The Story of the Phantom Banks of 1893
By Peter Huntoon
Hearn and Bob Kotcher, both serious New Jersey
National Bank Note aficionados, made a
pilgrimage to the Smithsonian to study the New
Jersey proofs in March 2001. They thought they
had found a sorting error when they came upon a
Series of 1882 Brown Back proof on The First
National Bank of Perth Amboy. It was mixed in
among the New Jersey proofs in the 4000 charter
number range, and both knew the bank was charter
A closer look revealed that the proof bore
charter 4868. There was no such charter in New
Jersey. Charter 4868 belonged to The Chapman
National Bank of Portland, Maine, chartered in
1893. The First National Bank of Perth Amboy
received charter 5215 in 1899.
We pulled the $5 Series of 1882 proofs for all
three banks. Each bears a different plate date,
and the Treasury signatures that go with those
dates. They are:
l Charter No.: 4868. Town: Perth Amboy. Plate
Date: Feb. 18, 1893. Type of Date: batch.
Treasury Signatures Rosencrans-Nebeker.
l Charter No.: 4868. Town: Portland. Plate Date:
Sept. 30, 1893. Type of Date: charter. Treasury
l Charter No.: 5215. Town: Perth Amboy. Plate
Date: July 22, 1899. Type of Date: organization.
Treasury Signatures: Lyons-Roberts.
During 2004-2005, Tom Conklin, Kathleen Kimball
and I made a comprehensive search of the more
than 50,000 certified proofs in the Smithsonian
holdings in order to determine the exact names
of the banks used on the proofs. We discovered
one more plate from a phantom bank.
This was The First National Bank of Stockton,
Ill., shown here bearing charter 4919. Stockton
didn't have a national bank until 1933, and that
one was assigned charter 13666. Stockton, a town
of about 2,000, is in the extreme northwest
corner of the state in Davis County along U.S.
20, about 20 miles west of Freeport. The plate
for this phantom bank also was made in 1893,
three months after the Perth Amboy.
Charter 4919 was eventually assigned to The
Blairsville National Bank, in Pennsylvania.
Blairsville is located in western Pennsylvania,
on U.S. 22, 38 miles east of Pittsburgh. It is
about three times larger than Stockton.
Ultimately Blairsville had three note-issuing
banks, The Blairsville National Bank being the
The data for the Stockton and Blairsville plates
l Charter No.: 4919. Town: Stockton. Plate Date:
May 22, 1893. Type of Date: unknown. Treasury
l Charter No.: 4919. Town: Blainsville. Plate:
Oct. 11, 1893. Type of Date: charter. Treasury
With both phantom banks dating from 1893, it was
time to examine other records to determine if
there was some sort of pattern. The duplicate
charters in the National Archives provided a
solution, and a fascinating story began to
The Hepburn Experiment in 1893
Charter numbers traditionally were assigned in
date sequence. The final step in the
organization of a bank was the deposit of the
bonds required to secure its circulation, so the
procedure was for the charter number to be
assigned at the time the bonds were deposited.
Next, the plates were ordered, and, in due
course, notes were printed and sent to the bank.
In contrast, the dates of charter for the period
Feb. 6 through Sept. 12, 1893, were not assigned
in chronological order. The affected charters
were 4846 through 4928. Obviously, the procedure
for handling organizations had changed. The
charter numbers were being assigned previous to
the deposit of the bonds, and plates were being
ordered before the charters were perfected.
The change in procedures was instituted under
Comptroller A. Barton Hepburn, an appointee of
Republican President Benjamin Harrison the year
before Harrison left office. Hepburn was
replaced on April 26, 1893, by James H. Eckels,
who was appointed by Democratic President Grover
Cleveland, at the beginning of the second of
Cleveland's split terms of office. Hepburn thus
became the shortest serving comptroller, having
been in office less than nine months.
It appears that Hephurn was in the process of
streamlining the organization process for new
banks during the months before he left office.
