A Colorful and Short-Lived Legal Tender Rarity

Stack’s Bowers Galleries is pleased to offer a Choice Very Fine $50 Legal Tender Note from the Series of 1869 in the August 2024 Global Showcase Auction. This example from the Porter Collection is representative of a denomination and type that is seen infrequently compared to the lower denominations issued under this series. A portrait of Kentucky Senator Henry Clay depicted toward the end of his life is seen at right, his first and only appearance on a federally issued banknote. A generation prior, however, when three-time presidential candidate Clay was still alive, his portrait was a mainstay on notes issued by a variety of private and state-chartered banks particularly in his home state of Kentucky.

Opposite Clay at the leftmost end of the offered note, a vignette entitled Return of Peace portrays a goddess holding a small statuette of Mercury in her hand surrounded by images of agriculture and commerce.

Perhaps the most distinctive aspect of this note is not the subject matter, but rather the lively color, the cutting edge of banknote production at the time. It is printed on blue-stained paper which has led to the application of the “Rainbow” moniker for it and its counterparts issued under the Series of 1869. The blue-stained paper marks a distinct contrast against the large pinkish-red Treasury Seal at center and the back design which is printed in various shades of green.

This design would unfortunately prove susceptible to counterfeiting and as a result, it was replaced in 1874 with one featuring Benjamin Franklin along with an allegorical depiction of Liberty. The latter design would be used through the early years of the 20th century.

Today $50 Legal Tender notes issued under the Series of 1869 are scarce and with strong demand from collectors and dealers alike strong realizations are the norm. Even extensively circulated examples often realize in excess of five figures at auction (barring any major or unsightly impairments).

This example is one of the few graded Choice Very Fine or higher, providing a significant opportunity for collectors. When you combine its exceptional eye appeal with the enthusiasm of those seeking original high-end type notes, a strong realization is all but certain when this note crosses the auction block in our August Global Showcase Auction.

For more information about our auctions or to consign your numismatic items, please call 800-458-4646 or email

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