Last-modified: Jan 17, 1997
Paper Money Collecting FAQ for rec.collecting.paper-money
(currently maintained by Bruce Giese, email@example.com)
Subject: Introduction and Disclaimer
This is the FAQ (Frequently Asked Questions) on the subject of
paper money collecting for the newsgroup rec.collecting.paper-money.
There is no guarantee of accuracy and no liability assumed by
anybody. That's life.
If you want to add/change/remove/enhance anything in this FAQ,
by all means let the maintainer know. Changes are encouraged.
After all, the Usenet survives by volunteer actions from all of us.
Location of FAQ: rtfm.mit.edu
in the directory:
you can access this site via e-mail using
firstname.lastname@example.org (put "help" in the body of
Subject: Credits and Copyright
This FAQ was initially created and submitted for *.anwers
approval by Bruce Giese (email@example.com) in Sept 1994.
This FAQ is copyrighted by sections. When making modifications,
the copyright should include those who contributed to the substance
of the section, with names in the order of contribution level. Just
to be fair to everyone, past and future.
Section 0 is public domain and belongs to the readers of
Sections 1.2, 1.5 are copyright 1995, Bruce Giese, Alan Herbert,
and Steven Edelson
Sections 1.6, 1.7, 1.11, 1.12, 2.6, 3.8 are copyright 1995,
Bruce Giese and Alan Herbert (Alan is at CTCU29A@prodigy.com)
Sections 1.9 is copyright 1996, Donald Arnone, Bruce Giese,
Steve McNeill, Alan Herbert, and others
Sections 2.9 are copyright 1996, Barth Richards, Bruce Giese, and
Sections 1.14, 1.15 are copyright 1995, Steve Edelson, Bruce Giese
Sections 2.7, 3.9, 3.10, 3.12, 3.13 are copyright 1995, Alan Herbert
Sections 3.14 are copyright 1995, Bruce Giese and Francois Velde
Sections 3.15 are copyright 1995, Francois Velde and Lloyd Lim
Sections 3.16 are copyright 1994-97, Bruce Giese and James Rupprecht
Sections 3.18 are copyright 1997, Alan Herbert
Sections 4.5 are copyright 1995, Alan Herbert and Bruce Giese
all other sections are copyright 1994, Bruce Giese
Thanks to everyone who provided editorial support.
The contents of this FAQ can be reproduced in whole and/or in part
FOR FREE without anybody's written or express permission as long as
this Credits and Copyright subject section is included. Small portions
can be posted to relevant Usenet newsgroups without this copyright
The first quality paper money web page was made by: <see section 1.16>
who will be forever honored in this Credits section.
Mylar D and Tyvek are trademarks of The Dupont Corporation.
Subject: Contents (* = new text or section added)
0.1) History of rec.collecting.paper-money
0.2) Charter for rec.collecting.paper-money
*0.3) Can I post in a different langauge?
1. GENERAL INFORMATION ON THE HOBBY
1.1) Who collects paper money?
1.2) What kind of paper money do people collect?
1.3) What's the best way to get started collecting?
1.4) I'd like to trade/buy/sell paper money, what should I do?
1.5) How does the typical paper money transaction occur?
1.6) How should I store my banknotes?
1.7) Is there an all encompassing reference book for paper money?
1.8) What is a "Pick" number?
1.9) How do you grade the condition of paper money?
*1.10) Who are some dealers and professionals that I can contact?
*1.11) What are some societies/organizations that I can join?
1.12) Are there any relevant periodicals?
1.13) Who is J.S.G. Boggs and why is he famous for paper money art?
1.14) Where are some paper money shows that I can attend?
1.15) What are Green Sheets?
*1.16) Where are some paper money World Wide Web sites?
2. "I FOUND A..." QUESTIONS
2.1) How do I get a banknote officially appraised?
2.2) I found a US 1935/1953/1957 Silver Certificate in
circulation, how much is it worth?
2.3) Is a US 1963-1993 note worth anything?
2.4) Are US two dollar bills worth anything?
2.5) I found a very old banknote in perfect condition in a very
old book, what should I do?
2.6) I found a note from country XYZZY, how much is it worth?
2.7) I found a US Federal Reserve Note with the little
numbers in the wrong place. Is it counterfeit?
2.8) I found a note with a star next to the serial number, what
does this mean?
2.9) I found a banknote that says The Japanese "Government", what is it?
2.10) I found a note marked as "SPECIMEN" with serial number of all
zeros, what is it?
2.11) I found a Chinese banknote that is labelled "Hell", what is it?
2.12) What is a watermark?
3. USA PAPER MONEY
3.1) I heard the US is changing its paper money, is this true?
3.2) What is a National Banknote?
3.3) What are silver certificates and gold certificates?
3.4) Can you exchange silver certificates for real silver?
3.5) I heard that some US notes are stamped HAWAII, why?
3.6) What is fractional currency?
3.7) What is obsolete currency (broken banknotes, wildcat notes)?
3.8) I heard there are a lot of counterfeit US notes worldwide, is
3.9) Is it illegal to copy U.S. paper money?
3.10) Is it illegal to use U.S. paper money on products or in
3.11) Are old U.S. notes still legal tender?
3.12) Are banknotes with Barre's signature good investments?
3.13) What's the story on the Bank of the United States 1840 $1,000
note with serial number 8894?
3.14) Where are all the Federal Reserve Banks?
3.15) What's with all those weird things on the one dollar bill?
*3.16) Where can I buy uncut sheets of U.S. paper money?
*3.17) Whose portrait is on the various current banknotes?
*3.18) How much do USA banknotes weigh?
4. WORLD PAPER MONEY
4.1) How do I get banknotes from country XYZZY?
4.2) How do I get banknotes from every country in the world?
4.3) What was Operation Bernhardt?
4.4) What is concentration camp money?
4.5) Does anybody collect Confederate States of America notes?
4.6) How many countries currently issue paper money?
4.7) A note from country XYZZY has a company name at the bottom, is
4.8) Are there really plastic banknotes?
4.9) What is a military issue or Military Payment Certificate?
4.10) What is the highest denomination note ever created or issued?
