Collectors of U.S. paper money have a rich array of notes and certificates to choose from. Most people begin with the Colonial paper issued between 1690 in Massachusetts and 1788 in New York. Paul Revere engraved some of the Massachusetts Bay Colony notes — an image of a codfish graces one side of his bills.

Continental Congress notes were printed between 1775 and 1779 to underwrite the Revolutionary War. Continentals, as they are known, were produced by Hall & Sellers, who used the former press of none other than Benjamin Franklin to create the precursor to contemporary U.S. currency. The bearer was promised a set amount (four dollars was the most common denomination) in “Spanish milled dollars” (one Spanish dollar being equal to one “piece of eight”).

This promise assumed that enough taxes could be collected upon victory in 1781, which did not happen as the Founders had hoped. At one point, holders of Continentals were getting two and a half cents on the dollar for their paper. Collectors do much better today.

In the early part of the 19th century, currency was a hodgepodge. Bridge builders and railroad tycoons were routinely given banking privileges, and even the Ohio Mormons had their own currency, signed by church leader Joseph Smith.

The Civil War revived the government’s interest in paper money when the Confederate States of America issued notes in 1861. A $50 bill from Montgomery, Alabama depicts slaves hoeing cotton. Other cotton-themed Confederate notes show the Southern crop being loaded onto a steamboat. The U.S. government responded to the Confederate States’ show of financial force with seven and a half by three and a quarter inch Demand Notes that same year; U.S. Notes followed in 1862, and National Bank Notes in 1863. These are the original greenbacks, so called because of the hue on their non-face sides.

One of the many fallouts of the Civil War was the hoarding of coins. With so many coins out of circulation, the government introduced Postage Currency in 1862 and Fractional Currency in 1863. As its name suggests, Postage Currency was tiny, so an enterprising entrepreneur named John Gault customized a button machine to encase the fragile stamps in brass and clear mica.

The mica face let the bearer see the denomination of the stamp (5, 10, 25, or 50 cents). The brass back served as a vehicle for advertisements. Thus, pitches for Ayer’s Cathartic Pills and Ayer’s Sarsaparilla, which promised “to purify the blood,” lived in economic harmony with the stern images of Thomas Jefferson and George Washington, whose portraits were on the face side of these early stamps...

Encased stamps are very rare, but Fractional Currency is more widely available and popular with beginning numismatists. In a famous case, one of President Lincoln’s Treasury Department employees, Spencer M. Clark, put his own bearded mug on a piece of Fractional Currency, prompting Congress to pass a law banning images of living persons on notes.

After the war, National Bank Note use spread widely. The size of the note shrunk to six and 1/8 by two and 5/8 inches in 1928, and by the end of the National Bank Note era in 1935, most of the 14,000 banks in the country had their own notes. People collect them for condition ('crisp uncirculated' is an almost perfect note; 'good' is not prized by serious collectors because they are usually dirty and may have holes or tears), but also for the personal connection they may have to a particular town or bank.

As with Stock Certificates, some currency collectors are drawn to the vignettes and engravings — Franklin experimenting with lightning; Pocahontas being baptized.

Concurrent with National Bank Notes, the government issued both Gold and Silver Certificates, which promised the bearer the note’s face value in either metal. The first Gold Certificates were issued on 1865 for transactions between banks; a general-circulation Gold Certificate came along in 1882. Gold Certificates were recalled as part of the Gold Reserve Act of 1933, and it wasn’t until 1964 that it was again legal for private citizens to own them. Silver certificates coincided with the surplus of silver in 1878 but they were discontinued in 1963.

Finally, even though just about every currency collector would like to find that rare bill whose serial number or other distinguishing feature is printed upside down, some bills were deliberately tweaked. For example, during World War II, special currency was issued to troops in North Africa so that if it was captured, the currency could be easily demonetized. Similarly, to protect the money supply in the event of a Japanese invasion of Hawaii, currency there was overprinted with the word “Hawaii” on it, front and back, to make to easy to remove the bills from the money supply in the event of the worst.

About our sources | Got something to add?

