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HomePaper MoneyNoteworthy Notes: New 1902 $10 Palo Alto Banknote Discovered

Noteworthy Notes: New 1902 $10 Palo Alto Banknote Discovered

By Philip Thomas for PCGS ……
There’s an old saying that still readily applies in the real estate market: “Three things matter when determining the value of a property: location, location, location.”

Within the realm of collecting United States National Bank Notes, where thousands of private banking institutions across all 50 states and territories issued fully legal tender and negotiable currency from 1863 to 1935, this saying also rings true – at least in part. While the geographic location of the issuing bank and town is a primary factor in determining a banknote’s worth and prestige, its rarity (how many survivors still exist) and condition are also essential factors.

1902 $10 Red Seal – Palo Alto, California, First National Bank Charter #7069, PCGS VF20. Image courtesy PCGS.

1902 $10 Red Seal – Palo Alto, California, First National Bank Charter #7069, PCGS VF20. Image courtesy PCGS

An exceptional National Bank Note recently emerged inside of the PCGS grading room that checks all three of these boxes of desirability.

A 1902 Third Charter Period $10 Red Seal from the First National Bank of Palo Alto (Charter #7069) – an entirely new entry to the National Bank Note census – took little time to make its presence felt. Interestingly, the submitter, an avid coin enthusiast, had obtained the note decades ago in a long-forgotten mixed coin and banknote deal and tucked it away in the back of his safe, as many coin collectors would do. He didn’t think much of it until he decided to submit his banknote stash to PCGS for certification and grading earlier in the year. Needless to say, he was pleasantly surprised to receive the call informing him of its potential value increase over what he had initially believed it to be worth.

Palo Alto is a principal city within the California Bay Area’s Silicon Valley, home to world-renowned Stanford University and accommodating the headquarters of many prominent high-tech companies such as Hewlett-Packard, Tesla, Skype, Lockheed Martin Technology, and others. Apple, Google, Facebook, and PayPal also have extensive ties to the peninsula city of approximately 70,000 people, named after the coastal redwood trees that adorn its natural landscape; “Palo Alto” literally means “tall stick” in Spanish.

The First National Bank of Palo Alto received its charter in late 1903 and was taken over by the San Francisco-based Bank of Italy in the summer of 1928, which went on to become Bank of America, the world’s largest commercial bank. During the financial institution’s quarter-century of operation under the First National Bank banner, the following varieties of notes were issued: $10 and $20 Red Seals (1,120 sheets), $10 and $20 Blue Seal Plain Backs (2,100 sheets), and $10 and $20 Blue Seal Date Backs (4,440 sheets). Red Seals were the least produced out of the three types by a significant factor, as demonstrated by those production figures, and are generally considered to be the rarest of the Third Charter Period issues. Only a small number of all types and denominations remain, currently countable on just one hand.

First National Bank is the only Palo Alto charter to issue large-size banknotes; the only other Palo Alto institution (Palo Alto National Bank, Charter #13212) issued Series 1929 small-size banknotes only. This particular example was signed by bank president C.E. Childs, a prominent figure in the early financial history and development of Palo Alto. It is lightly circulated and retains a solid amount of crispness, with its hardest folds and wear resulting from its long time in storage versus circulation.

It was certainly an honor for the PCGS team to handle and encapsulate such a seldom-encountered treasure!

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