Subject: 0.1) History of rec.collecting.paper-money
The newsgroup rec.collecting.paper-money passed the Usenet
"Big 8" Newsgroup vote with 234 YES votes and 18 NO votes
on June 21, 1996. It was created on June 27, 1996. The
proponent for the group was Bruce Giese.
rec.collecting.paper-money had failed a previous vote on
October 23, 1995 with 111 YES votes and 22 NO votes. Before
it was created, paper money traffic was carried on
rec.collecting.coins which itself was created on August 16, 1994.
Before that, paper money traffic was carried in rec.collecting.
The amount of traffic has increased steadily over the years
to its current state.
Subject: 0.2) Charter for rec.collecting.paper-money
The rec.collecting.paper-money newsgroup is open to discussion of all
aspects of paper money collecting, including stock and bond
certificates, bank issued notes, military currency, private monetary
notes, travelers checks, concentration camp currency, college currency
notes, emergency scrip, merchant scrip, checks, gift certificates, and
fantasy currency notes until further newsgroups for these topics are
The scope of the discussion will include questions about valuations,
marketplace posts, trading posts, history and origins of notes,
current events (such as upcoming changes in the US currency),
authenticity of notes, online auctions, and on-topic informational
The general "nettiquete" FAQs posted in news.announce.newusers and
news.answers apply to rec.collecting.paper-money. Excessive flaming
is politely discouraged.
Subject: 0.2) Can I post in a different language?
Most posts are written in English. If you don't speak
English well and you want to post in your native language,
you are welcome to do so. Many of us are here *because*
rec.collecting.paper-money is an international newsgroup
and greatly welcome true multiculturalism.
Examples: non-English numismatic publications, non-English
coin shows, questions about a coin/paper money in the
language of that coin/paper money (eg. Asking in Dutch about
a Dutch coin, asking in German about notgeld). People who post
follow-ups to a nonEnglish post are encouraged (not required)
to post in both the language of the post and English for the
benefit of the majority of the group.
1. GENERAL INFORMATION ON THE HOBBY
Subject: 1.1) Who collects paper money?
The paper money collecting hobby has been very well established for
decades and there are many thousands of collectors worldwide. Paper
money collectors are not as common as coin collectors, but they are
still very active and have extensively developed the hobby. Many
very specialized coin groups deal heavily in paper money as well.
Subject: 1.2) What kind of paper money do people collect?
Tom Denly (a well respected member of the hobby) identified 7 main
areas of interest in a recent issue of Bank Note Reporter. I've [Bruce]
split area 5 into 5a and 5b, because I consider them to be somewhat
separate, and 7 into 7a and 7b because the world consists of more than
just the USA. Alan Herbert added category 8. Steven Edelson added
1) large-size US type notes
2) US national bank notes (issued by local banks chartered by the US)
3) US fractional currency (notes from the 1800s of less than 1 dollar)
4) pre-US colonial currency
5a) US obsolete notes (from private banks of the 1880s)
5b) Confederate States of America notes
6) small-size US type notes (the size we're familiar with now)
7a) recent and general world paper money
7b) older and rare world paper money
8) error notes, including printing, paper and cutting errors
9) Souvenir Cards
You can see the obvious slant toward US currency. Unfortunately,
much of the really interesting US paper money is now very expensive.
The very striking notes of the 1800s and early 1900s are now out of the
price range of most casual collectors. Some people collect travelers'
checks, and stocks and bonds, which might not be considered as paper
money. Souvenir Cards (printed by people like ABNC: see Section 1.10)
are a good way to see the beauty of currency.
There *is* a large group of people who collect world paper money. Some
people focus on specific countries of interest and even specific time
periods in specific countries. Often interest in paper money follows
an interest in the general history as well. Some collectors focus on
things ranging from notes with portaits of Queen Elizibeth to notes
with pictures of boats to notes with specific serial numbers (all the
same digit or very low serial numbers).
A very common type of world paper collection is to collect notes from
"every country". The definition of every country can vary greatly, but
this type of collection is relatively inexpensive.
One thing to keep in mind is that the quality of books on paper money
is very high and they play a major role for collectors. Lots of people
have dedicated their lives to researching and compiling information on
paper money. It just makes sense to utilize and build on what they've
Subject: 1.3) What's the best way to get started collecting?
Probably the best way to start is to subscribe to Bank Note Reporter.
It's a sort of monthly newspaper for paper money collectors and not only
does it carry all the latest news about new issues, currency changes, etc.,
it also has advertising from a very large number of dealers and it lists
paper money shows in the US and around the world. BNR offers free samples
to anyone (not just in the USA). Subscriptions run about 30 dollars for
1 year (around 40 dollars outside the US). It's a very good
source of information. The address is...
Bank Note Reporter
700 State St.
Iola, Wisconsin 54990 USA
within the USA, for *subscriptions* *only*: 1-800-258-0929
The Professional Currency Dealers Association offers a small booklet
called "How to Collect Paper Money" which, if I recall correctly,
even contains a few sample world banknotes. The book is very cheap.
See the section on societies and organizations for the PCDA address.
Subject: 1.4) I'd like to trade/buy/sell paper money, what should I do?
The most effective way to get paper money is not through
general circulation, but through dealers, collectors, auctions,
and shows. About once a week someone posts a message asking for
people to trade/buy/sell paper money. Even with the large audience
of rec.collecting.paper-money, you don't reach many collectors. But this
is still one way many people get notes.
The International Bank Note Society's quarterly journal carries
free advertising "of a non-commercial nature" for people wanting to
update their personal collections. Bank Note Reporter also has a lot
of small cheap ads for this. These are good places to look for people
to trade notes.
Another way to buy/sell notes is through mail auctions. The IBNS
has frequent auctions and lots of individuals have their own (which
are advertised in BNR).
But I find the most effective, painless, and sure fire way to buy
and sell notes is through dealers. Dealers range from people who
just have large collections to those who keep a large stock of notes
for the specific purpose of selling them. In any case, dealers have
developed the methods which are most effective for making collectors
happy with their transactions. Some are notoriously grumpy, but most
are truly friendly and helpful.
Some people prefer to collect notes from general circulation. This
is a good way for someone to start getting interested in paper money,
but it's really not a very effective way to collect it.
Subject: 1.5) How does the typical paper money transaction occur?
Most paper money dealers don't have stores in the same sense as
coin dealers. Most transactions occur through the mail and over the
phone. It may seem less than ideal initially, but it works very
well. Nearly every dealer who works through the mail offers a
money-back, no-questions-asked policy. If the note you buy is not
really the one you want, you can almost always return it.
