Serial Number 1 Alaska Red Seal ex: Charles W. FairbanksFairbanks, AK - $5 1902 Red Seal Fr. 587 First NB Ch. # (P)7718
In 1867, Alaska was purchased from Russia for $7.2 Million. Even with a price of about two cents per acre, it was considered a serious political gaffe. The then Secretary of State, William H. Seward, had pushed for the acquisition of this new territory, which was to increase the size of the United States and its Territories by more than 15 percent. Americans scoffed at purchasing the vast "wasteland," and quickly referred to it as "Seward's Folly," and "Seward's Icebox."
By the late 1890's, Seward's name was vindicated by the discovery of gold in Alaska which sparked the Klondike Gold Rush. The discovery started a border dispute with Canada. Unfortunately for the United States, previous borders between Russian Alaska and Canada were vague. Dispute resolution was now a priority, and Indiana Senator Charles W. Fairbanks was appointed a member of the United States and British High Commission for matters concerning Canada. This included the newly ignited border dispute. Senator Fairbanks's role in 1898 was considered a success, resulting in the majority of the disputed Territory going to the United States.
The Klondike Gold Rush sparked a population explosion in Alaska. The population roughly doubled, from 32,000 in 1890 to nearly 64,000 in 1900. Alaska's then second largest city, Fairbanks, was settled in 1901. The name was chosen to pay tribute to Senator Fairbanks's contributions to the District of Alaska. The city grew quickly and by 1905, The First National Bank of Fairbanks deposited funds with the US Treasury in Washington and received National Bank Notes to circulate in the area. Series 1902 Red Seals were the first notes issued by the bank, with 1,600 sheets of $5 notes and 1,460 of $10-$10-$10-$20 sheets making up the first notes issued by the bank. The note offered here features plate letter C and is the third note from the first sheet of $5 notes issued by the bank. The note featuring plate letter D is in the census and first appeared at auction in 1969. In its last appearance in 1997, the note realized $93,500--one of the highest prices ever paid for a National Bank Note up to that point.
We will never know for sure why this treasure got preserved for collectors, but it was not uncommon for wealthy bankers to set aside a note or two from the first sheet as mementos. This practice may have accounted for the survival of this note and the other Serial Number 1 $5 Red Seal known from the bank. No number-one notes are known for the $10 or $20; in fact, just one piece is known for each denomination. Were it not for a small grouping of consecutively numbered $5 Red Seals set aside decades ago, the $5 Red Seals would also be prohibitively rare. PCGS graded this note Apparent Choice New 63, with mention of some minor restorations on the back corners. It shows strong embossing with full and original paper wave. Each of the margins is full and the overprint is slightly muted, but attractive. The blue serial number 1, at lower left, and blue Treasury serial number are bright and bold. The signatures of the Cashier and President are also bold.
Both of the men who signed the note were important characters in early Fairbanks history. The Cashier, Luther Hess, was one of Fairbanks's first citizens and a prominent lawyer serving as the Assistant U.S. District Attorney until 1905. He later served as vice president of the bank and was an Alaskan Territorial legislator. President Samuel Bonnifield signed this piece as president of the bank and was quite the character. He was in Alaska long before the Klondike Gold Rush and was a professional gambler with a reputation for huge bets and being a very fair and likeable individual, earning the nickname "Square Sam." He co-founded the First National Bank with Frank G. Manley. In 1906, the First National Bank and most of downtown Fairbanks were destroyed by fire, and shortly thereafter Bonnifield suffered a nervous breakdown. He left Alaska to spend time recovering with family in the continental United States. His return was marked by the Fairbanks Daily Miner, "No man ever lived in the North who has more real friends than has Sam Bonnifield." The return was short lived; he went insane, resulting in an arrest by the Marshall's office and admission to Morningside Hospital--the infamous Alaskan institution for the insane. Prior to his arrest, Bonnifield reportedly withdrew a large sum of money from the bank and passed it out to laborers in town.
This wonderful piece comes to us directly from the family of Charles W. Fairbanks. This note was presented to Charles W. Fairbanks. His successes as a United States Senator propelled him to an even higher office--as Vice President under Theodore Roosevelt. After his tenure as Vice President, he continued in politics and ran for the presidential nomination in 1916. He failed to receive the nomination, but did win the nomination for Vice President under Charles W. Hughes. The election was close, but they lost to Woodrow Wilson and his running mate Thomas Marshall.
Many arguments can be made over what notes should be included on the list of the greatest National Bank Notes, but this note, in our opinion, is easily a candidate for the top ten. Among Alaska National Bank Notes, it is the most important in terms of pedigree, with ties to some of the most significant individuals in Fairbanks's early history.
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