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Keys to Selecting a Good Note
By Bill Brandimore, Bank Note Reporter
January 17, 2013

This article was originally printed in Bank Note Reporter.
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How do you pick a good note for your collection? There are countless ways to make a fit. For starters, I like to choose a note I like. It is really tough to suffer buyer’s remorse when you select the wrong note.

The wrong note is one that doesn’t look as nice at home as it did when you bought it. If you examine it carelessly you might have missed a light fold, a small tear, a spot on the note that is a distraction.

It really stings if the note comes back from a third-party grader as less than you thought it should be graded, or as a net- or apparent-graded note, with a detracting defect. Do you know how to guard against this outcome? Look the note over very carefully. Stay away from notes with pen or pencil notations. A light pencil mark can be carefully removed with a soft eraser but I don’t recommend that. Instead, don’t buy the note.

An exception is a note with autographs of celebrities or crew members, who all sign a note as a keepsake. A number of such notes from World War II are quite desirable. I remember being quite impressed by a note Neil Shafer exhibited at a Central States show—a 1$ Hawaii note with Bob Hope’s autograph.

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If a dealer doesn’t have a good light at his table, he’s not really a paper guy. I see a number of collector’s and dealers at the present who are using small pen or LED lights to examine currency for flaws or light, undetected folds. This is a very helpful tool for finding the elusive problems that lead later to buyer’s remorse.

One of the nice things about collecting National Bank Notes is that condition is not as critical as bank rarity. If you’re not assembling a type set, bank rarity is, to me, the number one consideration in selecting a National Bank Note.

A long time ago a number of collectors told me not to pass on certain nationals, because of condition, as you might never see another one from that bank. This was in the days before there were as many references to guide you in the rarity area.

At that time, the Hickman/Oaks catalog was the bible for National Bank Note rarity. They used a rarity scale that termed an unknown bank, or one with one to two survivors, as a rarity six. Two to five notes known made it a rarity five. Four to 12 notes was counted as a rarity four. Anything below five, or in some cases four, was considered fairly common.

Today I chuckle at ads that describe a rare national as being one of only 10 or 15 known of a particular denomination on a particular bank. That isn’t a rare note, merely dealer hype.

Some notes, however, are so desirable that larger numbers still bring pretty stiff prices. Examples include notes from Intercourse, Pa., for obvious reasons, or Soldiers Grove, Wis. as that was the first small-size-only issuing chartered bank.

Some titles are just exciting. Other such titles are Lone Wolf, Okla. or scarce ethnic titles such as The German National Bank of Oshkosh, Wis., which went out of business in the 1890s. Because of the generally lower price range of small-size type notes there is some pressure to collect uncirculated notes. Exceptions would include such notes as the 1933 $10 Silver Certificate or the 1$ 1928 C, D and E star Silver Certificates.

One note I made a condition exception for was my 1928 star Minneapolis $5 Federal Reserve Note, a note rarely seen at all, much less in uncirculated. Just about all the 1928 star $5s fit this exception.

Getting back to picking notes for your collection, however, eye appeal and special interests come to mind. I have a 58-graded 1880 Hamilton $20 Legal Tender that I found irresistible. It has great color, knife-edge corners and is just a delight to the eye. The 58 grade, of course, saved me some money, and I can’t see any flaws through the holder.

With regard to special interest, I recently purchased an obsolete note at auction that was a Fine 15 or so and a remainder to boot. But it is from my hometown of Detroit and features a view of the 1840’s waterfront of that city.

I couldn’t help myself and apparently a number of people could, as I got it at below the low estimate. It reminds me of my Brindle Boxer. She’s awfully homely, but so sweet and full of character that I can’t resist her either.

All in all, it really boils down to passing on notes you don’t like and perhaps being patient enough to wait for the note that matches your earnest desire and pocketbook as well.

On other fronts, I note that recent prices seem to reflect a return to normalcy with regard to the economy. Seen at auction, prices reflect desirability, rarity and past price history.

There is always a certain amount of variation in prices, as a number of things can impact buyers. Certainly you don’t want to offer a hoard of a specific note, as demand at auction only goes so deep and once everyone that wants one satisfy’s their demand, prices will plummet. I saw this and commented on it some time ago when a large number of FC block $1 Hawaii notes went on the auction block. After the first 10 or so, these rare blocks went at bargain basement prices. Now I see that note offered at a slightly lower price than before the auction, but still in keeping with a note that only saw a printing of 12,000.

Fractional and colonial notes still are selling at attractive prices for buyers, especially for lower grade notes. I see this particularly in the 1754 issue of North Carolina notes. Clearly there was a large hoard, but these folk art notes are very fetching.

Beware of big premiums for third-party graded 67 notes on modern current issues. I don’t think those prices will hold up in the long run. They aren’t particularly rare, and remind me of high initial prices for high graded state quarters, especially those offered by telemarketers.

We are getting close to the Chicago Paper Money Expo in Chicago in March and I am itching to see my dealer and collector friends at that show. Along with deep dish Chicago pizza, that is one of my annual treats, second only to the Memphis show, itself.

If you haven’t been to CPMX, think about putting it on your calendar. It will feature a really nice Lyn Knight auction and a number of great dealers from around the country. If you’re looking for a hard-to-find note, this might be the place to find it.

Next month I’ll have a better grasp on price trends, because as I write this column, the Florida United Numismatists show is only a week or so away. I won’t get there this year but hope to do so in 2014.

In the meantime, write me with your questions and comments. I look forward to hearing from you. My email address is

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