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A Closer Look at a Series of 1869 $1 "Rainbow Note"

By Cory Williams - June 19, 2020

1869 $1 Legal Tender; courtesy of Heritage Auctions, Click image to enlarge.

The Series of 1869 United States Notes, dubbed "Legal Tenders" by banknote collectors, were printed under the authority of the Congressional Act of March 3, 1863, which authorized an issue of $150 million in banknotes representing a variety of denominations not less than one dollar.  This Act is also printed vertically on the face of the note at the left border.

Owing to the multiple colors visible on these notes are white paper with a blue partial tint, red serial numbers, green serial number frame and top tint, and a red or "pinkish" Treasury seal.  These have been nicknamed "Rainbow Notes" and as such are in great demand.

Strangely this is the only series of banknotes under the United States Note/Legal Tender class that is referred to as a "Treasury Note" on the banknote itself.

  George Washington Athenaeum Portrait by Gilbert Stuart  
George Washington Athenaeum Portrait by Gilbert Stuart, 1796 oil on canvas; public domain image. Click image to enlarge.

The Series of 1869 $1 marks the first appearance of George Washington on the $1 denomination, a tradition still held today on contemporary dollar bills.  The portrait comes to us from the famous unfinished painting by Gilbert Stuart in 1796, known as "Athenaeum Portrait."  This portrait, considered Stuart's most notable work, was engraved by Alfred Sealey.

A total of 41,868,000 Series of 1869 $1 Rainbow Notes were issued between 1869 and 1875.  These banknotes were printed with a prefix of A, B, K, V, and Z, and all serial numbers end with a star, but this was merely for decoration as Star Note replacement notes didn't come to fruition until 1910.

Only one pair of Treasury officials held office during this period and had their facsimile signatures affixed to these banknotes.  They were Register of the Treasury John Allison and Treasurer Francis Elias Spinner.  They were in office together from April 3, 1869 to March 23, 1875.

Vignette of Christopher Columbus discovering land; courtesy of Heritage Auctions,

On the left side of the face of the note is a vignette of Christopher Columbus discovering land, based on a painting by Charles Schussele, and engraved by Joseph P. Ourdan.  Also at the left is a small 1866 patent mark referring to the J.M. Willcox & Co. patent protecting their ingenious concept of security banknote paper with fibers.

The back of the note, entirely in green ink (a feature present on the vast majority of US Federal banknotes) is comprised of intricate lathework reminiscent of flowers, along with the various text and numerals.

On the right side of the back is a lengthy section of text that reads:

"This Note is a Legal Tender at its face value for all debts public and private, except duties on imports and interest on the public debt.  Counterfeiting or altering this note or passing any counterfeit or alteration of it, or having in possession any false or counterfeit plate or impression of it, or paper money made in imitation of the paper on which it is printed is a felony, and is punishable by $5,000 fine, or 15 years imprisonment at hard labor or both."
  Reverse of Series 1869 $1 Legal Tender  
Reverse of Series 1869 $1 Legal Tender; courtesy of Heritage Auctions, Click image to enlarge.


  • Bowers, Q. David. Whitman Encyclopedia of U.S. Paper Money. Whitman Publishing, 2009.
  • Bowers, Q. David and David M. Sundman. 100 Greatest American Currency Notes. Whitman Publishing, 2006.
  • Friedberg, Arthur L. and Ira S. Paper Money of the United States. The Coin & Currency Institute, Inc., 2010.
  • Murray, Douglas D. The Complete Catalog of United States Large Size Star Notes 1910-1929. The Coin & Currency Institute, 2009.

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