I had to share this story. A few weeks ago I received an email from someone who works for a large international bank. This specific office was in Oregon. He attached a pdf to his email. The pdf was titled “currency for destruction.” Needless to say, I didn’t care for that title. I opened the attachment and found the note below, along with two very high grade looking small size $5 1929 national bank notes.
The above note is a 1902 red seal from The Forest Grove National Bank in Oregon. Your first question should be how can I tell it is a red seal? The bank printed both red seals and blue seals and serial number 18 is low enough that it could be a blue seal or a red seal. The answer is simple, look at the serial number T602621. That symbol at the end of the serial number was only used on red seals from the series of 1902. So any time you see that symbol (I call it a crow’s foot) then you know you are dealing with a red seal.
The black and white image also makes it hard to tell what condition the note is in. It looks like it is probably in VF condition, but it could be as bad as fine. Obviously the pen signatures are much better than average. There were two banks in Forest Grove, OR. Both issued red seals and this is the first red seal reported from either institution. That makes this note kind of a big deal. It would have been much more valuable back in the early part of the 2000s. However, the above bank note is at least worth $5,000. Upon seeing the bank note images I did the first thing any collector would do, I asked for better images (specifically with color). A couple weeks later I was informed that the bank was not allowed to sell currency and that the currency was in fact set to be destroyed.
We can all admit that hearing about a rare collectible being destroyed is painful, but it happens more than you might think. You usually only hear about it on the Federal Reserve level though. If a local bank is given money that they deem fit for destruction either based on its age or condition then that money is sent to the local Federal Reserve bank to be processed and destroyed. It is understandable that you can’t have someone in a back room scanning everything looking for something special. However, where do we draw the line? Large size bank notes physically can’t be combined with other money because of its size. It certainly sticks out.
There is a story that a man in Cleveland had over 80 large size bank notes from the late 1800s. He took them to the Cleveland Federal Reserve Bank to get face value for them. The people at the front desk made it very clear that his money was collectible and that a coin shop down the street would pay much more than face value. The man said he didn’t want to fool with a coin shop and that he just wanted the cash. One can only wonder what he had. He took the face value and the Federal Reserve bank destroyed the money. I think that happened in the 1990s.
There are also government reports that show how much (in face value) of certain types of bank notes are outstanding. For example, one report shows that there is something like $3,360,000 outstanding in $10,000 federal reserve notes. $10,000 times 336 would be $3,360,000. Well every couple of years that total usually goes down by $10,000 or $20,000. That means that despite the fact that even low grade $10,000 bills are worth $50,000, people are still trading them in for face value either at their local branch bank or at the federal reserve banks. Once that money makes its way to the Federal Reserve bank, there is nothing anyone can do to pull it out and sell it for its true collector value.
The large size note and the two small size notes from Forest Grove were displayed in the bank for years. When the local Forest Grove branch merged with the larger national bank the name was changed to the larger bank’s name so of course there was no need to keep displaying the bank notes with the old name. So the bank notes were set aside. I guess the bank notes were recently rediscovered and instead of being donated to a local museum or history center, the bank officials decided it would be a good idea to just destroy it in order to keep with company policy. Before writing this article I did follow up with the bank and was informed that the money 100% has been destroyed as instructed by their money changing policy. Apparently the decision went up several levels, so at any point people could have decided to not destroy it.
Would we destroy a letter signed by Thomas Jefferson or melt a rare coin? Where is the outrage? I just thought I would pass along this story and the image of the bank note.