Finest Known “Grand Watermelon” 1890 $1000 Treasury Note
The “Holy Grail” of American Currency
Friedberg 379a (W-4580). 1890 $1000 Treasury Note. PCGS Currency About New 50.
Perhaps no single note has captivated United States currency collectors as much as this 1890 $1,000 Treasury Note. Popularly known as the “Grand Watermelon“, these notes gained their famous nickname due to the distinctive large green zeros on the back of the note that resemble the fruit.
The type is known in two varieties: Fr.379a (W-4580) with a large brown Treasury Seal and signatures of Rosecrans and Huston, and Fr.379b (W-4581) with a small red scalloped Treasury Seal and signatures of Rosecrans and Nebeker. The face design portrays Union Major General George Meade at left. Meade is best known as the victorious commander of Union forces at the Battle of Gettysburg. Near center is an ornate 1000 die counter with floral ornaments. The type ranks No. 1 in 100 Greatest American Currency Notes by Q. David Bowers and David M. Sundman.
The present note is the plate example of the type and graces the cover of the book. Here are excerpts from what Bowers and Sundman said about this issue”
“Rolling into first place in the 100 Greatest survey is the $1,000 “Grand Watermelon Note,” more formally known as the 1890 Coin Note or Treasury Note. For a long time, this has been the Holy Grail for collectors of federal currency. Before the survey results were compared, those behind the scenes working on the book speculated that the Grand Watermelon Note would make first place, and we were right! Quite a few guesses as to other positions were off the mark.
“The nickname of this note is derived from the large, green zeroes on the back, which look like delicious watermelons. Today, Grand Watermelon Note is a term of affection, but it was not viewed this way by the Treasury Department in 1890, and steps were taken to change the design. Similarly, these wonderfully ornate notes were not admired by the public in their time. An article published in the Boston Evening Transcript in 1891 noted that a new series of designs was on its way, and that:
” ‘There will be no mourning for the old backs. At the Treasury, they have never been regarded with very tumultuous approval. Officials at that institution commonly refer to the denominations representing $1,000, $500, and $100 as “watermelons,” because of the striking resemblance which the huge 0’s bear to the juicy vegetable in question.
” ‘They believe that the genius of Chief Engraver Casilear can produce very superior substitutes. Certainly, a note that is not engraved all over is more handsome, and the best experts are of the opinion that a few scattered designs, very elaborate and executed in the highest style of art, are most difficult to counterfeit successfully.'”
“There never was a $500 Watermelon Note, but otherwise the account reads true. The Treasury felt that crowded designs without open spaces made notes easy to counterfeit.”
(Today in 2020 you can read this with a smile, as you might have done with the Educational Notes. While the press and Treasury executives did not like ornate notes, numismatists love them!)
“The illustrated note [the Joel R. Anderson example] has an illustrious pedigree, including F.C.C. Boyd, James Wade, Robert Friedberg, Amon Carter, Jr., down through one of the authors (Bowers) to its offering by Lyn F. Knight in the David Rickey Collection sale, October 2005, where it sold for $1,092,500 to Tom Denly, representing a client, the first note ever to cross the million-dollar mark at auction.”
This example is the first variety of the type, with the engraved signatures of Treasury officials Rosecrans and Huston along with the distinctive large brown Treasury Seal at right. Its pedigree is traced to F.C.C. Boyd, James Wade, Amon Carter Jr., and Joel R. Anderson among others. This is the finest of the seven Grand Watermelon notes known. Any signs of actual circulation are faint, with just light handling observed primarily in the corners and near the edges. The margins are plentiful, the paper is creamy white and the inks are sharply printed. The all-important back design is vividly detailed in bold green inks.
Of the seven Grand Watermelon notes known, all but three are permanently held in government collections. The note offered here is one of two Fr.379a examples in private hands; This note sold in the third installment of the Joel R Anderson collection for $2,040.000. the other, graded PCGS Extremely Fine 45 Apparent, sold for $1,525,500 in an April 2013 auction. Only one of the two known Fr.379b notes resides in private hands. It sold in a January 2014 auction for $3,290,000.
No elite-level United States currency collection is complete without an example of this celebrated type. No more than three collectors in the world can lay claim to one at any given time. This is a historic opportunity to own one of the most important United States Bank Notes ever issued.
PCGS Population: 2, none finer.
From Limpert, Friedberg, Krause-Lemke & Koike Illus.; F.C.C. Boyd; James M. Wade; Robert Friedberg; Amon Carter Jr.; Bowers and Ruddy Fixed Price List of November 1979; Stack’s sale of March 1989, lot 693; Lyn Knight’s sale of December 1998, lot 222; Lyn Knight’s sale of October 2005, lot 1. Stacks Bowers sale of October 2018, lot 3042.