THIS $5 1882 BROWN BACK IS ONE OF ONLY FOUR NOTES REPORTED – AND THE FIRST TO HIT THE AUCTION BLOCK IN MORE THAN 25 YEARS
By Raiden Honaker
No other type of U.S. paper money has more historical significance and fascinating lore than National Bank Notes. Upon the passage of the National Banking Act of 1863, banks across the country could be granted a charter backed by the United States Government. The National Bank could then issue their own banknotes. Charter number 1 went to the First National Bank of Philadelphia, and the last charter, number 14348, went to Illinois’ Roodhouse National Bank in 1935. Between those first and last charters were thousands of National Banks in all 50 states, as well as banks that issued prior to statehood, known as Territorials. Some of the rarest and most desirable National Bank Notes come from these Territorial charters as they didn’t issue a significant quantity of banknotes due to their remote and newly settled locations. Notes from the Utah Territory, Nebraska Territory, Wyoming Territory, the District of Alaska and the Island of Puerto Rico have produced some of the most valuable notes. However, when it comes to scarcity, one Territory might stand taller than the others: the Territory of Hawaii.
In its May 3-5 Central States Numismatic Society U.S. Currency Signature® Auction, Heritage will offer a significant Hawaii rarity from charter number 5994, The First National Bank of Wailuku – one of only five total issuing charters for the Territory of Hawaii. Those five banks were in Honolulu, Kahului, Lahaina, Paia and, of course, Wailuku. Of those five, charter 5550, the First National Bank of Hawaii at Honolulu, is the only one that is easily obtainable, with close to a thousand total notes reported in the census between the charter’s 1882, 1902 and 1929 Series of National Bank Notes. From the other four charters, all of which were located on the Island of Maui, only 11 notes are known to exist.
When I found out an 1882 Series National from Hawaii had surfaced and was in the process of being consigned, I immediately assumed it was from the obtainable Honolulu charter, which has more than 150 1882 Series Nationals reported. But when I discovered that it wasn’t from charter 5550, I knew it had to be from Wailuku, the only other Hawaii charter to issue 1882 Series Nationals. I also knew then that this note was a gargantuan rarity.
According to the National Bank Note Census, this $5 1882 Series Brown Back is only the fourth reported example from Wailuku. And out of those meager four examples, only one has ever come to auction, and that was close to 26 years ago. That note, also a $5 Brown Back, was a serial number 4 and the first Wailuku National reported when it originally surfaced nearly 15 years prior.
May 3-5, 2023
Longtime paper money dealer and specialist Allen Mincho, who is also co-founder of Currency Auctions of America and Director Emeritus of Heritage Auctions Currency, directly dealt with the serial number 4 example upon its monumental discovery in 1983. “The serial number 4 Brown Back is a fantastic combination of rarity, desirability and grade,” he says now. “It is the only example to have ever crossed the auction block, and it has been more than two decades since any collector has had the opportunity to add a note from this Territorial bank to his or her holdings.” Mincho helped place the note, which eventually ended up in the hands of J.L. Irish, whose collection, including the serial 4 Wailuku, was sold in 1997.
Between the 1882 Series $5, $10 and $20 Brown Backs and Date Backs for the Wailuku charter, a grand total of $97,800 was issued. With only four $5 Brown Backs escaping the jaws of redemption, that results in a scant .02% survival rate. Now, with the outstanding Wailuku National being offered by Heritage, a very fortunate collector will be able to acquire one of U.S. history’s most legendary National Bank Notes – an exceptionally rare opportunity that might not come again for another few decades.
RAIDEN HONAKER is Consignment Director of Currency at Heritage Auctions.