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Coveted William H. Seward 1891 Fifty Dollar Treasury Note in PCGS EF-40 PPQ

A significant rarity and one of the currency highlights of our Official Auction of the ANA World’s Fair of Money auction this August will be a 1891 "Seward" Fifty Dollar Treasury Note (Lot 7676 in the sale). The note is plated in the well received book "100 Greatest American Currency Notes," by Q. David Bowers and David M. Sundman as number 56 on page 85. This note is even rarer as the denomination was skipped in the 1890 series and produced in limited numbers in 1891. The note is one of only 22 recorded examples for this single Friedberg number design. Of the 22 enumerated in the census, six are in Governmental collections and another permanently resides in the ANA museum, leaving a scant 16 available to collectors. The print run for this design was 80,000 notes and of which only 23,500 were distributed. Treasury records reported only $1,250 worth or 25 notes are outstanding.

This striking example’s quality is particularly important, along with its overall rarity. Among the 16 available pieces, a scant few are Uncirculated grades and only two are known in lightly circulated grades such as this. The rest are mostly Fine to Very Fine items and no census data confirms the existence of an About Uncirculated note although one is listed in the PMG Population report. PCGS has graded a single note in the Uncirculated grade range with this Extremely Fine 40 PPQ note being the second finest with no equals. The present Seward $50 is one of only a few examples having been sold publicly more than once with two records being shown in the last 20 years. The note was first offered in a Bowers and Merena sale in November of 2002 where it brought a handy $52,900.00, and selling three years later for $138,000. Since that 2005 offering it has been tightly held with no others of comparable grade selling between then and now. The most notable recent offering was the serial number B7 note which was graded Gem Uncirculated 65 EPQ by PMG that realized $546,250 in June of 2007.

The portrait vignette of William Seward at center is one which is quite dramatic as it displays him in powerful profile view. William Seward is best known for his achievement, while Secretary of the State, when he negotiated the deal to purchase the Alaska Territory from Russia. The transaction at the time was mocked and proclaimed ‘’Seward’s Folly.’’ He retorted to those who questioned the purchase by saying, "It will take people a generation to understand." Seward also was the target in a murder attempt which was directly related to Abraham Lincoln’s assassination on April 14, 1865, but ultimately survived despite being stabbed several times in bed. Seward ultimately led a long life for the time period and passed away at the age of 71 in 1872 with his legacy immortalized on this rare United States banknote.

From a technical standpoint this very rare banknote has a large edge over other high profile rarities with its splendid originality. Seen with some of the most pleasing embossing of the overprints we have seen for a note of this Extremely Fine quality and also with precise inks throughout. The highly ornate features used are all crystal clear with the subtle circulation giving the note claims to an About Uncirculated grade. Light bends ultimately make up the circulation along with minor handling and the note is happily free from distracting problems such as pinholes or other nuances. This rarity is one which will certainly be proudly owned by the winning bidder and will always stand out in any collection. This lovely Seward note is one of numerous rarities and fascinating notes in our upcoming paper money sale in Philadelphia.

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