Typically, collectors will use an adequate reference book to find
the note they want. Then, they look through the many price lists they
might have to find a dealer who offers the same note in an acceptable
condition for an acceptable price. Lots of dealers put parts of their
price lists in Bank Note Reporter ads. The collector then either calls
or faxes the dealer with a credit card number or send a check in the
The next most typical transaction occurs at paper money and coin
shows. Often dealers will offer discounts at shows, but usually
only when you buy enough stuff. It's all fairly informal really.
Shows are also a good way to learn about notes and the hobby in general.
Another type of transaction is where a collector sends notes to
a dealer who may then buy them or return them. It's best to ask
the dealer first with the list of notes you plan to send. This
is an acceptable and safe way to do business as long as the dealer
is reputable (membership in PCDA or IBNS is a good reference as
dealers can and do get thrown out for violations).
Yet another type of transaction is the mail auction where collectors
all put up their notes for auction (usually through the mail) and
then a list of notes is sent out to a large group of people who bid
on the notes through the mail. Thousands of notes are auctioned this
way. The IBNS has regular auctions with about 2000 lots per auction
and minimum bids starting at 2 US dollars per lot: clearly an auction
for regular collectors.
A less typical transaction is where people place ads in Bank Note
Reporter or the IBNS Journal or elsewhere asking to buy/sell/trade
a specific set of notes.
The really expensive stuff (1,000 to 50,000 US dollars) is usually
sold at large auction houses such as Spinks (the coin and currency arm
of Christies), Stacks and some paper money specific houses (Currency
Auctions of America and Lyn Knight Auctions). They also handle lots in
the 300 US dollar range and above.
And of course, there are cases where people advertise things like,
"Bolivian citizen looking to trade Bolivian notes for Canadian notes"
in *relevant* publications.
When buying notes, avoid notes that have been cleaned, patched,
ironed or otherwise "fixed up" to improve the looks.
Be careful of notes which have missing details, serial number digits,
etc. They may have been removed with an electric eraser.
Subject: 1.6) How should I store my banknotes?
To keep them in the best possible condition you should use Mylar holders.
Common household products such as plastic wrap, plastic bags, window
envelopes, etc. should not be used for storing paper money. Most
plastics contain PVC, which deteriorates with time and heat, releasing
acids and gases which will migrate into the paper, resulting in the notes
appearing to have been soaked in oil, or so brittle they shatter at a
touch. Use only those products (such as Mylar and other inert plastics)
which have been tested and approved for long term paper money storage.
Notes should be stored or displayed away from direct sunlight, to
avoid fading. Repairs should be made only with products that are stable.
"Magic" tape and other plastic tapes will leave permanent stains on notes.
There are individual Mylar holders which look like plastic
envelopes and cost about 30 cents each, usually in packs of 50 or 100.
You can also keep notes in regular paper envelopes as well, although
they're more liable to get damaged in handling.
If you really want to get fancy, there are special albums with
associated Mylar holders. Each page holds 1, 2, 3, or 4 notes
(there are 4 different types of pages). This stuff is made by
a company called Lindner and it costs more than the individual
holders. I believe the album and 20 pages cost around 60 US dollars.
Additional pages are something like 20 dollars for 10. You can fit
maybe 50 pages in one album. Unfortunately, Lindner made the pages
so they would only fit in their album. Theoretically you should
use both the individual Mylar holders and the Lindner pages, but
for anything worth less than 20 dollars, I just use the pages.
They're a lot like Mylar.
Most big-time dealers carry Mylar holders and Lindner albums.
Subject: 1.7) Is there an all encompassing reference book for paper money?
There are a few key reference books for paper money.
Standard Catalog of United States Paper Money, 13th edition,
Krause Publications, by Chester L. Krause and Robert F. Lemke,
costs about 22 dollars and contains 14,000 market valuations and
550 photos. If you're starting in most US paper, you want this book.
Standard Catalog of World Paper Money, Volume II, General Issues,
7th edition, by Albert Pick, Krause Publications. Costs about 55
dollars and contains your basic national paper money. 1280 pages
and 10,000 black and white photos. If you're starting in world paper
money, you want this book. The 7th edition came out in April 1994 and
has notes up to around Feb 1994, which includes all of the new
countries up to that point.
Standard Catalog of World Paper Money, Volume I, Special Issues,
7th edition, By Colin Bruce II and Neil Shafer, Krause Publications.
Costs about 55 dollars and contains state, provincial, and commercial
bank issues not covered in Volume 2. Has 1056 pages and 8,000
black and white photos. Massive.
Standard Catalog of Modern World Paper Money, Volume III, 2nd edition,
by Colin R. Bruce II and George S. Cuhaj, Krause Publications.
Costs about 30 dollars and covers world notes from the last 30
years. It includes lots of stuff not found in Volume II (but
presumably, there is some overlap). Has 600 pages and 5,000
photos ("hundreds not found in Volume II"), softcover.
Standard Catalog of United States Obsolete Bank Notes
By James Haxby, you guessed it, Krause Publications. Costs
195 dollars and is the mother of all obsolete bank note books.
Many of the states have their own books which are considerably
cheaper. Check first before blowing 200 dollars on this 4 volume
set. For instance, Rhode Island obsoletes are covered by the
excellent book by Durand on the subject (which costs around
Confederate States Paper Money, by Arlie R. Slabaugh
as always Krause Publications (get used to that name).
Costs about 13 dollars.
Confederate and Southern States Currency
Grover Criswell, don't have any more info on it.
Early Paper Money of America, by Eric P. Newman
Krause, around 50 dollars. Primarily Colonial paper money.
Paper Money of the United States, by Robert Friedberg.
Coin and Currency Institute, Inc., P.O. Box 1057,
Clifton, NJ 07014
Comprehensive Catalog of U. S. Paper Money Errors
POW and Concentration Camp Money of the 20th Century, 2nd edition
Lance Campbell, BNR Press, Port Clinton OH USA, about US$25
Also, Neil Schafer has a Depression scrip book.
Subject: 1.8) What is a "Pick" number?
Refers to Albert Pick, author of the world paper money book
on general issues. Nearly everyone who deals in world paper
uses this system for identifying notes. Every note within a
country has a number associated with it, often shown in the
form "P-34" for general issues and "P-S34" for specialized
issues (volume 1). Since every country has the same numbers,
a note is identified by country and Pick number. For example,
USA P-480 is your garden variety series 1988 1 dollar bill.
