How Much Is Old Currency Worth?


Many beautiful pieces of extremely rare paper currency fill individual collections throughout the world. The value of these collections, and the individual notes themselves, varies. The most significant factor is quality, which can be summarized and formalized by independent grading organizations. Another factor affecting a note's value is the specific type of bill and the era in which it was printed. Many of the remaining aspects of valuing a bill are intrinsic in nature and will be different for each individual collector, which makes it extremely difficult to accurately generalize a bill's worth.


  • Individuals and antique organizations have been collecting pieces of paper currency since the very beginnings of its use. In the United States, paper currency was first issued in the early 1700s in various forms and by various institutions. As the ruling powers in the country became more organized and implemented more formal practices, currency began to evolve slowly and steadily. With each passing generation, advances in printing technology brought about changes in both the physical creation of currency and the artistic aspect of the paper bills.


  • Because so many different types of paper currency have been printed over almost three centuries, a collector may focus on countless groupings and categories and an almost never-ending supply of specimens. A novice currency collector has the ability to choose a specific period in American history and aim to collect pieces from that era. Thanks to the diverse history of currency printing in this country, collectors can also focus their efforts on specific types of printed pieces and the geographic historical events associated with those bills.


  • Generally, older bills are more valuable than younger ones, and bills with lower total print counts are worth more than bills with much higher print numbers.

    Some of the oldest and most valuable types of currency are pieces called Continental Currency, which were printed during the late 1700s. Although relatively crude and simplistic by design, any of these bills still in existence today are highly valuable because of their sheer age and historical significance.

    Another type of valuable currency is called Confederate Currency and was printed during the Civil War. These pieces are particularly valuable because of both their age and the unique history they represent.

    More modern types of currency, all printed after the formal acceptance of one unified currency design and oversight process by the government, are valuable in differing degrees based more on the quality of the individual specimen rather than historical events tied to the piece. Modern currency in the United States has evolved over the past century and was known by several official names like United States Notes, National Banknotes and Federal Reserve Banknotes. Each of these types is comprised of thousands of different bills spread across multiple denominations.


  • Several independent organizations exist whose sole purpose is to validate the legitimacy of old currency specimens and to issue each submitted piece a quality rating. These ratings are typically on a scale of 1 to 70, with 70 being the absolute best a piece of paper currency could ever be. As time and abuse damage a bill, its quality will diminish, resulting in lower grades for things like rips, tears, folds, discoloration, and any other blemish that detracts from the overall quality.

    Once a note is officially graded by an independent rating organization, it is then sealed in a thick heavy plastic case and given a unique identification number, which can be researched by other collectors. Since the quality of a bill is often the most disputed aspect of its sale or purchase, having an independent and reputable organization eliminate any controversy in this respect makes a transaction much easier to complete. Bills can then be bought and sold based on current market rates for that particular note's grade.


  • Some people collect old paper currency merely for its uniqueness and artistic beauty; others for its historical significance and for a sense of patriotism; still others collect currency as a type of enjoyable and interesting investment. Some older bills with high grades can be worth several thousand dollars, and occasionally the rare note has been sold for hundreds of thousands of dollars.

    Of course, in the most common collector circles, average people are likely to see bills ranging in price from a few dollars to a few hundred dollars. Much of the value of a particular note is intrinsic and difficult to justify. A bill may be worth more to one collector than another not because of any physical or historical issue, but because of a personal or sentimental connection to something associated with the note or what it may represent.


  • Perhaps one of the highest prices ever paid at auction for a piece of currency was $805,000 for a $5,000 bill issued in 1878. This note is considered one of the most desired pieces of currency because all other examples of this issue have been collected by the Treasury Department and destroyed, making this particular piece the only one of its kind known to remain. A $20 Federal Reserve Note issued in 1928 recently sold at auction for over $6,000 simply because the note was graded at 66 out of 70. A $10 Silver Certificate from 1934, which had been graded at 63 out of 70, sold at auction for more than $50,000 because this particular bill was one of the North Africa prints with a yellow treasury seal. A $20 Federal Reserve Note that was believed to have been in Al Capone's billfold on the day he was formally arrested was recently sold at auction for just under $2,500.


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