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Noteworthy Notes: 1902 $5 Red Seal National Bank Note

By Philip Thomas - April 19, 2023

This 1902 $5 Red Seal National Bank Note shines with its star-studded story. Courtesy of PCGS. Click image to enlarge.

Some banknotes are shining stars – even if they are not technically Star Notes (also known as Replacement Notes). And this installment of Noteworthy Notes features a real superstar – even though a star is nowhere to be seen within its design!

Now that these paradoxical assertions have potentially caused some to see stars, it’s time to explain the numerous, noble, nuanced, and noteworthy qualities that contribute to making this stellar 1902 $5 Red Seal National Bank Note quite the star-studded piece destined to leave observers starstruck. In this special case, no actual stars were harmed (or printed) in the making of this Third Charter Period issue from The Second National Bank of Springfield, Massachusetts, and which happens to hail from the very first sheet of Red Seals printed for this New England institution.

If this museum-caliber note’s cardinal red overprint and embryonic serial number “1” weren’t admirable enough, it has been identified by PCGS Banknote staff as a Replacement Note! But, wait a second… Where’s the star? Aren’t Replacement Notes also known as “Star” Notes? The answer is yes… And no.

Even the most casual part-time or aspiring numismatist is likely familiar with the concept of a Star Note and has probably even located a few inside of their wallet over the years. Starting in the summer of 1910 and continuing until this day, the U.S. Bureau of Engraving and Printing (BEP) has maintained the practice of replacing misprinted, miscut, smudged, damaged, or otherwise imperfect banknotes deemed unfit for circulation with alternates from a preprinted reserve of Star Notes. These replacements have conspicuous star characters located at either the beginning (prefix) or end (suffix) of their overprinted serial numbers. While the size and shape of the stars used by the BEP have changed over the years, the one thing that has remained constant throughout this century-plus period is the pentacular form itself.

Luckily for banknote specialists, significant advances into how to identify Replacement Notes produced by the BEP prior to 1910 have been made in recent years. This, thanks to prolific banknote researchers and writers Peter Huntoon and Shawn Hewitt, to whom we all owe a debt of gratitude. As it turns out, some “Pre-Star Replacements” – but only those printed between the comparably narrow date range of 1903 and 1910 – are indeed identifiable, but only if they meet a very stringent set of requirements involving date of production, Friedberg number, sheet configuration, serial number range, and most importantly – of all things – serial number font style.

Delving too deeply into the details here is impractical. As one PCGS Banknote staff member sarcastically commented, it takes a doctoral degree in forensic science to properly identify a “Pre-Star Replacement.” Thankfully, for the public-at-large, they can always rely on PCGS Banknote to responsibly run the diagnostics and correctly certify their “Pre-Star Replacements” on their behalf – at no extra charge.

To briefly summarize, in mid-1903, the BEP introduced new higher-speed equipment to improve the rate of overprint application, and this equipment utilized numbering heads with slightly different fonts on certain numerals (2s, 3s, and 4s). An executive decision was made to push aside and repurpose the older single-action equipment to create replacements. And this note is a confirmed product of that older equipment, replacing a less-than-desirable first-pass specimen.

In some sense, the term “Pre-Star Replacement” is a bit of a misnomer for this National Bank Note, even though it was printed prior to the Star Note era. Because it’s a National Bank Note (a major type of banknote that never utilized star characters), the Replacement Note nomenclature is probably a better fit.

Well folks, here you have it – a Pre-Star is born! And you best thank your lucky stars for its preservation and existence today.

Article provided by PCGS at
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