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    

Silver Certificate $5 1899 Indian Chief Pmg Graded Choice Fine 15 Net1934 Us L00011491 A Green Seal Federal Reserve Note Thousand Dollar $1000 Bill $1000 Dollar Bill 1934 Green Seal - $500 Dollar Bill 1934 Mckinley Green Seal$1000 1934 San Francisco Superior Grading Au55 Excellent1934 $500 Five Hundred Dollar Bill San Francisco L Federal Reserve Currency Note1917 Legal Tender $1 Note One Dollar Graded Au58 Epq By Pmg$1000 1934a Atlanta Pmg 40 Serial F00126065aCirculated 500 Dollar Bill1900 Fr. 1225h $10,000 Gold Certificate1934a $1000 One Thousand Dollar Bill Note Cash Money Pmg Au 55 Epq - No Reserve1901 Ten Dollar BisonRare High Grade $100 Series 1902-db National Banknote No Reserve!1934a $10 Hawaii Federal Reserve Note Fr. 2303 Pcgs Gem New 65 Ppq No Reserve!Kd 1934a $500 Five Hundred Dollar Bill G313877a Cga 66 Opq Federal Reserve Note1934a $20 Hawaii Fr-2305 Gem Unc,cga 65 Opq Goreous $20 Hawaii!1880 $10 Red Seal "jackass" Legal Tender Fr 106 Cga 66* (tough Fr 106)$1000 1934a Chicago Pmg Vf25 Fresh Bright Treasure No Reserve1934 $5 Hawaii Frn Mule Fr. 2301 Pcgs Gem New 65 Ppq! No Reserve!1890 $5 Five Dollar Small Red Seal Treasury Note1935a $1 Silver Fr-1609 (r) Gem Unc,cga 66 Opq Part Of Experimental Pair!1786 2s 6d Rhode Island Colonial Currency Pcgs Very Choice New 641891 $20 Silver "manning" Certificate Fr-321 Very Fine,cga 30 Opq Awesome Note!Authentic 1934 Fr 2201-f Five Hundred ($500) Bill Pcgs Very Fine 301914 $5 Frn Fr-853 Burke/glass Gem Unc,cga 66 Opq Rare!! Rare!!1935a $1 Silver Fr-1610 (s) Gem Unc,cga 66 Opq Part Of Experimental Pair!Hgr 1934a $500 X-rare Grade ((finest Known)) Cga Superb Gem 68-opq1934a $500 Five Hundred Dollar Bill Note Cash Money Pmg Ef 45 ** No Reserve **Group Of 40 Federal Reserve Notes, Most Star Notes1899 $5 Silver Certificate - Indian Chief Note - Cga 30 Very FineHgr 1923 $1 Red Seal ((grade Rarity)) Cga Gem Unc 66-opq1934 Series B00293234 A United States Of America Five Hundred Dollars $500 Bill1891 $20 Silver "manning" Cert Fr-318 Choice Fine,pmg 15net Great Eye Appeal!1928 $100 Frn "san Francisco" Fr-2150-l Choice Unc,cga 64 Opq $100 Denom!2001 $1 Frn *error* Superb Gem New,pcgs 67 Ppq Mismatched Serial Number!Us Paper Money Huge Collection Lot Large & Small Nearly $10,000 In Cash1899 $1 Silver Certificate - 66 Gem Uncirculated 1976 $2 Frn *error* Fr-1935-b Gem New,pcgs 65 Ppq Mismatched Serial Prefix!Hgr 1896 $1 Educational ((phenomenal Artwork)) Cga Choice Unc 64opq1934 $500 Five Hundred Dollar Bill1934 $500 Federal Reserve Note - Xf, Vintage Mckinley Green Seal Bill (281930u)Lg. Size, 1902 $100,seattle National.rare Fr-692 Date Back!Hgr 1874 $1 Rare ((flaming Red Ornamentation)) Pmg Vf-251841 $50 Republic Of Texas Note.exceptional Color!. Rare Texas Note! Vf-25.1899 $1 Silver Certificate - Ephrata Find - 58 Epq Choice About Unc.$500 1934a Chicago Pmg Vf35 Rare Beauty No Reserve1896 $5 "educational Note" Silver Certificate Fr. 248 Bruce/roberts Signatures **beautiful** Gem/cu $1 1880 "brown Seal" Federal Reserve Note Brown Spiked Seal*** Bep Pack Of 100 Consecutive 1976 $2.00 1976****Hgr 1918 $1 Green Eagle ((x-rare Grade)) Cga Superb Gem 67-opqFr. 2306* 1935a North Africa $1 Silver Certificate Star Pcgs 451922 $10 Gold Certificate Pcgs Certfied Choice About New 58 Ppq Fr. 1173 Note1914 $50.dollar New York F/r Note.$500 1934a Chicago Pmg Vf25 Attractive1934 $500 Federal Reserve Note - Rare!!!325 $1 Barr Notes1882 $100. Gold Certificate $10 Bison Legal Tender 1901 Always A Highly Collected NoteFirst National Bank Of Stone, Ky Bank Note1917 $1 United States Note - Gem New 66ppqSilver Certificates,100 Crisp Unc. In Consecutive Order

