Specimens Fractional currency specimens were sold to the general public for the purpose of counterfeit detection. Most of the wide margin specimens were in sets sold to the public and most of the narrow margin specimens came from currency shields. These notes were only printed on one side, uniface either for the obverse or reverse. Most had bronze lettering on the unprinted side with the word "specimen". Many of the second and third issue specimens were printed on CSA watermarked paper. This paper was seized from the Confederacy and was used by the Union government. With the example shown to the right, you can clearly see part of the CSA watermark.
A complete specimen or wide margin note set consists of two or three notes. One uniface obverse of the fractional note and another uniface for the reverse. Some notes have two different reverses due to different colors or designs such as the third issue Spinner notes.
The wide margin specimens will have margins of about one half inch or wider. They will be printed only on one side with its reverse usually printed with the word 'specimen' in bronze. A destinctive feature is that most of the specimen notes were printed on CSA paper. This paper was siezed from the Confederate States of American when the Union confiscated the Confederate blockade running ship, the C.S.S Bermuda, on April 27, 1862. This ship traveled from Wilmington, North Carolina to Nassau in the Bahamas to trade for English goods of war. When the Bermuda was siezed there was a large supply of English banknote paper. All of this paper carried the Confederate watermark, 'CSA' The paper is similar to 'onion skin' paper and the Union decided to use the confiscated paper for the printing of Specimen and Proof Notes. Most of the Second and Third Issue Proof Fractional Notes were printed on the CSA paper, and any notes that do not carry the watermark are felt to have been printed in between the watermarks on a printing sheet. Sheets of this paper is still available from some dealers.
Die proofs or Progress proofs were printed on India paper or sometimes cardboard. These notes will appear to be incomplete and can be found with notations for engraving corrections in the margins. The purpose of these notes is that they were printed for the engravers to track the progress of their engraving. These Die notes are extremely rare.
Wide margin specimen notes are generally more rare than the narrow specimen notes. You can find First through Third issue wide margin specimen notes at most large auctions. The wide margin specimens of the Fourth and Fifth Issue are extremely rare with some being unique. These notes command very large sums at auction when they become available. The wide margin Proofs were generally made as presentation notes for distribution to family and friends of higher ranking Bureau of Engraving and Printing and Treasury employees. These were found in the form of Presentation Books. Wide margin specimens were also offered for sale as souvenoir notes to collectors..
Even the counterfeiters duplicated proof or wide margin specimens. Shown to the left and right is a spurious pair of wide margin specimens. This pair is one of six known sets. A pair was auctioned as genuine examples as recently as 1963 in the Lester Merkin sale. Notice the surcharge on the left example. I think he was trying for a surcharge of 18, 63 but ended with an inverted 39 for the second number.