100 Greatest American Currency Notes: "We Have Met The Enemy..." $100 National Bank Note, Original And Series of 1875

High denomination, early date bank notes are elusive for a couple of reasons; perhaps even, obvious ones. Specific examples of this type of note would also obviously make the 100 Greatest American Currency Notes compilation, would you not think? This next high denomination, rare entry features a motif that the authors Q. David Bowers and David M. Sundman classify as “historical as can be.”

#25 - “We Have Met the Enemy…” $100 National Bank Note, Original and Series of 1875

The National Bank Notes of the Original Series and Series of 1875 are highly rare and evasive which automatically makes them notable in the wide and vast world that is currency notes. Their $100 denomination and early dates make them even more noteworthy. Only 27 notes are known from the Original Series and only 51 of the Series of 1875, according to the authors’ citing of Kelly’s National Bank Note Census. It is said that a total of 16,309 notes were issued in total, putting those extremely low numbers in perspective.

As mentioned above, authors Bowers and Sundman classify the illustrations on this particular note “historical as can be.” The face of the note on the left features the vignette entitled Commodore Perry’s Victory, which has also been known as The Battle of Lake Erie. Originally a painting by W.H. Powell, the image was transformed into an engraving by Louis Delnoce. On the right side of the face of the note is the personification and interpretation of America and Liberty, featured with the goddess Union. The inscription “THE UNION” can even be seen in the foreground in front of her.

The story of the motif on the front of the note features a young midshipman in the Navy, Oliver Hazard Perry. Early in the War of 1812, he was sent to the port of Erie, Pennsylvania, where a squadron was being built to challenge the British fleet that was on Lake Erie. In a decision to sail into the British fleet, a battle under Perry’s command took place as they fired broadside in a 15-minute clash where they would come out on top. “We have met the enemy and they are ours” was uttered from Perry, a phrase that would become part of the American colloquialism.

The back of the note would depict a widely known motif by John Trumbull: The Signing of the Declaration of Independence. This was a popular image used throughout earlier issued state-chartered banks up until the $2 Federal Reserve Notes.

Historic market value certainly reflects the true rarity and impressiveness of these notes. In a Very Fine condition back in 1960, the note was valued at $1,500. It has risen to over $40,000 in recent years.