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In writing this article we offer the reader an understanding of the rarity and development of the finest known collection of 1934 Light Green Seal $500 Federal Reserve Notes pedigreed “The Stradivarius Collection” by its owner. An introduction into small size $500’s is also provided, detailing the timeline and individual characteristics of the varieties. Going forward the Light Green Seal variety will be referred to as “LGS.” The Stradivarius Collection will be will be referred to as “the collection” and the owner of the collection will be referred to as “the collector.”
There are 4 “types” of small size $500 Federal Reserve Notes:
– Series 1928 $500’s
– Series 1934 $500 Dark Green Seals
– Series 1934 $500 Light Green Seals
– Series 1934A $500’s
Each of these above “types” has unique characteristics, quite to its’ own. The 1928 notes were the first small size high denomination notes printed. Although their print numbers were quite high, it is a speculated that only a fraction were released (the first serial number ranges) as most of survivors of the 12 issuing districts are only known to have low serial numbers. The paper color is a distinctive creamy white and the seals and serial numbers are generally deep dark forest green (a fairly obscure LGS variety is known but this is really beyond the scope of this reading.)
The 1934 notes were printed and issued next. The first or earliest of these printings were the Series 1934 LGS notes (the focus of this article.) These notes were printed on “bright white” paper and exhibit the highly sought after light green (lime green) seals and serial numbers. Embossing varies from heavy to virtually non-existent depending on a variety of factors. All 12 Federal Reserve Banks printed and issued these LGS notes. – The 1934 Dark Green Seal notes followed. Their serial numbers were a continuation of the LGS serial numbers. – The important take away here is that ALL of the 1934 LGS notes are low numbered serial number ranges.
Series 1934A $500’s were the last high denomination notes printed. As expected, their serial numbers are a continuation of the Series 1934 Dark Green Seal notes. (1934/34A changeover pairs exist, as do reverse changeover pairs.) The 1934A notes were actually printed up until 1945. Paper color is generally dingy grey, the result of a cost savings measure during WW2 where a different pulp was utilized in the paper.
With all four types of small size $500 Federal Reserve Notes presented now, it leads one to wonder; How rare are the 1934 Light Green Seal notes? Bureau of Engraving & Printing records show that a total of 917,628 1934 $500s were printed for all 12 districts. (this includes both Light and Dark Green Seals.) Yet in their 10+ years of existence, PCGS & PMG Census data reveals that only 2028 LGS notes (< ¼ of 1%) have been graded for all 12 districts combined. Of these graded LGS notes, most fall into the FINE – VERY FINE grade range. Only 105 of the notes are reported as GEMs. Of the 105 GEM’s, 61 are recorded on St Louis (due to a recently discovered hoard) leaving a mere 44 GEMs remaining that are spread across the other 11 districts. Boston, New York, Atlanta & Dallas districts have only 1 gem each, all of which are in The Stradivarius Collection.
This author believes there are two reasons why these LGS notes are so rare. Firstly, the lighter colored ink was only utilized for a very short period of time during the first printings of the 1934 notes, hence a much lower percentage of all 1934 notes are in fact LGS. These early LGS notes also circulated hard (harder than the later printings.) This heavier circulation lead to the notes being turned in, redeemed and destroyed.
Now let’s look at the composition of the collector’s set of twelve issuing district
2201-A Boston GEM 65 PPQ 2201-G Chicago GEM 68 PPQ
2201-B New York GEM 65 EPQ 2201-H St. Louis GEM 66 PPQ
2201-C Philly GEM 66 EPQ 2201-I Minneapolis GEM 65 EPQ
2201-D Cleveland GEM 66 PPQ 2201-J Kansas City GEM 66 EPQ
2201-E Richmond GEM 65 PPQ 2201-K Dallas GEM 65 PPQ
2201-F Atlanta GEM 65 PPQ 2201-L San Fran GEM 66 PPQ
One glance at this list and the reader can see that this is truly an incredible assemblage of notes. From start to finish it took the collector more than 20 years to locate these 12 notes. Five of twelve notes are finest known at PMG and PCGS-Currency. This means none tied none finer. Six of the other notes are tied finest known. These stats alone put many of these notes at the absolute top of grading services population reports. Infact, the first five notes should be considered unique. The acquisition of each one of these 12 notes comes with a story. We thought we’d take the time to mention some those highlight notes here:
The highest graded note in the collection is the 2201-G, Chicago note. This bank was the second highest issuer for 1934 $500’s yet it’s long been known as close to impossible to locate in “true LGS” and in true UNC grade. We say “true LGS” because quite a bit of ambiguity arose with the release of what we call the “transitional green seal” Chicago district $500’s. This muddied the waters for years with collectors and investors wondering if their note was truly LGS. Only once the exact serial number ranges was defined for LGS / DGS 2201-G notes, did it finally become apparent how tough the LGS Chicago notes really were. – The collection example, a PCGS GEM 68 PPQ, is the finest note in the collection. Even more astounding, it that this note is tied finest known for all districts, of all Series, for all $500’s graded by PCGS and PMG. The grading services have graded only three other GEM 68 $500’s. This makes the collector example “the ultimate type note” and one of the cornerstone notes of his collection.
The 2201-K Dallas note is another standout. 1934 LGS Dallas $500’s were unknown in any UNC grade until 2011. A joint venture between Marc Michaelsen, Inc and KD Currency uncovered a consecutive run of five UNC 2201-K LGS notes. Of these five notes, only one graded GEM, a PCGS GEM 65 PPQ example, and this note resides in the collection. It still remains the only GEM 2201-K LGS note graded at both grading services.
The most underrated note of the group has to be the 2201-F, the 1934 Atlanta LGS $500. No one would have figured this for one of the tougher notes in the set but the collector had the hindsight to acquire this note in 2007, just two years after the inception of PMG and PCGS. His bet paid off. To this day his PCGS GEM 65PPQ still stands alone as the only GEM graded at either grading service. None tied, none finer.
The Richmond note was the last note the collector need to complete his GEM district set. For almost 10 years, census data indicated that just one GEM 2201-E Richmond LGS had been graded, but it was owned by an unknown collector and unavailable for purchase. The discovery of a sequential pair of gem 2201-E Richmond $500 LGS in 2016 allowed the collector to finally acquire the 12th & final gem he needed, thus fulfilling his 20 year quest of completing his GEM set.
Looking down this impressive list of notes and grades again, it’s easy to see why this set is unmatched in quality and is simply impossible to reproduce. With 5 of the 12 notes finest known (none tied, none finer) the set stands alone and at the absolute top of the PCGS and PMG population reports.
So what’s in store next for this incredible collection? We are excited to report that the collection will displayed in its entirety for the first time at the International Paper Money Show in Kansas City, MO in the June 2017. The collector is currently engaged in completing other equally challenging currency sets.
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