collecting opportunities.
How did you amass your collection?
I participated in auctions, cultivated relationships with all the major currency dealers, and sometimes purchased entire collections to improve my holdings.
Can you tell us about the Barnett Collection that you purchased in 2013?
That was one of the greatest old-time collections, started by [Florida] Senator Warren Henderson in the late 1950s. Like me, he expanded his holdings by purchasing other well-known collections, like those of Clarence Criswell, in 1968, and Harley Freeman, in 1970. He sold the collection to Barnett Banks of Florida in 1986, via Harold Johnson. The bank retained ownership until 1998, when the collection was briefly gifted to the University of Florida, before being sold to Barnett Bank’s President and COO Allen Lastinger Jr. I had always dreamed of acquiring the collection, which I finally succeeded in doing through a private treaty purchase in November 2013.
Your Series 1902 $10 note from the First National Bank of Fort Meade is called the “Holy Grail” of Florida National Bank Notes. What can you tell us about it?
There was only one chartered National Bank in Fort Meade, the First National Bank of Fort Meade, chartered on May 12, 1913, with a capital of $25,000. Records indicate the bank only issued small amounts of currency, in Series 1902 $10 and $20 notes. The bank was voluntarily liquidated in 1919, when it was absorbed by the Bank of Fort Meade. Despite a diligent 85-year search, no National Bank Notes from the town of Fort Meade were known to collectors until 2004. It was the only Florida town with a chartered National Bank that had no known notes. As you say, the Fort Meade Florida National Bank Note was the “Holy Grail” of Florida collectors.
Finally, one lucky family unexpectedly found a Series 1902 Blue Seal $10 Date Back Note from the First National Bank of Fort Meade in an old safe deposit box in 2004. The note was charter number 10386, signed by L.L. Bean as cashier and W.E. Arthur as president. It was placed in the Nov. 20, 2004, Lyn Knight Currency Auction at the Professional Currency Dealers’ National and World Paper Money Convention in St. Louis. Against stiff competition from a half-dozen bidders, I was the winning bidder on the lot, which realized a record price of $132,250.
How complete is your collection today?
Thanks to my purchase of the Fort Meade note, I now have the only collection of Florida National Bank Notes that includes an example from all 59 towns with a chartered National Bank. I acquired three more unique town notes in 2013, when I purchased the Barnett Collection. I have at least one note from each of the 102 known charters. As I comment in my book, the collection now consists of more than 500 National Bank Notes of all different banks, towns and denominations, plus every town issuing obsolete bank notes and scrip, plus state and territorial notes.
Do you think you will ever be able to complete it?
I lack a few obsolete notes and one National Bank Note I have not been able to track down. There are still seven charters with no known notes reported. Since I collect every denomination from every Florida National Bank, I believe completion is an impossible task, at least in one lifetime.
While it is obvious that Florida notes are your biggest passion, are there other National Bank Notes you collect?
Yes. Two of those collections are featured on our museum site. The first one is listed under our category of “Fort Note Collection” and is made up of about 40 different Fort titled town banks from around the United States, such as the Army National Bank of Fort Leavenworth, Kan. My wife Sharon has her collection featured under “Sharon Town Notes,” which is a complete collection of the nine different Sharon towns from around the United States as well as a few obsolete bank notes.
With all the different collecting opportunities, it seems that just about anyone could become interested in collecting National Bank Notes.
Yes. A few years ago, when my company was making a market in all National Bank Notes, we came up with more than 100 different themes, ways and reasons to collect Nationals.
Do you feel they are still a collectible with great potential and value?
Yes. In fact, a few years ago we ran a full-page advertisement featuring 100 different Nationals and asked the question, “What is rarer than an 1804 Silver Dollar, a 1913 Liberty Nickel, or an Ultra High Relief $20 gold piece? Answer: Every National Bank Note in this advertisement!” Every note was offered at less than $5,000 at the time, and fewer than five examples of each note were known.
Tell us about your museum website.
HometownCurrency.org explores the history of Florida currency in a museum and research role, breaking down currency by city and bank. It also provides great reference to news articles, historical pictures and intuitive videos for users of all ages to learn and enjoy, and hopefully inspire new collectors. Our “select a city/category” menu posts more than 140 different areas of interest, including Florida tokens, bonds, checks, historical documents, postal history, medals, and other National Bank Note collections we have. It also features our vast collection of [Spanish] shipwreck gold coins from the Atocha and the 1715 Treasure Fleet.
What is your favorite part of collecting National Bank Notes and do you have any advice for collectors starting out?
The thrill of the hunt is still my favorite part of collecting. New collectors should be aware that new notes are still being discovered all the time. Collecting Florida National Bank Notes offers many opportunities for collectors to expand the knowledge base and acquire rare and valuable issues, if you have the ingenuity and patience to look in new areas. I plan to continue to take advantage of these opportunities and I encourage others to do the same. You never know when the next important discovery will surface.
DAVID STONE is a numismatic cataloger at Heritage Auctions who has written for The Numismatist and Coin World.
This article appears in the Spring/Summer 2019 edition of The Intelligent Collector magazine. Click here to subscribe to the print edition.