Part of this involved ordering plates for new
banks before their officers had deposited their
bonds. This would allow the bankers to receive
their circulations without delay once they
completed this final step. Obviously the change
would have been very popular in the banking
The streamlined procedure had its down side. The
officers for the First National Banks of Perth
Amboy, N.J., and Stockton, Ill. (4919), failed
to complete their organizations. Plates were
made for both, at a cost that probably had to be
absorbed by the comptroller's office.
Their charter numbers were then reassigned well
out of sequence to The Chapman National Bank of
Portland, Maine, and The Blairsville National
Bank, Pa., respectively chartered Sept. 30 and
Oct. 11, 1893.
Eckels, who inherited the new procedure,
eventually abandoned it by Sept. 13, 1893, in
favor of the traditional approach. Having to
swallow the Perth Amboy and Stockton plates
provided at least one incentive for reinstating
the old procedure. Charters once again were
issued chronologically after that time, so no
more plates for phantom banks were forthcoming.
Plate dates on Series of 1882 plates for new
banks in the range Feb. 16 through July 28,
1893, were not the date of charter, but rather
were some sort of batch dates that usually were
intermediate between the dates of organization
and charter. The dates for three, charters 4863,
4875, and 4893, were dated one day after the
date of charter. The dates appear to be batch
dates that reflect when the plates were ordered.
The plate dates on successive plates made for
the affected banks, such as title change and
extension dates, followed the traditional dating
The Panic of 1893
Slightly over a month after Eckels' appointment,
the most violent financial panic of the era
descended on the country, the ruinous panic of
1893. The root of the panic was the collapse of
a speculative bubble. Former Comptroller Edward
Lacey (1891) had warned of dangerous trends that
he sensed as early as 1890, characterized by
overtrading, unhealthful expansion, investments
in speculative securities, investments in
various forms of corporate enterprises and
developments in new and untried fields, and
undue expansion of credit by banks. Speculation
in railroads was at its height. By the end of
1893, 158 national banks lay in ruins in the
wake of the panic.
It is more than likely that the aborted
organization for the Stockton bank was caused by
the withering of capital and credit attending
the panic. The money simply wasn't there when it
came time to buy the bonds. The Perth Amboy
situation predated the panic.
Note-issuing banks with the same titles as the
unfinished Perth Amboy and Stockton banks
ultimately were organized. The first was The
First National Bank of Perth Amboy, charter
5215, in 1899. The Perth Amboy bank was still in
business at the end of the National Bank Note
era. The First National Bank of Stockton came
along in 1933, bearing charter 13666. It issued
only Series of 1929 Type 2 notes.
This work was supported in part by a grant from
the Currency Club of Long Island. James Hughes,
collections manager, National Numismatic
Collection, Museum of American History,
Smithsonian Institution, provided access to the
certified proofs from the National Bank Note
plates. Tom Conklin provided immeasurable help
in the search of the proofs.
References Cited and Sources of Data
Bureau of Engraving and Printing, 1875-1929,
Certified proofs from National Bank Note face
plates: National Numismatic Collection, Museum
of American History, Smithsonian Institution,
Comptroller of the Currency, 1863-1935, Annual
reports of the Comptroller of the Currency:
Government Printing Office, Washington, D.C.
Comptroller of the Currency, 1863-1935,
Duplicate charters for national banks: Record
Group 101, U. S. National Archives, College
Comptroller of the Currency, 1865-1934,
Organization reports for national banks: Record
Group 101, U. S. National Archives, College
Huntoon, Peter, September 2003, "Error links
Perth Amboy and Portland, Maine": Bank Note
Reporter, p. 44.
Kane, Thomas P., 1922, The Romance and Tragedy
of Banking: The Bankers Publishing Co., New
York, 549 p.
Lacey, Edward S., 1891, Annual report of the
Comptroller of the Currency to the First Session
of the Fifty-Second Congress of the United
States: U. S. Government Printing Office,
Washington, D.C., 342 p.