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Early Paper Money of America / Pennsylvania / 1782, etc. Bank of North America, First Style of Notes

Robert Morris, Blair McClenaghan, and others began a subscription drive for shares in a private bank in Philadelphia on June 8, 1780, but due to the fall of Charleston to the British enlarged the bank project on June 19, 1780 to seek a capital of £300,000 Pennsylvania money of account ($800,000), payable in specie. The initial purpose of the bank was to arrange for payments to the United States armed forces, as the national government had no funds available. The unincorporated bank soon developed some minor banking functions but did not then issue circulating notes. Morris on becoming Superintendent of Finance of the United States in May 1781 continued his support for the use of the bank primarily for national purposes and finally the Bank of North America was perpetually incorporated by the Continental Congress on December 31, 1781, with a capital of $400,000 divided into 1,000 shares of $400 each. The Ordinance of incorporation provided that the bank had no authority to exercise any power in any State contrary to the laws of such State. It was permitted to issue bank notes in accordance with a Plan previously submitted to Congress on May 17, 1781 and approved by Congress on May 26, 1781. These bank notes were to be accepted in all payments due to the United States and the States themselves. The United States purchased and paid for 633 shares and promptly borrowed the money back for governmental purposes. The bank opened for business in Philadelphia on Jan. 7, 1782.

In Pennsylvania the bank was separately incorporated on April 1, 1782, followed by an annulment of the charter on Sept. 13, 1785, a reincorporation for 14 years on Mar. 17, 1787, and a renewal on Mar. 20, 1799 for another 14 years beyond its then 1801 expiration. It was incorporated in New York on April 11, 1782 and granted the exclusive right to conduct the banking business in that State during the remainder of the War. Massachusetts gave it corporate status on Mar. 8, 1782 and Delaware also did on Feb. 2, 1786. Delaware had previously protected the Bank’s circulating notes with a special counterfeiting law on Feb. 8, 1783 as Rhode Island had done in Jan. 1782. On Jan. 7, 1782, Connecticut made bank notes on the Bank of North America receivable there for taxes.

The paper for the first issue of bank notes was authorized to be purchased on Dec. 22, 1781 through Robert Morris, then Superintendent of Finance of the United States. It was produced by Mark Willcox of Chester County, Pennsylvania and watermarked NATIONAL BANK. It did not contain colored threads. The engraved plate for the $1,000 denomination was selected for a trial printing of 250 of the first notes. The original issue of notes in January 1782 had eight denominations, the lowest being $20. In May, 1782, it was realized that lower denominations were needed and $10 and $15 notes were added. The text for the notes was adapted from the form used on the circulating notes of the Bank of England and that text was ratified by the stockholders and directors on November 4, 1782. The first two numbers of the year were engraved and the last two written in. Three numbers of the year were engraved in the notes issued during the last decade of the 18th century. Secret marks (some developed by David Rittenhouse), watermarks, and colored fibers in the paper were changed on three occasions prior to 1784.

On February 19, 1782, Robert Morris expressed his intentions of issuing some of the bank’s notes as a substitution for his personal circulating notes which he had issued in 1780 and 1781 to pay government obligations and when Morris notes were presented this was done.

Although the bank notes originally issued by the Bank of North America were discounted as much as 15% in exchange for specie, they returned to par before 1782 had ended. When notes were ready to be retired because of wear or damage, the cashier would cancel them and turn them over to the president who would have them pasted into a book by denomination.

The emissions were signed by Thomas Willing as president (1781-92) and by Tench Francis as cashier (1781-92), followed by John Nixon as president (1792-1808) and Richard Wells as cashier (1792-1800). The Pennsylvania Bank (1780-84), acting originally as an unincorporated predecessor in Philadelphia, did not issue circulating bank notes and supported the circulation of Commonwealth of Pennsylvania issues of April 29, 1780 and April 20, 1781, payable in specie. A request for a charter was denied in 1784 because it would compete with the Bank of North America.

The Bank of North America became a national bank after the Civil War before losing its name through a merger.

First Style of Notes

The original issue of bank notes has an oval of 13 stars at the top for a written control letter; the word BANK in script on the left end; no engraved plate letters or officers’ titles; and only 17 of the date on the plate. Watermarked NATIONAL BANK. Blank backs.

January 1782: $20  $25  $30 ▷PR◁  $40  $50  $100 Very Fine $37,375 Stack’s January, 2005  $500 $1000

May 1782: $10 ▷CF◁  $15

Fall 1782: Same as prior issue except that the watermark in the paper was changed to THE NATIONAL BANK and some blue fibre was used in the paper.

$10  $15 $20  $25  $30  $40  $50  $100

July 1783: Same as prior issue except that the watermark in the paper was changed to THE NATIONAL BANK OF AMERICA and red fibre was used in the paper.

1784: Same as prior issue except that the watermark in the paper was changed to NATIONAL BANK OF AMERICA and some red fibre paper and some blue fibre paper was used.

$5  $10  $15  $20  $25  $30  $40  $50  $100

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