Yes, these are real Hopewell dollars – U. S. National Bank notes that were printed as legal tender from 1863 to 1935. The Hopewell National Bank was chartered as a U. S. national bank in 1890, with the right to print its own currency.
The first two examples of these Hopewell “Nationals” (or “Hometown”) bank notes are from the Smithsonian National Museum of American History. These are certified proofs from specimen sheets with sets of four notes printed by the Bureau of Engraving and Printing. The notes are “large-size” – 13 1/2 x 8 inches.
The $5 note was issued in 1890, and features James A. Garfield, the former president who was assassinated in 1881. The $10 note was issued in 1909, and features William McKinley, former president until 1901.
These “large-sized notes” feature the issuing bank’s name (Hopewell National Bank) and its charter number (4254) printed prominently on the face of the note, along with the signatures of its officers (at the bottom).
The third example is a series 1929 Lincoln $5 note, courtesy of Bill Frenchu. Issued near the end of the National Bank notes, these “small-sized notes” deemphasized the bank name and charter number, which are overprinted on the sides of the note. The familiar-looking design style and size then was continued for standard U. S. currency until the latest redesign beginning in the late 1990s.
The Hopewell National Bank
The Hopewell National Bank was organized in 1898 with $50,000 in stock (the minimum required to be chartered). It opened as a national bank on May 17, 1890 at 13 East Broad Street (the current home of the Hopewell Public Library).
The Hopewell National Bank constructed a new building in 1914 at 2 East Broad Street (the current Dana building on the corner of North Greenwood), and the old building was then used by the Hopewell post office and the telephone company (which was upstairs).
The Hopewell National Bank then merged into Princeton Bank in 1956, and moved in 1971 to the current PNC bank building at 62 East Broad Street (at the corner of Maple Street). Further mergers followed: into Chemical Bank in 1989, and finally into the current PNC Bank in 1995.
National Bank Notes
Prior to 1890, private banks issued their own paper currency, which had several problems: holders generally were charged exchange rates when spending or redeeming them (like foreign currency today), the exchange rate varied across the U. S., and banks did not have to accept this privately printed money.
As part of financing measures aimed at paying the costs of the Civil War, National Bank Notes were authorized by the National Bank Act of 1863. This allowed banks to be incorporated and chartered as National Banks, and issue National Bank Notes backed by the United States. The issuing bank needed to back them by depositing bonds of least one third of their capital with the U. S. Treasury.
The National Bank Notes had common designs, differing only with the name of the issuing bank. Denominations of $1, $5, $10, $20, $50, and $100 were common, with some rarer $500 and $1,000 bills. The “large-sized notes” prominently featuring the bank name were issued until 1929, followed by the “small-sized notes,” which had a similar size and look as recent U. S. currency, with the bank information overprinted.
From 1863 to 1935, 12,635 banks participated in National Banking System and printed their own currency, representing the territories, states, and cities.
National Bank Notes were retired as a currency type by the U.S. government in the 1930s during the great depression. U.S. currency then consolidated into Federal Reserve Notes (our current currency), United States Notes, and silver certificates.
- See A History of American Currency – American Numismatic Society
We would be interested in finding out more about the National Bank Notes from the Hopewell National Bank. Neither the Hopewell Museum or the Hopewell Valley Historical Society seem to have any. Plus other information on Hopewell area banks and savings and loans.
== See the Hopewell National Bank Mementos in the Image Gallery ==