▼ Expand to read the full article ▼

Best of the Web (“Hall of Fame”)

American Currency Exhibit

American Currency Exhibit

This collection, from the Federal Reserve Bank of San Francisco, covers currency from 1690 through half a dozen era… [read review or visit site]

Bank Note Bank

Bank Note Bank

This world banknote and currency image-sharing database is notable for its breadth of contributors and content (abo… [read review or visit site]

Two Cent Revenue Stamped Paper

Two Cent Revenue Stamped Paper

Everything you'd ever want to know about revenue stamped paper (first authorized in 1862). This site features infor… [read review or visit site]



Clubs & Associations

Other Great Reference Sites

Most watched eBay auctions    

1934 A $1000 One Thousand Dollar Bill$500 Currency 1934a Federal Reserve Note United States Five Hundred Number 31914 $100 Federal Reserve Note New York Pcgs 58 Fr 1088Us $10 Dollar - 1901 - Us Note - Bison - Legal Tender - Red Seal - Nr 1934a $500 Frn Five Hundred Dollar Bill Pmg Au58epq Superb!1934 $1000 Frn One Thousand Dollar Bill Pmg Au53epq Stunning!1899 $5 Mule "indian Chief" Silver Certificate Pcgs Certified Fine 121902 $50 *date Back* Joplin, Mo National Bank Note Beautiful Mid/high!No Reserve! $1000 1934a One Thousand Dollar Bill Bidding Starts At .99 Cents1934 $500 Dollar Bill Federal Reserve Note Five Hundred Dollars Chicago, Il 1928 $1000 Bill - St.louis - Excellent ConditionVery Rare - 1891 - Large - $20 Dollar Silver Certificate - Manning - Nr 1899 $2 Dollar Silver Certificate Fine4 (four) X $500 Five Hundred Dollar Bills Currency Cash Notes ** No Reserve ** 1896 5 Dollar Silver Certificate Educational Note *no Reserve**1899 $1 Star "black Eagle"-pcgs 30 Ppq-gorgeous!1922 $10 Gold Certificate ~~ High Grade~nearly Uncirculated~~1966 $100 The Key Red Star Low/fancy Serial ** Almost Uncirculated***1896 $1 Bank Note Educational Series Us Silver Certificate Paper CurrencyPmg $1 1993 Double Foldover Error 66epq Federal Reserve Note San Francisco1953 Hamilton $10 Star Note With Stamp & Fold Over Mint Error$1 Dollar Frn Atlanta Missing Print Error! Pmg Gem Unc 66 Epq! Must See!Hgr 1880 $5 (x-rare Brown Seal) ""woodchopper"" Cga Gem 65-opqUs 10$ Dollar - 1908 - Tombstone - Silver Certificate - Hendricks Blue Seal Pmg $1 1974 Federal Reserve Note St. Louis Missing Printing Error 65epqHgr 1917 $2 Scarce Teehee/burke ((grade Rarity)) Cga Superb Gem 67-opqHgr 1934 $500 Frn ""stunning $500"" Ch - Gem Uncirculated1928 $500 Frn Federal Reserve Note Very Fine Note Atlanta Low Serial No Reserve!John Morton Signature U. S. Declaration Of Independence Signer 1772 CurrencySeries 1902 Red Seal Nat Currency Valley Nat Bank Des Moines Ia.$50 1922 Fifty Dollars Gold Certificate Fr. 1200 Currency Note Scarce1899 $1 ~~ Large Size ~silver Certificate Note ~black Eagle~almost UncirculatedStar * 1917 $1 Legal Tender Bank Note Certificate Us Bill Paper Currency1934 $500 Five Hundred Dollar Bill Note Light Green Seal ** No Resrve **Pcgs $1 Error Federal Reserve Note Fr.? Unknown Series 67ppq Superb Gem New1840 $10 Republic Of Texas Obsolete Currency Vf1869 $2 "rainbow Note" Pcgs Certified Very Fine 25 Us Note 1899 Indian Chief $5 Dollar Silver Certificate Very Fine Sn N233457101896 $5 Dollar Educational Series Silver Certificate Note Fr#268 Fine12Xx Rare - Really Nice 1861 New Orleans G H W Lehde $1.00 Note (boot/shoe Maker!)$500 Bill Series 1934a Chicago Il Great Condition! Look At The Pictures !Stunning Uncut Banknote Sheet - Watertown Wi/wisconsin 1, 2, 3, And 5 DollarFr.91 $5 1907 "wood Chopper" Legal Tender Note Pcgs About New 53 "pcblic" ErrorL@@k ~ Rare 1934 Minneapolis $100 Star Note Bill 100 One Hundred Dollar Star Hgr 1935a $1 N.africa ""rare Grade"" Cga Superb Gem 67-opqAtlanta Peach! $500 1934 Five Hundred Dollar Bill "no Reserve" Auction 1902 $5 Five Dollar National Currency Bank Note Bergenfield National Bank 11368Hgr 1966 $100 Red Seal ((stunning)) Pmg Choice Unc 64epq1922 $20 Gold Certificate Nice Mid/high Grade!1999 $100 Frn Fr#2176-j Pmg 58 Choice About Unc Epq Missing Print Error1928 Fr 2405 $100 Gold CertificateBay Area Pair: $50 1929 San Jose, $20 1929 San Francisco National Bank Notes!One Of The Finest! Pcgs Gemnew 66ppq 1929 $5 T2 Fnb In Reno Nevada #7038 Bid NowScarce ***two Digit*** 1928 $500 Frn F 0000 69 00 A 1899 $5.00 United States Silver Certificate " Sioux Chief " ( Vg + )1901 Large Size Bison $10 Us Legal Tender Note Elliott - White No Pinholes!1917 $2~large Size~legal Tender~~almost Uncirculated ~~1929 $20 Twenty Dollar National Currency Rutherford New Jersey Federal Reserve1928 Series $50 Gold CertificateFr.91 $5 1907 "wood Chopper" Legal Tender Note Pcgs Very Choice New 64