Subject: 1.9) How do you grade the condition of paper money?
The condition of a note is critical to its value. Lowering the
grade of a note one notch can decrease its value by 1/3 or even
1/2. An expensive note which falls between two categories might
be worth a thousand dollars more in the higher category than the
lower one. Thus, it's often important to be more precise than
using a limited number of categories.
But here's a general guideline. Note that many dealers have
slightly different grading systems, especially with various
sub-grades of uncirculated. There's no official system of grading,
unfortunately. But these are pretty much universally accepted.
I've received a lot of input and tried to hammer out the best
descriptions for each category.
Crisp Uncirculated, UNC or CU: This means absolutely not the
slightest sign of any handling or wear or folding or *anything*.
Some people use additional grades to distinguish qualities such
as perfect centering or other printing characteristics. Certainly
a note which has centering problems which are visible from a
distance of 1 meter (3 feet) should have this mentioned in the
Almost Uncirculated (or About Uncirculated), AU: This means there
is a slightly detectable imperfection such as a counting fold on one
corner or slightest fold in the center (nothing which breaks the
surface of the paper) or a pinhole. At first glance it looks like
an UNC note.
Extremely Fine, EF or XF: Generally three light folds or one strong
fold which breaks the surface. There may be slight rounding at the
Very Fine, VF: May have several folds although the note is still
crisp and has a minimum of dirt. There may be minor tears or very
small holes but nothing which distracts from the overall appearance
of the note. Take an uncirculated note and crumple it once in your
hand, then flatten it out: this is a Very Fine note. Repeat the
crumpling and it's still pretty much a VF note.
Fine, F: A circulated note where individual folds and creases may
no longer be visible. To distinguish this from a VF note, when
inspecting a Fine note, it clearly does not look like a note which
has merely been crumpled a few times: It doesn't have the crispness
and brightness of a VF note. No tears may extend into the printing.
This is your average in-the-wallet note.
Very Good, VG: Tears and small holes can be present. The note is
not crisp at all. The is your lower quality in-the-wallet note.
Lots of people on the 'net don't realize that a note in "very good"
condition is really pretty lousy.
Good, G: Small pieces missing, graffiti. A worn out note.
Fair: Major tears, etc. A badly worn out note.
Poor: Even worse.
To grade a note precisely, it can help to hold the note about
20 cm (7 inches) under a strong light source (use the same source
for comparing notes) and on top of a white piece of paper and
use a 3x or 4x power magnifying glass. Make sure your hands are
clean before handling a note. This method will show a lot of
minor imperfections which are not normally visible.
Note that note from many countries have standard features which
exist for even Uncirculated notes. Some notes from Bangladesh,
Bhutan, Burma/Myanmar, India, Nepal, and Pakistan are only found
with staple holes where staples are always used to hold packs of
notes together. Most dealers list Uncirculated notes of this type
as having the usual staple holes (often abbreviated as uSH-UNC).
Also, some notes printed in France (for about 15 different
countries) have a slight crinkle effect.
Subject: 1.10) Who are some dealers and professionals that I can contact?
Alan Herbert <firstname.lastname@example.org> has a regular column in Bank Note
Reporter and is a regular member of the newsgroup. He also authored
portions of books such as the "Error Notes" chapter of the Standard
Catalog of US Paper Money and is a respected authority in the field.
Many other highly respected members of the paper money collecting
community are invovled in the newsgroup and it can be very helpful
to post questions there.
A huge list of dealers has been compiled and is posted directly
in rec.collecting.paper-money. You can find it in the newsgroup (posted
at roughly the same time as this FAQ) and at this web site:
Subject: 1.11) What are some societies/organizations that I can join?
Society of Paper Money Collectors (SPMC)
Bob Cochran, Secretary
P.O. Box 1085,
Florissant, MO 63031 USA
The SPMC is mostly for US paper money collecting. I
believe they've been around since 1963.
Professional Currency Dealers Association (PCDA)
P.O. Box 573
Milwaukee, Wisconsin 53201 USA
You can't join this group as it's just for dealers.
Send SASE for free list of members (i.e. respectable dealers).
Also, send 59 cents for the booklet "How to Collect Paper Money"
International Bank Note Society (IBNS)
A good organization for learning about paper money. They also
have frequent large mail-in auctions and an enormous library
accessable by mail. The IBNS Journal is a fairly scholarly
source of info and free ads for non-dealers. They have a few
P.O. Box 1642
Racine, WI 53401
Assist. General Secretary
36B Dartmouth Park Hill
071 281 0839
Latin American Paper Money Society
Arthur C. Matz, president
3304 Milford Mill Rd.
Baltimore MD 21244
Publication: "Lansa" three times a year.
Canadian Paper Money Society (CPMS)
P.O. Box 562
Hell Bank Note Collector's Club
Mr. William Etgen, Secretary
3600 Whitney Avenue
Sacramento, CA 95821-3128
Collecting Hell notes from around the World.
Subject: 1.12) Are there any relevant periodicals?
See the section on societies and the section on how to get started.
The main periodicals are Bank Note Reporter and the IBNS Journal.
The SPMC and LANSA have periodicals, too.
For Green Sheets (see Section 1.15), you can contact:
The Currency Dealer Newsletter
P.O. Box 7939
Torrance, Ca. 90504
1 yr subscription = $44
2 yr subscription = $78
Subject: 1.13) Who is J.S.G. Boggs and why is he famous for paper money art?
Boggs is an artist who draws paper money, but not for the sake
of counterfeiting (although the US Secret Service is not totally
convinced). Boggs' notes are very high quality and often include
subtle humor in their text and portraits. Because his subject matter
is paper money, Boggs has been very well received by the paper money
dealers (especially after having tables at some of the major paper
money shows). In addition to the art, Boggs is notorious for creating
thought provoking transactions with his art, offering it for
goods/services in lieu of real money. The people who accept this
transaction get the better end of the deal.
Boggs' real message is that money is an abstract concept that can
be manipulated in interesting and creative ways.
Subject: 1.14) Where are some paper money shows that I can attend?
The two biggest paper money shows are in Memphis (every June)
and St. Louis (every October/November). There is also a big show
in Maastrict every year (April?). In addition, there is a
section in each copy of Bank Note Reporter which details paper
money shows in the USA and around the world. Most states have
a few every year.
