Fractional Shields

Posted on 6/18/2013

Produced in 1866 and 1867 as a method of counterfeit detection, currency shields were sold to banks.

There is some myth and wonder whenever I think about the Fractional Shield. This is a thing of beauty that few numismatic items can match. Of course, this is just my opinion, but I can almost bet the house that you wouldn’t mind one in your collection either.

All fractional shields were 20" x 25" where 39 First, Second, and Third issue notes were mounted onto cardboard. The shield consisted of 24 fronts and 19 backs. All notes were printed from original plates between June 1867 and May 1868. The other side was either blank or had the word “specimen” on it. The Treasury Department made these shields as a method of counterfeit detection. They were intended to be sold to banks and post offices for the price of $6 each. The main problem with the Fractional Shield was that neither banks nor post offices actually wanted to buy them so the majority of the shields were stored away for years.

There are three distinct types of shields available (from most to least common): Gray (Fr. 1382), Pink (Fr. 1383) and Green (Fr. 1383a). These colors are the actual paper color of the shield itself. It is estimated that 200-400 gray shields are known, 20-25 pink, and 10-14 greens. Only the pink and green shields have the Grant/Sherman specimens with Colby and Spinner hand signed signatures. While the gray shield has a Jeffries and Spinner hand signed signature.

An interesting feature is the watermark that appears on these notes. The watermark reads “CSA” and was from paper that was made in England from seaweed pulp. It was transported to America by the British made ship Bermuda but was stopped by the Union ship, Mercedita. The Union ship Mercedita finally stopped the Bermuda from adding to the Confederate supplies as the Bermuda had successfully navigated the Union’s blockade once before. Many of the notes on the shield have either partial or complete imprints of the “CSA” watermark.

Unfortunately many of the stored shields were damaged due to flooding during a natural disaster. The shields were stored on the floor of a basement standing upright. The basement received up to 6 inches of water. For this reason many of the shields you will see at auction or for sale will have water damage or discoloration. There are premiums attached to undamaged pieces.

To learn more about pricing, please see these auction results: Gray Shield, Pink Shield and Green Shield. Again, as with anything, condition is key and be willing to pay less for a poorer condition shield or more for a pristine shield with original frame.

I do need to clarify that at this time PMG is not grading shields. However, if you have one and want to show it off, please feel free to stop on by our booth at our next show. We’ll gladly take a look and admire a great piece of numismatic history.

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