What one expert calls a "flawless and complete" piece of numismatic history is up for auction Thursday, and aficionados of paper currency are registering to bid -- in person, by phone or by web.
To be auctioned is a proof of an original series $1,000 national bank note issued on March 1, 1864, by the since defunct Fourth National Bank of the City of New York.
"I flipped over it," said Philip Weiss, who is handling the auction at his Lynbrook location, Philip Weiss Auctions. "I thought it was fantastic."
As of Wednesday, an estimated 400 to 500 people had registered for the afternoon auction, which includes the proof and other items, he said. The proof, printed on India paper and mounted on card stock, could fetch $80,000 to $120,000, Weiss said, but "the potential is unlimited."
Only one other such proof, in less desirable condition, had been known to exist, he said. It was photographed for a book about U.S. paper money published in 1955, with the piece's whereabouts now unknown.
The survival story of the soon-to-be-auctioned proof is likewise unknown, Weiss said. That's up to the point a few months ago when the piece surfaced at an estate sale in Manhattan where it was bought and resold to the dealer who brought it to Weiss.
The proof would have been lifted from the plate used to print genuine notes and sent to the U.S. Treasury for design approval, wrote U.S. currency expert Peter Huntoon in a recent issue of the Bank Note Reporter.
As for finding the real McCoy -- one of those original $1,000 notes issued by various banks around the same time -- chances may be slim, but "I wouldn't say impossible," Weiss said. As of 1938, there were 21 such $1,000 notes from that era that the Treasury Department considered outstanding, according to Huntoon.
Indeed, with "the purchasing power of well in excess of $100,000 in today's dollars," the $1,000 notes weren't in general circulation at all, Huntoon wrote, with most sitting "unused in the banks of issue." Still, fellow bankers would know colleagues had the "raw power" of those high-denomination notes, making them "just like trophy wives today."
According to the Bureau of Engraving and Printing, U.S. currency notes of $1,000 were issued until 1969, when the Treasury Department and the Federal Reserve announced they were discontinued "due to lack of use."