1863 15c Fractional currency note

Raymond E. writes: Coin Doc, My mother and I were recently cleaning out my grandmothers house after her passing and found an old small paper bill that said 15 cents on it. I looked it all over and found it was dated March 31 1863, National Bank Note Co. New York and has two signatures, Colby Spinner and John Allison. I have done some book reading but not much on paper money below one dollar amount. My question is is this real paper money and how can I find its worth? Thank you so much.

In 1861, at the start of the Civil War, values of metals from copper to gold began to rise rapidly. Coins were either hoarded or melted leading to a severe shortage of small denomination coins, the coins most people needed for ordinary daily transactions.

Postage stamps were tried as emergency currency (the law permitting this was signed into law on July 17, 1862 by President Abraham Lincoln) but, as one can imagine, soiled and sticky stamps were difficult to count and redeem. The Treasury printed small notes that had similar designs to the then current postage stamps but they weren’t really legal. The law was changed to accommodate fractional currency notes (notes with face values under $1). The Federal Government hired four private bank note companies to print 3,5,10,15,25 and 50 cent denominations. There were five issues of these notes but not all denominations were printed for each series.

About your note:

Colby Spinner were two different individuals: S.B. Colby-Register of the Treasury (8/11/1864 -9/21/1867) and F.E. Spinner – Treasurer (8/10/1861 – 6/30/1875). John Allison was Register of the Treasury (4/3/1869 – 6/30/1878) and was the second successor to Colby after Noah L. Jeffries. Colby and Allison can’t be on a note simultaneously. It is possible to have signature combinations as Colby – Spinner or Allison – Spinner on United States paper money.

Only the fourth issue of fractional currency contains a 15c note. The front shows the bust of Columbia, designed by C. Romerson, at left. The back is green. The note was printed by the American Bank Note Co. The signature combination is Allison – Spinner. There are five varieties. Value depends on grade (condition):

  • Large Seal with watermarked paper – approximate value range: $10 – $100
  • Large Seal with pink fibers in paper – $10 – $125
  • Large Seal with pink fibers in paper, the right end is blue – $12 – $120
  • Large Brown Seal – $15 – $1,000 +
  • Small Red Seal, pink fibers, the right end is blue: $12 – $125

A specimen 15c note, really a pattern that was never adopted for commerce, exists. This note features General Sherman and President Grant at left and right. These notes have the Colby – Spinner signature combination. Backs are either red or green. Approximate values, depending on grade and variety: $145 – $4,500.