Recent News: US Paper Money

Source: Google News

Products shaped like goats sell well for Lunar New Year
VietNamNet Bridge, January 13th

Hoang Lan, a currency collector, said she is thinking of buying an Indian gold-plated coin at VND1.2 million after seeing the coin on the internet. “Currency collectors have many choices this year,” she said. “I have 15 banknotes of different countries...Read more

Shopping in the markets of Kuala Lumpur
The West Australian, January 11th

Currency collectors will delight in inspecting the huge assortment of weathered coins and well- maintained bank notes for sale. Record players from the 1960s and 1970s are lined up on tables next to boxes of vinyl releases spanning a variety of styles...Read more

Heritage to Auction Important Ruth Hill World Currency Collection
CoinWeek, March 4th

An extensive and rare World Currency collection assembled by Ruth W. Hill, lovingly referred to as the “Grand Old Lady of Paper Money Collecting in North America,” will be offered by Heritage Auctions in a series of auctions throughout 2014, beginning...Read more

Currency collector's tryst with history
Times of Oman, February 16th

Muscat: Here is an engineer who loves to be known as a numismatist. George Thomas, an Indian expatriate residing in Oman for the last three decades, loves to be known as a numismatist — a person who is studying or collecting currency — than as a ...Read more

Royersford man has $10 bill worth $500000?
Philly.com, October 23rd

Billy Baeder, a Royersford currency collector, who co-owns a car-repair shop, holds what could be the most valuable piece of currency printed since 1929: a 1933 Silver Certificate with the serial number A00000001A. Travel Deals. $859 & up -- Puerto...Read more

$100 bill serial numbers: Currency collectors after 'fancy' serial numbers on ...
YourWestValley.com, September 25th

According to The Boston Globe, currency collectors will pay handsomely for the bills that have unusual serial numbers. These "fancy" serial numbers, as they call them, include low numbers (00000001 to 00000100), sequences (12345678), solids (22222222) ...Read more

Dubai family bags third Limca record with currency collection
gulfnews.com, January 9th

Dubai family bags third Limca record with currency collection. Family collects currencies with serial numbers denoting national or independence day of 122 countries. By Jay B. HilotinChief Reporter; Published: 22:05 January 9, 2013; XPRESS. Be the...Read more

Numismatist's currency collection 'note'worthy
Times of India, December 19th

BHUBANESWAR: Which is the largest currency note of all times? When did India have Rs 2.50 currency note and how did it look? Did India ever have currency note of one paisa denomination? To get answers for all these queries, one should visit Aravind ...Read more