Subject: 1.15) What are Green Sheets?
The Green Sheets are the currency equivalent of the Grey Sheets in
coinland. They give supposedly current prices on a wide range of
currency, and are published monthly. See Section 1.12 for where to
Subject: 1.15) Where are some paper money World Wide Web Sites?
Here's a list of some websites...
A more up to date copy of this FAQ
American Numismatic Association (decent)
Krause is now online, although their page is wimpy and undeveloped.
A good site with images of USA and some World notes
History of money (good)
Irish banknotes and coins (ok)
Polish banknotes and coins (ok)
Slovakian banknotes and coins (ok)
Canadian Paper Money (ok)
World paper Money (ok)
Hamilton Coin Collectors page (has links to good pages)
U.S. Bureau of Engraving and Printing (wimpy)
Minneapolis Fed Site with image of new US $100 note
World Banknote Collectors Web Site
Smithsonian (good set of obsolete note images)
So far, in my humble opinion, nobody has created a truly Excellent
page for paper money. Take this as a challenge: First one who
gets their paper money web page designated "Cool Site of the Day"
(http://www.infi.net/cool.html) will be forever honored in the
Credits section of this FAQ.
2. "I FOUND A..." QUESTIONS
Paper money has both a market value and a personal value. These
two things are very different. There are big time dealers who
keep a note from circulation just because it has an interesting
serial number or for other sentimental reasons. Don't let "market"
forces blur the real meaning of being a collector.
Subject: 2.1) How do I get a banknote officially appraised?
The only way to *really* determine the value of a note
is to have a reasonably qualified person look at the note.
Sometimes a collector will send a photocopy of both sides
of a note for identification rather than the note itself.
If you want a best effort, members of rec.collecting.paper-money
can almost always identify a note, given enough information
about it. See the "I found a note from country XYZZY" section
for what information to include about the note.
Subject: 2.2) I found a US 1935/1953/1957 Silver Certificate in
circulation, how much is it worth?
This is by far the most common paper money question asked in
rec.collecting.paper-money and the answer is almost always that it's
only worth face value on the market. If the note is in absolutely
uncirculated condition, it might be worth a little bit more (ten
dollar notes can be worth many times face value in UNC condition).
There are some varieties of silver certificates from these series
that are worth a good deal of money, but nearly all of the silver
certificates which show up in circulation aren't worth much.
It might be worth something to you, and that's what really
Subject: 2.3) Is a US 1963-1993 note worth anything?
Usually not. Notes from 1963 onward were collected in large
quantities and the supply of most notes is not going to be limited
anytime soon. Of course notes with errors, replacement notes (with
stars next to serial number), low serial numbers, interesting
serial numbers, etc. can be worth much more than face value.
Subject: 2.4) Are US two dollar bills worth anything?
A 1976 two dollar bill has no inherent market value unless
there's something else about it to make it valuable. A number
of other two dollar bills have been printed with series
1963, 1953, 1928 and previous. The older notes are generally
worth more, but their value depends on the signatures.
Subject: 2.5) I found a very old banknote in perfect condition in a very
old book, what should I do?
Treat it as if it was worth thousands of dollars until you find
out its real market value. People *do* find rare notes in books
in this manner every now and then.
Subject: 2.6) I found a note from country XYZZY, how much is it worth?
Many people have had notes identified on rec.collecting.paper-money
by posting a description of the note and having the resident
experts identify it. I've even identified notes which were
digially scanned with the image sent to me via e-mail where
I displayed and identified them (e-mailing the response).
If you want to get a rough estimate on the value of a
particular note, you need to provide a lot of information
about it. Sometimes, the value of a note can differ based
on dates, color, or even the number of digits in the serial
number (although not usually). The key things to include
are these eleven things...
1: country (if you can't tell, describe the lettering as best
as possible and any features which might help identify country).
2: units of currency (e.g. pesos, pesos oro, francs, pa'anga, dollars,
dollars in gold coin, new cruzeiros, really-really-new cruzieros)
3: denomination (1? 2? 3? 5? 6 1/2? 100,000,000?)
4: issuing authority if any (e.g. Hong Kong and Shanghai Banking
Corporation, Federal Reserve Bank, The United States, Northern Bank
5: type of note, if indicated (e.g. silver certificate, military
payment certificate, interest bearing note)
6: date, if any, anywhere on note (look carefully)
7: all identifying features (e.g. portrait of bald guy lower left,
naked woman riding shark on front left, tall building on front center,
security thread in paper, overprint reading CHUNGKING)
8: colors (e.g. red and green on front, black ink on back)
9: condition of note (see section on grading notes) This is most
important since the value usually varies tremendously depending
on condition. This generally implies you shouldn't be mishandling
the note yourself.
10: signatures, if you can read them. Sometimes value depends on this.
Occasionally, the value depends on the title of the people who signed
11: watermark, if the note has one. Often the value of a note depends
on the type of watermark.
Subject: 2.7) I found a US Federal Reserve Note with the little
numbers in the wrong place. Is it counterfeit?
It's probably a web press note. The BEP has been experimenting with
new web presses beginning with the 1988 series notes. These presses
use a continuous roll of paper, rather than the individual sheets
used for the regular presses. They also use a 96-subject plate,
rather than the 32-subject plate, so the plate position
indicators, at upper left on the face of the note are eliminated.
The plate check numbers at lower right on the face and back, usually
a letter and up to four digit number, have been replaced by a one or
two-digit number. (On the regular notes FW in front of the PC number
indicates that the notes were printed at Fort Worth, Texas, rather
than at Washington, DC.) On the web notes the back PC number has been
moved to the upper right.
Subject: 2.8) I found a note with a star next to the serial number, what
does this mean?
It's a replacement note. When errors are found on notes
during the printing process, the notes are destroyed and
replaced with "replacement notes". This is so a range of
serial numbers contains a predictable number of notes. The
replacement notes have their own serial number range which
is independent of the regular notes. The US error rate is
supposed to be something on the order of one per 100,000
Replacement notes are generally worth more than regular
notes, especially in combination with an already rare note
or low serial number. As always, condition is very important.
Most counties have replacement notes, although not all
of them use a star marking to identify them. Some countries
use a "Z" or "ZZ" indicator in the serial number or some other
Subject: 2.9) I found a banknote that says "The Japanese Government",
what is it?
