Diagnostics: Bound book titled in gilt, UNITED STATES PROOF BANK NOTES ISSUED 1896 on the face. Tall folio. 20.5cm by 34.5cm. Covers with Art Nouveau pattern in silk of fine style. Bound in are the first serial numbered sheets printed of the Educational Series Silver Certificates of 1896, along with a typewrittend three page letter of description and presentation by Claude M. Johnson, the Director of the Bureau of Engraving and Printing at the time the notes were developed and finally issued. Each of the three bank note sheets contains four subjects of the represented denomination, with serial numbers 1 to 4. The book covers exhibits some roughness at the edges from years of handling, but remains intact. Internally fresh and bright. Inside front cover with pair a small pastedowns for Ex Libris Robert Hoe. The the page bound-in letter explains much about this unique item, and its complete content reads as follows:
Bedford Court Mansions,
London, W. C. 26th.
Robert Hoe, Esq.,
504 Grand Street,
Dear Sir, I herewith enclose the sheets of Bank Notes which you saw before your departure.
The Treasury Department have always favoured the issue of Bank Notes from a purely practical standpoint, and have disregarded artistic requirements in the adoption of designs except in the issue of silver certificates of 1896. There were but three denominations of this issue ever placed in circulation, viz. the 1$, 2$ and 5$ Notes, and the designs were produced respectively by Will H. Low; Edwin Blashfield, and Walter Shirlaw. These designs were drawn and painted in proper Bank Note proportions, but about eight times Bank Note size, and reduced by photography to enable the Engravers to make proper transfers to the dies. The 1$ Note was engraved by Charles Schlecht, and the 2$ and 5$ Notes by G. F. C. Smillie.
The 1$ Note is entitled "History instructing Youth", and includes two figures: Columbia with the Stars and Stripes draped over Her pointing out to the Youth at her side the first pages of the Constitution engraved upon the book. In the background across the Potomac is represented a bird's eye view of the City of Washington, showing distinctly the Washington Monument and Capitol. Around the border are the names of many illustrious men surrounded by laurel leaves.
The 2$ Note includes five figures, and represents Science presenting steam and electricity to Commerce and Manufacture.
In the centre of the 5$ Note a central figure is shown standing upon a globe with America traced thereon, with an arm uplifted with electric light, indicative of Progress and extension of her resources throughout the world. The figure on the left represents heralding to the World the grandeur of the Nation, while the one on the right with the dove and scroll is indicative of Peace and Plenty. The figure and chariot in the rear are intended to represent Force and Power. I was Director of the Bureau of Engraving and Printing at the time these notes were produced, and with the consent of the Secretary of the Treasury, purchased the accompanying sheets uncut from the Treasurer of the United States, and they are the first Notes of this series issued, being Nos. 1, 2, 3 and 4 of each denomination.
Having no Library of my own, I have to thank you for kindly placing these three sheets among your valuable collection of books where they will be appreciated, as specimens of truly artistic Bank Notes, and as the first numbers of a complete money issue by the United States Government.
> Yours Faithfully,
Claude M. Johnson
Engraving Notes and Comments: The three initial sheets of the regular issue banknotes from the Series of 1896. Each sheet's notes with signatures of Tillman-Morgan. Plate positons A, B, C, and D. Serial Numbers: 1-4. Small red seal with rays. Face designs of the issued $1, $2, and $5 silver certificates as described previously. Back designs, in green, of the issued $1, $2, and $5 silver certificates as described previously. Each uncut sheet with full selvege on all four sides. Plate numbers visible on bottom margin. Each of the three sheets have their left edge wide margin, far from the engraved printed line, tipped into the book with glue and held securely. This displays very well in this manner and was professionally done in the period. There is no glue damage or aging seen at the tipped in portions, all are bright and fresh.
Physical Description: Internally, quite exceptional. Very fresh and well preserved. The condition of the three serial 1-4 sheets should each be classified as Choice About Uncirculated. Some light horizontal bends, mostly through the wide gutters between notes are seen with scrutiny. and petty handling long ago are present. The colors and printing on both sides is exceptionally vibrant and inspiring to the eye. The Five Dollars sheet has just a small piece chipped off the bottom margin, far away from the bottom position note. These are not only the initial Educational Series sheets, but they are the only Educational sheets. This bound presentation set of sheets has been carefully cared for nearly 12 decades.
Provenance: Purchased from Mrs. Louise Entriken December 16, 1971. Formerly in the collection of Robert F. Schermerhorn. Obtained privately from Robert Friedberg in 1957 at the Philadlphia ANA convention for $25,000.00. Possibly earlier from an Anderson Auction Company sale, 1912.
Narrative: This was undoubtedly considered by Harry Bass one of the highlights of his currency collection. While the archives of the Bureau of Engraving and Printing probably contain many unusual specimens, die proofs, essays, and other oddities, such unusual items rarely are available to collectors. This particular item falls into an even more intriguing category, as the banknotes within were produced for regular circulation, though Claude M. Johnson had the forethought to purchase these original sheets for himself, thus saving them for posterity. From the content of Johnson's letter that is bound into the book, it is clear that he understood very well the significance of the pieces he owned. Bound into a book with the his letter, the sheets become much more than the first of the Educationals, they are a monument to the history, designs, and developmental process that created them. Easily one of the most mesmerizing American paper currency items to ever appear for public auction sale. The illustrious provenance and pedigree club will have a new member this evening at the fall of the hammer.
Harry W. Bass, Jr. Commentary: Inventory number 16273. Bass Sylloge 5055.