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At some point in our respective collecting travels, we all have faced a dilemma in trying to differentiate between Scott #145-54 (The Nationals), #156-66 (The Continentals) and #182-191 (The Americans). The other banknotes are relatively easy to identify either by their color, the slight design changes or by virtue of the fact they they have a grill (yes, some of the above numbers are found with grills but they are so scarce that they do not need discussion here). So, with this primer I will attempt to give you the information that will help you determine how to identify the correct Scott number of the bank note(s) you own.
For practical purposes we will assign the three Bank Note printings as follows: The National Bank Note Company Printings of 1870-71, the Continental Bank Note Printings of 1875 and the American Bank Note Printings of 1879.
For me, the simplest way to separate the three printings is as follows; The Nationals are the basic designs printed on hard paper; The Continentals have the secret marks and are printed on hard paper and the Americans are printed on soft paper. Before we get into the secret marks and other ways to tell between a National and Continental Bank Note let's first differentiate between the hard and soft papers. This will help you separate out all of your Americans right off the bat. Perhaps the easiest way to tell the difference between hard and soft paper is to hold the stamp up to a strong light. The hard paper will display an even texture and the soft paper will show what I call a waffle-like coarseness and will tend to be darker in appearance due to the fact the the paper is a bit thicker that the hard paper. Also, a lesser way to help determine the paper is by holding the stamp near one corner and flicking the corner and listening for the "snap." The hard paper will produce a sharper snap sound whereas the soft paper will produce a much softer sound. (Don't flick the corner too hard as you could create an unwanted crease).
Now that you have your Americans in a pile, let's take a look at the rest of your Bank Notes and how to determine the Continentals and the secret marks and other ways to tell the two printings apart.
Scott #156 vs #145 (The 1c Franklin) - SECRET MARK - In the small pearl directly to the left of the numeral "1" at the bottom, there will be a small dash. Sometimes the dash is barely there so if there is any trace of color in this area, then the stamp is a #156. If there is no colored dash at all, it is a #145.
Scott #157 vs. #146 (The 2c Jackson) - SECRET MARK / COLOR - Scott typically points to a small "dot" or speck of white color just below the scroll just to the left of the "S" of "U.S." at the top. And, if you see this speck of color (or white) then the stamp will be a #157. But, I feel the easiest way to differentiate between the two is by color. The #146 was, invariably, printed in a Red Brown shade whereas the #157 was printed in either Brown or Dark Brown. Putting one of each beside each other, you should be able to tell which is which.
Scott #158 vs #147 (The 3c Washington) - SECRET MARK - The secret mark of this stamp can be found in the strong shading added to the bottom of the large ribbon to the left of the numeral "3."
Scott #159 vs #148 (The 6c Lincoln) - SECRET MARK / COLOR - There are two simple ways to differentiate these two. The first is by the four strong vertical recut lines found at the left side of the ribbon at the bottom on the #159. The other way is by color. #159 is a dull pink color whereas #148 is a rich carmine.
Scott #160 vs #149 (The 7c Stanton) - SECRET MARK - Another easy one to separate. #160 has two tiny lines drawn in the lower right ornament.
Scott #161 vs #150 (The 10c Jefferson) - SECRET MARK - If you look in the small scroll just below the "E" of POSTAGE at top right, you will see a tiny line of color added.
Scott #162 vs #151 (The 12c Clay) - SECRET MARK / COLOR - Another easy one to separate. On #162 a tiny ball has been added to the scroll portion of the numeral "2." Also, the color is often a give-away. #162 comes in a deep, rich-colored Blackish Violet whereas #151 comes in a Dull Violet or shades thereof.
Scott #163 vs #152 (The 15c Webster) - COLOR - One of the more difficult ones to properly identify. Scott shows what they identify as a "secret mark" by way of a recut line in the triangle at the upper left. However, there may be a more definitive way to separate these two. First, is by color. The #152 was printed in a deep, rich orange color whereas the #163 was printed in a yellowish orange or paler orange. Another way to help identify these is by the fine lines of color you will find in the white areas of the triangles in the four corners on #152. These are typically absent on the #163's.
Scott #165 vs #154 (The 30c Hamilton) - COLOR - Since there were no discernable design differences between the two, the best way to differentiate these is by color. The #154 typically possesses a deep, rich black color whereas the #165 is usually found in either a grayish black or greenish black color.
Scott #166 vs #155 (The 90c Perry) - COLOR - Again, there are no known secret marks on the 90c so, as with the 30c, the best way to tell these apart is by color but even this is sometimes difficult to do. #155 was printed in a carmine color while the #166 was printed in a rose carmine shade. The best way to try to separate these two is that the #166 carmine is usually of a deeper hue and has a slight tinge of blue whereas the #155 has a slight tinge of yellow.
So, why did I leave out the 24c? From what I have read there is absolutely no way to tell the difference between these two printings or even that there are any 24c Continentals except for the one verified example found on ribbed paper (that is a whole 'nother article).
There are a few later issues but, with what you now know, these should be easy to separate.
Scott #178 (Continental) vs #183 (American) (The 2c Jackson in Vermilion) - #178 is on hard paper and the #183 is on soft paper.
Scott #179 (Continental) vs #185 (American) (The 5c Taylor) - #179 is on hard paper and the #185 is on soft paper.
The #206 - 218 Series, with the exception of the 3c, can all be identified by their color or distinct design changes. The 3c, #207, can be identified in two ways. On the #207, the shading at the right of the oval around the vignette has been narrowed (place several 3c Greens next to each other and you will be able to see the difference). Also, a small line of color (a Dash) has been added just below the "TS" of CENTS.
Well, that's a lot to digest! But, hopefully, you are now on your way to becoming an expert in identifying the various U.S. Banknote Issues. What about the Special Printings? Don't worry. You are more likely to be struck by lightning than you are to find one of these randomly floating in your "unsorted" glassine or lying in your collection, unidentified.
As always, if you have any questions or comments, you may feel free to write to me at GSQUARED7@JUNO.COM