It's Japanese Invasion Money (JIM). This was printed by Japan
for use in The Philippines, Malaya (not Malaysia), Burma, and
Oceania during World War II (and presumably beyond) as part of
the so called Co-Prosperity Sphere. Enormous quantities of these
notes were printed and most of them are worth very little. However,
they have an interesting history. Some have various overprints on
Here's a rundown on the different monetary units:
Burma: rupees/cents (block letters starting with "B")
Malaya: dollars/cents (block letters starting with "M")
Oceania: pounds/shillings (block letters starting with "O")
Netherlands Indies: gulden/cents (block letters starting with "S" -
"De Japansche Regeering" instead of "The Japanese
The Malaya notes have been touted as "invasion" money made for the
conquering of the U.S., but this is not correct.
Subject: 2.10) I found a note marked "SPECIMEN" with a serial number
of all zeros, what is it?
Specimen notes are printed for banks and law enforcement as a reference
to identify notes. Most countries have specimen notes where the word
"specimen" is printed in the local language. Sometimes the notes are
perforated with the word.
Specimen notes are often worth more than notes for circulation, but
there are exceptions, especially when lots of specimen notes are created
for collectors. Specimen notes aren't legal tender so they don't
have a face value.
Subject: 2.11) I found a Chinese banknote that is labelled "Hell",
what is it?
When I first started collecting paper money, I had a Chinese note
which I couldn't identify, so I asked a colleague who was from Taiwan.
Figuring "Hell" was probably some obscure province in China I asked
him where the note came from. After he stopped laughing, he explained
to me that a Buddhist tradition is to create paper money which is
supposedly legal tender in the Hell afterlife. This paper is then
burned so that dead ancestors who might have ended up in Hell would
have something to spend. Some people even create paper cars, houses,
etc. and burn them so their ancestors can have basic luxuries. Noting
that the denomination on the note was one million, my colleague figured
there must be severe inflation in Hell.
How much are these notes worth? Face value. :-)
Some people collect various forms of hell money.
Subject: 2.12) What is a watermark?
Most countries have banknotes with watermarks. The USA added a watermark
to its new $100 note in 1996 (and some people in the USA were curious if it
was some kind of subliminal message).
A watermark is simply a design that's within the paper of the note itself
which can only be seen when viewing the note with a strong light behind it
(i.e. you can only see it when light is passing through the note). Watermarks
are an effective, although very old, anti-counterfeiting device.
3. USA PAPER MONEY
Subject: 3.1) I heard the US is changing its paper money, is this true?
Some of it has already changed. The series 1990 (and 1993)
10, 20, 50, and 100 dollar notes have had two major security
features added. Each has a plastic security thread/ribbon running
vertically through the note with writing such as "USA TEN",
"USA TWENTY", "USA 100". Also, around the portrait is very very
small lettering called microprinting that spells out "The United
States of America", which supposedly can't be copied by color copiers
(which is not entirely true).
The BEP released a completely overhauled 100 dollar note in April 1996.
The portrait was enlarged and moved over to the side, a watermark was
added, and several new anti-counterfeiting features were added such as
color shifting ink (it's dark green when viewed directly head on and
black when tilted) and concentric circle printing on the reverse, so that
attempts at photocopying the note will result in odd patterns appearing
in the copy. The general opinion among collectors is that the new $100
is ugly and has less than ideal quality printing.
Following the 100 dollar note, a new 50 dollar note is planned
to be released in 1997, a new 20 dollar note in 1998, and so forth
all the way down to a new 1 dollar note in 2001.
The current style notes will remain legal tender (see section 3.11).
But since the average U.S. note lasts 18 months in circulation, it
won't take long for the older notes to disappear from circulation.
Thus, it will be harder to pass counterfeit older style notes as they
will attract too much attention.
Of course this *doesn't* mean that the current notes will become
even the least bit rare. The old common Silver Certificates that
went out of circulation decades ago are still worthless as investments.
So don't hold your breath waiting for 1988, 1990, 1993, etc. notes to
increase in value.
Subject: 3.2) What is a National Banknote?
After the US Civil War (1865-1935), the US government created
charters for private banks to print paper money which was backed
by the US Government. There were a very large number of national
banks chartered from all over the USA (e.g. Nashville, Tennessee;
Key West, Florida; Bismarck, North Dakota; L.A., California).
Many people collect "nationals" and the prices have gone up
substantially (to around the 150 dollar level on average).
Subject: 3.3) What are Silver Certificates and Gold Certificates?
From 1878 through 1957, the US issued Silver Certificates, most
of which looked similar to current US paper money. These were
backed by silver. In a similar manner, Gold Certificates were
issued from 1863 to 1922 and were backed by real gold.
Subject: 3.4) Can you exchange Silver Certificates for real silver?
Up until 1968, you could exchange your Silver Certificates for
real silver. Nowadays you can't.
Subject: 3.5) I heard that some US notes are stamped HAWAII, why?
During World War II, the US wanted to keep Hawaii's
paper money isolated from the rest of the USA just in
case Japan invaded Hawaii and confiscated the paper.
Nowadays, the stamped notes are worth a considerable
premium, in the better conditions.
Subject: 3.6) What is fractional currency?
During and after the Civil War, the US began to run short on
change, so it printed paper money with denominations of less than
one dollar. These are generally smaller than other paper and are
more affordable than the larger notes of that era. Denominations
are 3, 5, 10, 15, 25, and 50 cents.
Subject: 3.7) What is obsolete currency (broken banknotes, wildcat notes)?
Before there were National banknotes (1790-1865), many private banks
issued their own paper money without US Government backing. Many of
these notes become worthless when banks closed. Many of them were
counterfeited and altered. When the national bank system was created,
privately issued paper money was taxed to the point of being effectively
outlawed. Unlike US Government paper which has always remained legal
tender, obsolete banknotes are now... obsolete.
If you ever think we live in chaotic times rife with unethical
opportunistic swindlers, just read about the history of these notes
and the 1990s will look tame.
Obsolete notes are more affordable than national banknotes and
more interesting, as far as I'm concerned. :-)
Subject: 3.8) I heard there are a lot of counterfeit US notes worldwide,
is this true?
