Local woman finds pre-Civil War era bank note in late mother's home

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7 On Your Side's Michael Finney tried to help a woman cash a pre-Civil War bank note after she found it in her late mother's home.

Have you ever gone through your storage boxes and found something that might be really valuable? It happened to an East Bay woman who made an exciting discovery in her mother's attic.

This story may cause you to sift through old boxes more carefully. Our viewer found a bank note pre-dating Abraham Lincoln's presidency. She was very excited, but not sure what to do with it.

Susan Budwiser rummaged through the attic of her mother's old house in Richmond.

"My mother sadly was a pack rat," Budwiser said.

Her mom died years ago, leaving Budwiser a house crammed with a lifetime of belongings.

"It took me three-and-a-half months to clean it out and I found treasures," Budwiser said.

She found antiques, family photos, news clippings and then tucked in with her grandfathers' belongings, she found something exciting.

"I did find this bank note. A $1000 bank note," Budwiser said.

It was a promissory note for $1000 dating all the way back to 1840. A pre-Civil War bank note that could be worth who knows what today?

"When I took it to my bank to ask them and they were like 'oh my god I've never seen anything like this' and they were really excited," Budwiser said.

However, her bank didn't know what the note was worth. It was issued by the Bank of the United States, which no longer exists. And it was made out to someone, but Budwiser wasn't sure who.

"I can't actually read the name on it. I don't know how we came in possession of it, but I know I have it," Budwiser said.

She put the note in a safe deposit box, but now she wants to find out if she is sitting on a pot of gold.

"I don't know. I'm totally at a loss. I have no idea the value of it," Budwiser said.

Her bank said, 'ask the U.S. Mint.' The feds didn't know anything about it either.

"And I said 'the heck with it I'm going to Michael Finney,"' Budwiser said.

So, 7 On Your Side consulted an expert named Dean Witter. He's a longtime dealer in rare coins and bills.

We brought Budwiser to Witter's San Francisco office and showed him that bill. He took one look and recognized it instantly.

"It's parchment basically," Witter said.

"Yeah? Oh no," Budwiser said.

Witter tells 7 On Your Side, this is a copy of a real bank note issued back in 1840. In fact, one of millions of copies of the exact same note. Dean showed us a wad of them that were brought in by other hopeful treasure seekers.

"Right now this has absolutely no value whatsoever," Witter said.

The funny part is why all these copies were made.

"These were distributed in cereal boxes," Budwiser said.

These copies were the promotional prize inside cereal boxes and other products back in the 1950s and 1960s.

"These have only been around for the last 40 to 50 years," Witter said.

"Well, you're really bursting my bubble," Budwiser said.

"Well sorry," Witter said.

Budwiser says it was fun to dream a little anyway.

"Boo hoo there goes my new car," Budwiser said.

Some folks who found these replicas aren't giving up on cashing in. We found four of the very same copies up for sale on Ebay.

Two of them were used in a Dr. Pepper promotion in 1966. Sellers were asking for $15 to $25 each.

I'm not sure it's worth that, but it's a fun bit of history.
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