Recent News: US Paper Money

Source: Google News

$2 Bill Documentary Film to Include Some Collectors at Memphis Paper Money ...
CoinWeek, August 30th

The biggest and the best of all currency collectors have made the trek to Mecca – I mean Memphis – to share their passion for paper money. It is that passion and the treasure hunt for notes, educational events, meetings, SPMC breakfast, bourse floor...Read more

Slimantics: A tale of two tails
The Commercial Dispatch, August 20th

"I wouldn't say we see them all the time, but we will have two or three come in during a year," says Bob Jane', a numismatist (currency collector) and member of the Professional Numismatists Guild who works for Southern Coins and Collectibles in...Read more

Serial Number 1 National Currency from Nevada with Could Bring $50K in ...
CoinWeek, August 18th

For the currency collector who has everything, a leather-bound book titled Specimens of Bank Note Engraving by Toppan, Carpenter, Casilear & Co. offers an extraordinary seven uncut sheets of obsolete proof notes (est. $20,000+). This book and a few ...Read more

Error Paper Money Exhibit on Display at Memphis 2014. VIDEO: 2:47
CoinWeek, August 14th

The biggest and the best of all currency collectors have made the trek to Mecca – I mean Memphis – to share their passion for paper money. It is that passion and the treasure hunt for notes, educational events, meetings, SPMC breakfast, bourse floor...Read more

Coin show returns to trade center
The Daily Citizen, August 12th

“We have foreign currency collectors. We have coin collectors. A lot of the dealers handle paper money, such as bank notes and railroad notes.” Those attending will be able to buy, sell and trade coins, paper currency and other items. Each year, the...Read more

Rare World Coins Excite Bidders in the Stack's Bowers ANA Money Auction
CoinWeek, August 11th

The world paper money highlights from live Session A included five incredible items, beginning with lot 41, a rare Danish West Indies Den Dansk Vestindiske National Bank 20 Franc note. Currency collectors took note of its quality and remaining detail...Read more

Farmer loses prized currency collection to trusted worker
The Borneo Post, August 5th

SIBU: A farmer felt betrayed when the foreigner he hired in his chicken and goat farm in Oya Road took off with his treasured collection of currency notes. He had collected them for decades since young. Among his collection were notes from Sarawak's...Read more

The Magical Thinking of Silver Swindlers
Pacific Standard, August 5th

On the other hand, if your taste in currency-collection has an element of Zionism, GovMint is equally pleased to hawk its partnership with the Holy Land Mint of Israel—once state-run but privatized in 2008 and therefore very much open for some kind of ...Read more