I admit right away that I am not a collector of paper money, even though I have spent a good part of it in my adult life. The strangest paper money I used was the $ 2 bill. In fact, for years I asked bank tellers for $ 2 bills and spent them whenever I had the chance.
Sometimes the one I submitted received an unusual response from the recipient. For example, when shopping for frozen yogurt years ago, I handed one to a young lady who gave me a strange look. “I’m not sure I can take this,” she said, holding the beak like it was a live eel. My response should have been, “If you think it’s a counterfeit, call the police!” Instead, I gave him two.
I sold paper money on eBay, mostly banknotes which I received from a major merchant who sent me the leftover coin and banknote binders at a good price. When I was done selling the coins, I decided to list the paper money to see what it would bring.
Generally speaking, sales of paper money exceeded my expectations, which were admittedly very low. As I read the 6th Edition of Whitman’s A Guide Book of United States Paper Money, I can begin to understand what the fuss around paper money is all about. After all, virtually any 19th century banknote is more attractive than an average coin with the same central motif. If you think the Indian on the Nickel Buffalo is surprisingly appealing, check out the $ 5 “Indian Chief Note” featuring the chef colloquially known as the Running Antelope. Of course, the chef has a much larger canvas than the comrade on the nickel It is this larger canvas that makes the images on the banknotes so striking.
The authors of this guide are two brothers, Arthur and Ira Friedberg, who have worked in the field of numismatics for over 30 years. Both joined the family business (Coin & Currency) after completing their university education. Among other activities, Arthur and Ira have remained busy co-writing popular works such as Gold coins of the world, United States paper money, and Evaluate and sell your coins.
Their professional activities have been rewarded with numerous prizes. For example, in 1993 the Friedbergs received the IAPN (International Association of Professional Numismatists) Honorary Award, which their company helped found) for world gold coins. From the ANA, they received the Medal of Merit for “Distinguished Service in the Pastime”.
The guide has a fairly long introduction written by David Ganz, lawyer and former ANA president (1993-1995). Ganz has authored more than 14 books and thousands of numismatic articles over the past half century.
He begins the introduction by talking about the $ 2 bill, a banknote dear to my heart as you may have understood in my introduction. He notes that the denomination fell into disuse due to low demand in the mid-1960s, only to be resurrected a few years later as a money-saving device. According to Ganz, the director of the Bureau of Engraving and Printing (BEP) told him that he believed that “. . . millions would be saved each year by reducing the number of tickets by $ 1 and substituting the two ”.
And so a new $ 2 note was issued in 1976 with a Bicentennial theme on the back. Did the new ticket save tons of money by reducing demand for the ticket by $ 1? Ganz doesn’t end the story in his introduction, but in my experience the answer is a definite ‘no’. Most people don’t think they’re made yet, don’t know you can usually get them at your bank, and are surprised to see one. They often say they will keep the one I gave them.
As you might expect, Ganz includes a brief section on rating the US currency. However, there are only text descriptions. Perhaps a future edition could include a brief illustrated scoring guide.
Ganz ends the introduction with a list of the types of US currency. It begins with the rarest issues of interest-bearing banknotes issued due to financial emergencies caused by the Civil War and ends with our current Federal Reserve banknotes.
As you will find in American coin guides, banknotes are listed by denomination, starting with the $ 1 note all the way to the unimaginable $ 10,000 notes (unimaginable to me, anyway). Beyond the $ 10,000 bills, there are brief “chapters” that examine fractional money, War of 1812 treasury bills, locked postage stamps, and error bills. I put “chapters” in quotes because the book does not have actual chapters.
After the error notes, the paper money guide contains four appendices, the last of which is on “The Future of Women in American Currency.” Given the changing political and cultural climate, it is difficult to know when, or if, women will have a future in our currency.
As I flipped through the pages of this book, I was struck by the number and variety of rare and super rare banknotes available (or not available) for collectors. These rarities are not limited to large banknotes, as many small banknotes, from 1929, fall into this category.
For example, in the “chapter” of the $ 2 note, Friedberg 1503[star] note, series 1928-B, with signatures of Woods and Mills, is worth $ 20,000 in VF-20, with V[very] rare under the Unc-63 grade. The banknote illustrating the type, series 1928 to 1928-G, Red Seal, looks very ordinary to my untrained eye, and I know that I have seen $ 2 bills of this general type. Did they match the other requirement? Almost certainly not.
Speaking of rarity, in the $ 50 “chapter” I came across a list of National Gold Bank notes covering the early 1870s. These are all designated either F-1160 or F-1161, and nine are listed. None are valued, one is listed as 5 known, two are unique, and the other six are unknown! The type is striking, moreover, because on the back is “A montage of contemporary gold coins”.
And then there are the Treasury Notes or $ 1,000 Coins, Series of 1890. These are popularly known as the “Grand Watermelon” notes due to the shape of the zeros on the back of the notes. The only value shown is the one that was sold at a 2018 Stack’s Bowers auction for $ 2,040,000!
Of course, there are plenty of banknotes that are both attractive and inexpensive, and these are undoubtedly the ones that matter to all American paper money collectors. If you’re one of those and don’t have this book yet, a paperback version with a list price of $ 24.95 is available from online booksellers like Amazon.com. I checked the publisher (whitman.com) and found that the book was out of stock, which may tell us about the demand for this item.