By Steve Carr
Collecting currency is very similar to collecting coins. There are lots of currency types and denominations to collect. Many of the notes produced 100 years ago were also very artistic and many had an educational component.
Just like coins, there are an infinite number of ways to collect currency. This blog will cover, over several installments, the more popular ways to collect United States currency. Some ways that transcend type involve collecting notes with interesting serial numbers, from winning poker hands to repeaters (where the serial number repeats itself) to solid numbers. Others collect the notes for their design, choosing from, for example, the 1896 educational series silver certificates. Still others may be attracted to National Bank Notes, often called “hometown paper money” because a town name is listed on the face (front). Still others will collect gold notes, which were recalled in 1933.
Although our currency today consists mainly of Federal Reserve Notes, there are twelve different types of United States currency (see list at the end of this blog). Each type has a number of different “varieties,” caused by a change in the officials whose signatures appear on the note or a complete/partial overhaul of the design of the note. Some are common and some are rare.
There are also two different sizes of U.S. currency. Notes printed until late 1928 - 1929 were larger than our current notes, measuring approximately 7 ½” X 5 1/8”. Our current notes measure about 6 1/8” X 2 5/8”. Some people prefer collecting the larger notes, commonly called “horse blankets.” Others prefer the regular sized notes. Whatever makes your day!
However you want to collect, the first thing you should do is look at what is available on your budget. It is hard to collect Demand notes in a limited budget! But Silver Certificates are readily available and are often available at little over face value. Affordable for anyone.
Condition and demand are the two most important factors when determining the value of a note. Higher grade notes usually sell for more money. Can you afford notes in the grade you like? Most serious currency collectors prefer notes graded VF or better. Notes in this grade have better eye appeal and are great to show off. But in some cases, a lower grade note might be the only one available.
To find currency, check local coin shops, coin shows, your local coin club, or on-line. A number of currency dealers have extensive web sites, complete with pictures. What type(s) do you like? Are they affordable?
Probably the best reference for U.S. currency is Friedberg’s Paper Money of the United States (Friedberg, Arthur L. and Ira S., Paper Money of the United States, 20th Edition, Coin and Currency Institute, Williston, VT, 2013). This book has pictures and valuations for most U.S. currency, large and small size, printed after 1860 (notes printed earlier were mostly done for private banks and are called “Obsoletes.” More on them in the future.). Friedberg also has descriptions of fractional currency.
If you are interested in large size currency, there is a wonderful book by Carlson R. Chambliss and Gene Hessler. This book, The Comprehensive Catalog of U.S. Federal Large-Size Notes, 1861 -1929 (ISBN 978-0-931960-77-2), gives an in-depth look at all large size Federal notes, including the number printed, the number known, and any interesting facts about them. also pictures differences. For small size notes, there is John Schwartz and Scott Lindquist’s Standard Guide to Small-Size U.S. Paper Money, 1928 to Date (9th Edition - 2009), ISBN –13: 978-1-4402-0245-2
Different types of United States currency:
Demand Notes (printed in 1861)
Fractional Currency (printed from 1862 - 1876)
U.S. Notes (Legal Tender) (printed from 1862 - 1966)
Interest Bearing Notes (printed in 1863)
Compound Interest Treasury Notes (printed from 1863 - 1865)
National Bank Notes (printed from 1863 - 1935)
Gold Certificates (printed from 1865 - 1932)
Silver Certificates (printed from 1878 - 1965)
Refunding Certificates (printed in 1879)
Treasury Notes (printed from 1890 - 1898)
Federal Reserve Bank Notes (printed from 1915 - 1944)
Federal Reserve Notes (printed from 1914 - present)