A great number of counterfeit hundred dollar bills are showing up
all over the world, but especially in Europe. This is one of the
driving forces for changing the US currency. Although the impact
of the counterfeit notes on the US economy is tiny, they undermine
the worldwide respect for the reliable greenback. Speculation is
that these notes are being printed in Iran and Syria
In addition to these, color copiers make it easy to make realistic
looking counterfeits. See the next section for information about
copying U.S. banknotes.
Counterfeit notes are illegal to own, sell, trade, give away or
any other form of disposal. They should be turned in to the Secret
Service. You can be jailed for collecting counterfeits.
The Secret Service reported that 209 million dollars in counterfeit
US money was seized in 1994. There was $110 million seized in
Subject: 3.9) Is it illegal to copy U.S. paper money?
It is illegal to make *any* color copies of any kind of
small-size U.S. notes. They may only be copied in black and white
and must be larger than 150 percent of the note size, or less than
75 percent of the note size. Large size notes may be copied in
color, but the official regulations setting out the specifics
HAVE NOT BEEN ISSUED. To be on the safe side, use the 150-75
formula set up for black and white photos.
Writing "COPY" or something similar, or copying only a
portion of a note does not exempt you from the copying law. The act
of copying is the crime.
It isn't clear whether or not it's legal to scan US paper money
into a digital picture. However, one branch of the Federal Reserve
had a black and white scanned image of the new $100 note online.
Thus, it might be ok to scan it in black and white.
Subject: 3.10) Is it illegal to use U.S. paper money on products
or in advertising?
Photographs of notes, or portions of notes may not be used in any
form of advertising. The regulations permit their use only for
educational purposes. This regulation is currently being violated
by a number of major TV networks, computer magazine publishers,
telephone card manufacturers and others. Watch for a Secret Service
crackdown before long on this. Key chains, watch fobs, calculators,
and other products carrying paper money designs are subject to
confiscation by the Secret Service. This probably also applies to
Subject: 3.11) Are old US notes still legal tender?
Every note that has ever been backed by the US Government is
still honored by the US Government. Although depositing an 1863
gold certificate for face value would be utterly foolish, it's still
Subject: 3.12) Are banknotes with Barr's signature good investments?
This single note probably draws more questions than any other
that comes to mind, although there is still an amazingly large part
of the general population of this country that still doesn't
know that "In God We Trust" hasn't "always" appeared on our paper
money. Joseph W. Barr served as Treasurer for one month in 1968-1969,
his signature appearing only on the 1963-B series of $1 notes. However
some 484 million notes were printed with his signature so they are
not likely to become scarce in our lifetime. There were 471,040,000
1963-B notes printed with his signature. In addition there were star
notes - 3,680,000 for New York, 3,040,000 for Richmond, 2,400,000 for
Chicago and 3,040,000 for San Francisco. Millions of the notes are
being hoarded by non-collectors acting on rumors, and in today's
world they are losing money every day they hold onto one of these
notes. Uncirculated notes might bring you a slight premium - if you
can find a buyer.
Subject: 3.13) What's the story on the Bank of the United States 1840
$1,000 note with serial number 8894?
I can tell you that this note has probably cost more grief, more
wasted postage, phone calls, time and energy than just about any
other reproduction on the market. I'm sorry to disappoint you,
but the Bank of United States $1000 note with serial number 8894
is one of the most copied notes in the world. A method of artificially
creating parchment was discovered back in the early 1960s and one firm
has produced millions of copies of this and other notes, especially
Confederate money. The note has been widely used in advertising
and for several years was used on the boxes that one firm shipped
blank checks in to their customers. The original of this note is
on normal paper, and is in existence, so your copy is worthless.
Every one of them has a story, too. "Found in a trunk that had been
in the family for several generations," is a popular one.
Subject: 3.14) Where are all the Federal Reserve Banks?
The currently circulating US paper notes are Federal
Reserve Notes. The Federal Reserve Banks which control
their issue were created in 1913 by the Federal Reserve
Act of that year.
Here's a list of the 12 Federal Reserve Banks, including
their associated letter (found inside a circle on Federal
Reserve Notes) and associated number (also found on Federal
1 A Boston
2 B New York
3 C Philadelphia
4 D Cleveland
5 E Richmond
6 F Atlanta
7 G Chicago
8 H St. Louis
9 I Minneapolis
10 J Kansas City
11 K Dallas (Note: the 11 and K have nothing to do with JFK's death)
12 L San Francisco
Subject: 3.15) What do all those weird things mean on the one dollar bill?
On the front side, the black seal to the left of the portrait is the
Federal Reserve Seal and Letter. The green seal to the right is the U.S.
Treasury Seal. The four black numbers near the corners are Federal
Reserve Numbers. See section 3.14 for a list of Federal Reserve Banks
and their numbers and letters.
The design on the $1 bill is the Great Seal of the United States
of America, whose design was set by act of Congress, June 20, 1782.
In short, the pyramid is a Freemason emblem, the eye in the triangle
is a symbol of God, the motto "annuit coeptis" is usually translated
as "he hath smiled on our undertakings", and "novus ordo seclorum"
means "a new order of centuries".
According to a government pamphlet, the Unfinished Pyramid stands
for "permanence and strength." It is unfinished to symbolize the
"future growth and goal of perfection" of the U.S. The All-Seeing Eye
stands for a "deity." The 13 stars overhead, 13 vertical stripes in the
shield, 13 olive leaves, and 13 arrows all represent the original 13
The various little numbers and letters on the front and back are
check letters, face plate letters, quadrant numbers, and back plate
numbers. They are used to identify the printing plates and the position
of the note on the plate. These items vary--see section 2.7.
The date on the base of the pyramid is 1776 in Roman numerals.
The right-hand side roundel shows the coat of arms of the US:
the 13 stars above the Eagle's head represent "a new constellation
in the firmament of nations" according to the 1782 text.
Here is the text (the language is supposed to be heraldic language,
though it is in fact poor quality):
The device for an armorial achievement, and reverse, of the great seal
of the Unites States in congress assembled, is as follows:
ARMS: Paleways of 13 pieces, argent and gules; a chief, azure; the
"escutcheon on the breast of the American eagle displayed proper, holding
in its dexter talon an olive branch, and in his sinister a bundle of
13 arrows, all proper, in his beak a scroll, inscribed with this
motto: E pluribus unum.
For the CREST: over the head of the eagle, which
appears above the escutcheon, a glory, or, breaking through a cloud,
proper, and surrounding 13 stars, forming a constellation argent
on an azure field.
