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Noteworthy Notes: A New Discovery Receives a Freidberg Number

By Philip Thomas - August 18, 2022

Friedberg... It’s one of the most preeminent names in all of American numismatics — one that is practically synonymous with United States banknotes. It’s what “The Red Book” is to coins, what “Scott” is to stamps, and what “Pick” is to world banknotes.

Reliably referenced and undeniably universal in its acceptance among professional currency dealers and hobbyists alike, Robert Friedberg set out in the early 1950s to create the most complete and elite standard reference work possible. Nearly two-dozen updated editions of “The Friedberg” (formally titled Paper Money of the United States) have been published over the seven decades since under the direction of Robert’s two torch-carrying sons, Arthur and Ira.

PCGS Banknote employs the Friedberg numbering system on its holder labels (stylized as “Fr.” followed by a variety-specific catalog number) for any applicable United States banknote that it certifies. The research team here, like clockwork, habitually makes quick work of identifying and attributing this material with the proper Friedberg number thanks to both its elephant-like memory as well as the guide’s color-coded, conveniently organized and generously illustrated format.

Recently, this well-oiled machine was thrown a bit of a monkey wrench when a variety of banknote that had entered its operation — wait for it — had simply not yet been cataloged. What an exceptional occurrence!

This extremely rare Original Series $50 National Bank Note from the First National Bank of Geneva, Ohio, has a combination of characteristics that is currently not accounted for in Friedberg: the earliest Treasury signature combination of Chittenden and Spinner, red serial numbers, and bank charter numbers — in this case “153” — overprinted in red ink at left and right. The current closest Friedberg number would be the Fr. 440a, which has the same signatures and serial numbers printed in red but does not display charter numbers anywhere on the note.

Our first call was to Arthur Friedberg himself, who acknowledged the omission and informed us that this variety would now be recognized as a Fr. 440b and listed as such within future editions of his eponymous publication. Our second call was to highly reputed numismatic researcher and prolific writer Peter Huntoon to learn more about what went into the making of this previously unrecognized variety.

The “Without Charter Number” and “With Charter Number” divide for not only Original Series $50 banknotes but all denominations of Original Series nationals boils down to a federal act of Congress passed on June 20, 1874. The new law required the Bureau of Engraving and Printing to place charter numbers corresponding to the issuing national bank on each note that it produced moving forward as well as on any unissued, uncut sheets of National Bank Notes that were in the physical possession of the Comptroller of the Currency at the time. Under the terms of the act, the burden of sorting and redeeming National Bank Notes was transferred from the private banks themselves to the Treasury department and the government felt that by adding these numeric identifiers in big, bold red print, the cumbersome accounting job would be made much easier for them.

The encountering of an uncatalogued specimen that requires the generation of a new Friedberg number is far from commonplace. The PCGS Banknote team was honored to have played a role in the formal recognition and adoption of the Fr. 440b in addition to being able to certify this remarkable note.

Newly recognized Fr. 440b displays both red serial numbers and bank charter numbers. Click images to enlarge.
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