The History of Large Size U.S. Currency
Paper currency has been used in the United States for centuries. In fact, early colonial currency dates to the 1730s and continued to be printed to the 1790s. When the U.S. Mint came into existence in 1792, the focus moved to Gold, Silver and Copper coins. However, colonial and continental notes were accepted for transactions until the 1820s.
Around 1800, a number of private banks started to print their own currency. These bankers were very happy to take your hard-earned Gold and Silver in exchange for paper currency, which they were printing. This resulted in an amazingly high number of these banks going bankrupt so these notes are now known as Broken Bank Notes or Obsolete Currency.
Gold and Silver coinage were the dominant currencies from the 1790s onward. But when the Civil War broke out in 1861, both the U.S. government and the Confederate States of America began to print paper currency in very large quantities. And so United States Large Size currency was born!
Large Size Currency started in 1861 with a series of Demand Notes. The series included $5, $10 and $20 notes and today they are rare in all grades. This series was followed the next year by a variety of Legal Tender Notes, many of which were struck during the American Civil War and are very collectible today. Legal Tender Notes, also called United States Notes, are named Legal Tender because there is an obligation printed on the notes stating they are Legal Tender of the United States. Large size Legal Tender Notes were printed through 1923. Denominations were $1, $2, $5, $10, $20, $50, $100, $500, $1,000, $5,000 and $10,000. All $50 and higher notes are extremely rare and expensive.
There are also Compound Interest Treasury Notes, Interest Bearing Notes and Refunding Certificates that are virtually unavailable in any grades and are extremely scarce and valuable.
One of the most popular areas of Large Size Currency is Silver Certificates. These notes were actually backed by Silver – meaning they were exchangeable for Silver Dollars, Silver coins or even Silver nuggets. Some of the most famous and most collectible of all Large Size Currency are Silver Certificates.
Perhaps the most famous Large Size note is the 1899 Black Eagle Silver Certificate note, called that due to the large black American Bald Eagle dominating the front of the note. The eagle is shown above portraits of Presidents Abraham Lincoln and Ulysses S. Grant. The note is extremely popular due to the image and the availability.
Another very popular note is known as the Chief Note, which is actually an 1899 Silver Certificate $5 Note. This note is extremely popular due to the American Indian motif on the front. The chief depicted was known as “Ta-to-ka-in-yan-ka” or “Running Antelope.” Silver Certificates come in $1, $2, $5, $10, $20, $50, $100, $500 and $1,000 denominations.
Treasury or Coin Notes were issued only during 1890 and 1891 but comprise 16 different designs. All of these notes are considered very scarce to extremely rare.
National Bank Notes were also printed in the large size by many hundreds of banks for issues from 1863, 1875, 1882, 1902 and 1908. The notes were usually backed by United States bonds the bank deposited with the United States Treasury. In addition, banks were required to maintain a redemption fund amounting to five percent of any outstanding note balance, in Gold or "lawful money."
There were three Charter Periods issuing these notes and those of the Third Charter Period are some of the most available and also some of the most interesting. Third Charter Period notes were issued between 1915 and 1929, when the U.S. government decided to reduce the size of the paper money issued. During this Third Charter Period, there were three different types of notes issued:
- Red Seals issued from 1902 to 1908 and bear a large red Treasury seal.
- Blue Seals with dates on back, issued between 1908 and 1915.
- Blue Seals without dates on back, issued 1915 to 1929.
Federal Reserve Bank Notes came about because of the establishment of the Federal Reserve System. There are two different issues: Federal Reserve Bank Notes and Federal Reserve Notes. The latter are still printed to this day. Printed in 1914, 1915 and 1918, Federal Reserve Notes standardized the designs to a president or founding father pictured on the front and a design on the back.
Finally, the last type of Large Size currency is one of the most popular – Gold Certificates. Gold Certificates were issued in the large size between 1863 and 1922. Most issues were dated 1882, 1907 and 1922. These notes were redeemable in Gold coins, which is why they are still so popular today. Of course, you can no longer trade them in for Gold coins, but many collectors and investors like to have notes with that obligation printed on them. All notes issued after 1933, when President Franklin Roosevelt moved the United States off the Gold Standard, cannot bear that same obligation.
1907 $10 Gold Certificates and 1922 $20 Gold Certificates are two of the most popular and available issues, and are very widely collected by investors and collectors alike. The denominations of Gold Certificates range from $5 to $10,000. Notes denominated $50 or higher are very scarce, but very desirable.
Collecting and investing in Large Size Currency is interesting and can be a highly rewarding endeavor. The variety of types and designs allows you to buy what you like.