Updated: Mar 27, 2020
I thought it would be interesting to talk about the value of currency, especially with the recent talk from the Treasury Department about changing the $20, $10 and $5 bills to include Harriet Tubman and other women and civil rights leaders over the next decade. Sure Mnuchin has delayed this, but change is inevitable, as with all things.
So, don’t tune out -- this is not a boring inflation, economic story, I promise. It’s about the value of old bills that may be lying around. I am talking about old Federal Reserve Notes, silver certificates, “Large Notes,” which were some 40 percent larger than bills of today, postage currency, military certificates and the like. I have run in to people who believe that because these are out of circulation, they’re nearly worthless or just a conversation piece. Much to the contrary, and in many cases, this market has been heating up.
In the past, paper currency did not have the interest of the coin collectors. The demand and value was not there, but I believe logic kicked in to the collector.
What’s the logic? The rarity, as paper did not survive like coins had. Limited circulation and condition always meant the most to the coin collector. Paper has this hands down. Paper has more enemies than metal.
What if I told you a $20 bill from 1861 could be worth more than $500,000? It’s true. In fact, just a few years back, a fine example sold for $675,000 at an auction in Texas. For a better earthly example, a $10 Bill from 1914 just sold in Illinois for $550. That’s what I am really trying to express to you. You may have an old $5 bill in your wallet and not realize it’s worth $250. Another example I love are old large denominations that are out of circulation. $500 bills regularly sell for more than $1,000, and $1,000 bills can fetch $2,000 or more.
Other things to look for are errors. Anything significant on a bill that occurred during the printing process can drive up the value to a certain set of collectors. If you think you have a bill with an error, make sure you contact an expert to authenticate it. An example is a modern, 1988 $5 bill with a seal error that just sold at auction for $390.
There is a lot to cover in regards to paper currency collecting and values, and far too much for this article, but I hope I set you on the path of taking another look at the change you received at Starbucks. I personally look for odd change finds, and it's nothing to