REVERSE: A pyramid unfinished. In the senith an eye in a triangle,
surrounded by a glory, proper. Over the eye theses words: Annuit
coeptis. On the base of the pyramid the numerical letters,
MDCCLXXVI. And underneath, the following motto: Novus ordo seclorum."
Subject: 3.16) Where can I buy uncut sheets of U.S. paper money?
The Bureau of Engraving and Printing (BEP) sells various sheets
of uncut 1 and 2 dollar notes (4, 16, and 32 per sheet) through
the mail. They cycle through the various Federal Reserve Banks
over time. The cost varies from $10.25 (4 one dollar notes) to
$79.00 (32 two dollar notes in a cardboard frame). You can order
Order Processing Center
Bureau of Engraving and Printing
P.O. Box 371594
Pittsburgh, PA 15250-7594
They take checks, Visa, MC, or money order.
Sheets may be ordered flat or rolled, and,
officially, take 4-6 weeks to ship but may vary
a lot more than that.
Subject: 3.17) Whose portrait is on the various current banknotes?
1 George Washington
2 Thomas Jefferson
5 Abraham Lincoln
10 Alexander Hamilton
20 Andrew Jackson
50 U.S. Grant
100 Benjamin Franklin
500 William McKinley
1000 Grover Cleveland
5000 James Madison
10,000 Salmon P. Chase
100,000 Woodrow Wilson
Subject: 3.18) How much do USA banknotes weigh?
There are 490 banknotes to the pound.
4. WORLD PAPER MONEY
Subject: 4.1) How do I get banknotes from country XYZZY?
Your best bet is to go through a dealer or another
avid collector. You can also keep whatever is left
in your wallet after a trip to another country, but
you'll end up with a very limited set of notes in
Most countries have notes that cost less than 1 or 2
US dollars. Countries with rampant inflation will have
a lot of notes from previous years which are very cheap
(South America, Yugoslavian countries, Eastern Europe).
Dealers get their notes from contacts within the
countries who buy CU packs (crisp uncirculated). The
world being what it is, often dealers take big losses
when contacts in remote countries essentially take the
money and run (I've heard of a major dealer who took a
big loss in Mongolia recently). Some countries don't
allow currency to be taken out of the country, so people
have to risk punishment to get the notes (e.g. Mauritania).
Doing business wholesale is tricky, but if you travel to a
remote part of the world, you can sometimes get dealers
to pay you to pick up CU packs.
Subject: 4.2) How do I get banknotes from every country in the world?
This is a common way to collect and your best bet is to
get a copy of the Standard Catalog of World Paper Money,
Volume 2 (General Issues). This way you have a road map
of current and past paper money and how much it will cost.
Also it allows you to see which notes you really want to
have which you wouldn't otherwise know about (e.g. crossed
out portrait of the Shah of Iran, Faulkland Islands notes,
portrait of Albert Einstein)
A good start is to buy a pile of general world notes from
a dealer (e.g. 50 different notes for 20 dollars). You
can then build on this over time with selected notes.
It's probably possible to put together a set of notes
from all countries for a few hundred dollars. You can
probably cover half of all countries for under a hundred
Subject: 4.3) What was Operation Bernhardt?
During World War II, Germany created a lot of very high
quality counterfeits of the British 5 pound note of the time.
These were created in German concentration camps under the
code name Operation Bernhardt.
Subject: 4.4) What is concentration camp money?
During World War II, Germany created currencies for some
of the concentration camps. The notes were often created by the
Jewish prisoners of the camps and are generally high quality.
Many people collect these notes for historical reasons and
as a reminder of the events.
Subject: 4.5) Does anybody collect Conferate States of America notes?
Yes, this is a major area for collectors and many people
focus on CSA notes. Lots of them are very affordable.
BEWARE, however. There are numerous copies of the Confederate
notes, including packets of copies sold at popular National Park
battlefields. Many can be identified by the serial numbers alone.
[Note that CSA notes are contained within the World paper
money section and not the USA paper money section.]
Subject: 4.6) How many countries currently issue paper money?
This depends a lot on how you count them. For instance
the West African States covers eight countries, each has
a unique letter associated with it. Czechoslovakia recently
split into two countries, each having their own currency.
Lots of former Soviet countries are creating their own currency.
The Eastern Carribean dollar covers a lot of little independent
Here's a list of current paper money issuing governments. It
may be out of date by the time you read it. There are about
an equal number of governments which have issued paper money
in the past but not currently (such as South Vietnam and Biafra).
Afghanistan, Albania, Algeria, Angola, Argentina, Aruba, Australia,
Austria, Azerbaijan, Bahamas, Bahrain, Bangledesh, Barbados, Belarus,
Belgium, Belarus, Belize, Bermuda, Bhutan, Bolivia, Bosnia-Herzegovenia,
Botswana, Brazil, Brunei, Bulgaria, Burma/Myanmar, Burundi,
Cambodia/Kampuchea, Cameroon, Canada, Cape Verde, Cayman Islands,
Central African Republic, Chad, Chile, China, Colombia, Comoros,
Cook Islands, Costa Rica, Croatia, Cuba, Cyprus, Czeck Republic,
Denmark, Djibouti, Dominican Republic, East Carribean States, Ecuador,
Egypt, El Salvador, Equatorial Guinea, Estonia, Ethiopia, Faeroe Islands,
Falkland Islands, Fiji, Finland, France, Gabon, Gambia, Georgia, Germany,
Ghana, Gibralter, Great Britian, Greece, Guatamala, Guernsey, Guinea,
Guinea-Bissau, Guyana, Haiti, Honduras, Hong Kong, Hungary, Iceland,
India, Indonesia, Iran, Iraq, Ireland, Isle of Man, Israel, Italy,
Jamaica, Japan, Jersey, Jordan, Kazakhstan, Kenya, North Korea,
South Korea, Kuwait, Kyrgyzstan, Laos, Latvia, Lebanon, Lesotho,
Liberia, Libya, Lithuania, Luxembourg, Macao, Macedonia, Madagascar,
Malawi, Malaysia, Maldives, Malta, Mauritania, Maritius, Mexico,
Moldavia, Mongolia, Morocco, Mozambique, Namibia, Nepal, Netherlands,
Netherlands Antilles, New Zealand, Nicaragua, Northern Ireland,
Norway, Oman, Pakistan,