Wednesday, November 18, 2015

News of the Day in Provincetown, 1954...

Click on this photo to enlarge it and read the names of the 1954 First National staff.
The front page of the November 18, 1954 issue of the local weekly newspaper, the Provincetown Advocate, featured this group photo of the staff of the First National Bank of Provincetown, taken from the company's just-published book (and perhaps more of a public relations tool,) One Hundred Years of Growing with Provincetown, which commemorated the centennial of one of the earliest commercial banks to have been founded in the United States.
It was launched in 1854 as the Provincetown Bank in a new building at 290 Commercial Street, known today as Puzzle Me This. It became a national bank in 1865 with its capital stock doubling from $100,000 to $200,000. It was quite different from Seamen’s Savings Bank, which had incorporated in 1851 as a mutual bank, owned not by stockholders but rather by its depositors, and remaining so today.

The 1854 original building at 290 Commercial Street still stands,
now hidden by a newer front added on in stages, beginning in 1921.
In this early photo the sign above the door simply reads "Bank." The men on the front porch are the Board of Directors, and 290 Commercial Street, built in 1854, doesn’t look much like it does today, though the original building is still there.
It had its ground floor extended through the front yard to the sidewalk in 1921. Later, the other two floors were extended. In the photo below you’ll recognize the First National Bank building as today's Puzzle Me This, one of just a small handful of brick storefronts found along Provincetown streets nowadays.

Picture bright colors, harlequin flags and benches in front of Puzzle Me This.
The 1921 ground-floor addition to the front of the building granted the First National Bank of Provincetown a new, businesslike look that served the institution well until it moved into its brand new building in 1950, there on the corner of Winthrop Streetnow known as Joe Coffee, at 170 Commercial Street.

The American Revolution had been financed by the printing of paper money, basically an IOU, to pay the soldiers and suppliers, who could spend these notes just like the reserve of gold and silver coins that theoretically backed up these bills.
Soon banks in various states were printing their own notes, and a dollar issued in one state could be worth a lot less elsewhere. Eventually President Lincoln signed the National Currency Act, declaring the federal dollar as the sole United States currency, with a couple of thousand federally chartered banks printing the notes. Each particular design and denomination looked alike, wherever it had been printed, except for the name of the bank and its charter number, appearing on every note. The charter number of the First National Bank of Provincetown was 736.

This 1882 series $5 note was a brownback rather than a greenback.
Dozens of thousands of $5 notes exist, as the most common denomination after the $1 note, with some banks issuing only $5 notes. This same design was printed by banks all across the country,

This crisp, clean 1863 series $50 Provincetown note is worth about $13,734.
Larger denominations didn't circulate much, and not many large bills were kept over the years. $50 was a huge amount of money to let sit idle rather than deposit or spend it. There are just 35 of these notes left, issued by various banks around the country, making this Provincetown specimen pretty valuable. It could be worth about 275 times its face value, around $13,734. Wouldn't you like to find a couple of these tucked into an old book? Drawer? Picture Frame?
The First National Bank of Provincetown was gobbled up in the 1970s by the powerful Shawmut Bank, which was itself later devoured by TD Bank, while Seamen's Bank remains an independent, mutual bank serving the best interests of its customers, doing good things in Outer Cape communities, and eschewing the smarmy world of corporate greed. I'll say it again… Ya gotta love a town like this!
So keep an eye out when you come across old books, papers, boxes, trunks and the like, when you tear down a wall, or even visit a thrift shop or yard sale. If you see something that vaguely looks like money, it may be worth something.


  1. Brilliant. Great write up. Concise and informative. Thank you

  2. So interesting! Thank you for the info. And yes, I'll keep looking through attics.

  3. So interesting! Thank you for the info. And yes, I'll keep looking through attics.

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