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Early Paper Money of America / Pennsylvania / 1791, etc., Bank of the United States, First Type

Alexander Hamilton in 1779 urged Robert Morris to sponsor the organization of a national bank of issue, using land as security for its notes. Further promulgation of the plan in 1780, 1781 and 1790 culminated in the passage on February 25, 1791 of an Act of Congress incorporating the Bank of the United States with a capital of $10,000,000 divided into 25,000 shares of $400 each. The bank is referred to as the “first bank” to distinguish it from the federally chartered “second bank” of the same name (1816-36, and thereafter as a Pennsylvania corporation). Although the first bank was a private corporation with a 20-year life, the Federal government bought 5,000 shares and became a major depositor and borrower. The United States had not been granted the right to issue its own paper money under the U.S. Constitution, which had become effective in 1789. Circulating notes of the Bank of the United States were given legal tender status for all debts due to the United States, including import duties. The principal office was established in Philadelphia in 1791. The Bank of the United States and its branch offices operated successfully and without a legal test of its constitutionality, liquidating on the expiration of its charter in 1811. Between 1796 and 1802 the Federal government sold its shares in the Bank at a substantial profit. Most bank records were apparently destroyed and the principal sources of information are the reports to Congress made in 1809 and 1811.

The total amount of bank notes issued by the Bank of the United States up to 1811 was $6,152,533 of which $5,037,125 was then outstanding. Of this total the Philadelphia office or parent bank emitted $1,687,893 of which $1,561,833 were then outstanding. The parent bank issued engraved bank notes with the denomination spelled out in a panel on the left end. The counterfeiting of notes of the Bank of the United States was made a Federal crime by Act of June 27, 1798.

Virtually all of the circulating notes of the bank were fully redeemed in specie on liquidation in 1811 and unredeemed examples of genuinely issued bank notes have not been located. A few proof notes and some genuine notes with raised denominations have survived. The principal source of bank note information, however, is from counterfeits made for circulation and a secret circular of the Bank dated Dec. 31, 1791. Most counterfeits have one or more inked x marks on their faces indicating that they were presented to some bank and rejected.

First type (1791, etc.) for parent bank and referred to as “old plates.”

Thirteen stars appear above a heraldic eagle, which is near the upper left corner of the notes. A script denomination appears in the panel on the left end. The numeral at the top is in a beaded oval. For protection against alteration the oval is vertical for the $3 and $5 and horizontal for the $10 and higher denominations. The numeral on the $5 is in red. The date is written in by completing the 179 engraved in the plate, but after 1800 the plate appears to have been modified by removing the engraved numerals of the year. White linen paper with red silk threads was used. Each note was watermarked UNITED STATES in script capitals and contained a portion of the watermarked word BANK in large script capitals. Probably engraved by John Draper. Signed by Thomas Willing as president and John Kean as cashier (later by George Simpson as cashier). The original plate letters were A and B on the $5, $20 and $100; A, B, C and D on the $10; and none on the others. Some subsequent bank note plates for the same denominations contained plate letters continuing in alphabetical order.

$3 ▷CF◁    $5 ▷PR◁    $10 ▷PR◁ ▷CF◁    $20 ▷CF◁    $30 ▷CF◁    $50 ▷PR◁ ▷CF◁     $100 ▷PR◁

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