Rare Century-Old $5 Alaska Bill to Be Auctioned

five dollar bill to be auctionedBy RACHEL D'ORO

ANCHORAGE, Alaska (AP) - The $5 bill displayed for decades on Charles Fairbanks IV's wall was long a treasured family heirloom from Alaska. Now, to the surprise of the grandson of a turn-of-a-century vice president, it's also become a likely treasure trove.

The rare find is expected to fetch as much as $300,000 at auction this month when a Texas auctioneer plans to put it up for bids in Dallas and online as part of the American Numismatic Association National Money Show.

The bill was presented in 1905 to Vice President Charles W. Fairbanks - Theodore Roosevelt's No. 2 - and was from the First National Bank of Fairbanks, Alaska. The family has had it in their possession ever since and recently decided to auction it off through Dallas-based Heritage Auctions.

"It's a wonderful, wonderful find," said Dustin Johnston, director of Heritage's currency auctions.

Auction officials say the Fairbanks bill that features an image of President Benjamin Harrison is a highlight that's expected to sell for $200,000 to $300,000. The minimum starting bid is $120,000.

Fairbanks always knew the bill was special, at least to his family, given that it was presented to the former vice president as a memento from the frontier city named after him.

Fairbanks learned last year that the uncirculated note's estimated value had skyrocketed far beyond the estimate of $50,000 to $60,000 set in the mid-1990s, which prompted him to start locking it up whenever he traveled.

With the new estimate, the 66-year-old great-grandson no longer felt comfortable displaying it on a wall in his Santa Barbara, Calif., home.

It was no longer just a framed family keepsake, so off it went to a safety deposit box.

1905 $5 bill

"Why stress out and worry about something?" Fairbanks said. "It'd be like having a Monet in the house."

But keeping it hidden didn't do anyone any good. So Fairbanks decided to consign it to Heritage. He said his family has plenty of other historical memorabilia, or he wouldn't have done it.

Charles W. Fairbanks was a U.S. senator from Indiana in the late 1890s when he was credited with playing a key role to resolve a border dispute with Canada triggered by the Klondike Gold Rush. As a result of his efforts, most of the disputed territory went to the United States.

1905 $5 bill

But the real reason the city of Fairbanks was named after him was because he played a key role in the appointment of a federal judge, James Wickersham, a man Fairbanks met during the border dispute, according to University of Alaska Fairbanks historian Terrence Cole. To return the favor, Wickersham urged city founders to call the settlement Fairbanks.

"He said, 'I owe everything that I am to him,'" Cole said.

Auction officials also note the bill's rarity. Only three banks in Alaska - out of more than 12,000 banks nationwide - issued the bills.

The Fairbanks bill was just one of four notes of its kind in the $5 denomination that were issued in 1905 by a now-defunct Alaska bank and only one of two known to still exist, according to Dustin Johnston, director of Heritage's currency auctions. The other bill sold 15 years ago for close to $100,000 and the market has "really picked up for the rarest pieces," he said.

Johnston said the bill is unfolded and there is no wear. Its color is a little muted because the family displayed it for so long. There also have been some minor restorations to the back corners, but Johnston doesn't expect that to affect the selling price, given the bill's rarity, pedigree and history.

It's probably one of the better national bank notes that will come to auction over this decade, he said.

"It's easily in the top five of what I've handled," Johnston said.

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Mark Hotz

This is a tad misleading. It is not one of 4 of its kind. In fact, there are quite a few notes exactly like this known on this particular bank in this same denomination. What makes this one special is that it bears bank serial #1 (in lower left) and as such, is one of just 4 serial #1 $5 notes printed for this bank, of which now two are known. However, notes exactly like this also with serial #1 were printed for thousands of banks across the country. This one is more valuable because it is from Alaska, a district at the time, and thus hard to find. There are many other more interesting and rare national bank notes out there besides this one.

October 06 2012 at 1:40 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply

Wow a bill that was printed with GOLD to back it up. Unusual these day's. Maybe obama should take note.

October 05 2012 at 5:54 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply
1 reply to cowboy's comment
Mark Hotz

I don't know why you say this. This was not an issue with gold backing, nor does it say that anywhere on the bill or in the article. Only gold certificates were redeemable specifically for gold at that time.

October 06 2012 at 1:50 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply
1 reply to Mark Hotz's comment

actually, if you could read.... it says right on the bill "will pay to the bearer on demand" it IS a gold certificate and it WAS backed by gold, ok forest?

October 07 2012 at 10:19 AM Report abuse rate up rate down

my birth place

October 04 2012 at 10:01 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply

my birth place

October 04 2012 at 10:01 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply
fred mosrie

a rare item.

October 04 2012 at 1:15 AM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply
1 reply to fred mosrie's comment

just think its worth more than elvis underwear.. it sold for 100,000$

October 06 2012 at 1:52 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply
fred mosrie

big bucks,

October 04 2012 at 1:15 AM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply

Must need the money or they wouldn't have sold it. It really belongs in a museum.

October 03 2012 at 7:40 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply