U.S. Paper Money

Below you will find answers to many commonly asked numismatic questions that we receive on a regular basis. If you have a question that does not appear below or for more information about the American Numismatic Association, please contact us at ana@money.org or call 1-800-367-9723. Our museum and library staff will be happy to assist you as you discover and explore the world of money.

Depending upon the extent of the research necessary to answer individual questions, a research fee may be required. If a fee is required, our staff will provide you with a cost estimate before conducting research on your behalf.

  • Whose portraits are on U.S. paper money? What is the largest denomination of note ever produced by the U.S. Treasury?

    Following is a listing of the portraits appearing on 20th century Federal Reserve notes (FRN). Please note, not all men honored have held the office of U.S. President.

    $1 - George Washington
    $2 - Thomas Jefferson
    $5 - Abraham Lincoln
    $10 - Alexander Hamilton
    $20 - Andrew Jackson
    $50 - Ulysses S. Grant
    $100 - Benjamin Franklin
    $500 - William McKinley
    $1,000 - Grover Cleveland
    $5,000 - James Madison
    $10,000 - Salmon P. Chase
    $100,000 - Woodrow Wilson (This issue was produced for transactions between Federal Reserve districts and did not circulate.

  • What women have been portrayed on U.S. paper money?

    To date, only four "real" women have been featured on circulating U.S. notes and coins, all others have been fictionalized representations of "Liberty." Susan B. Anthony and Sacagawea have been honored on coins. A portrait of Martha Washington graced the series 1886 and 1891 $1.00 Silver Certificates. The first, First Lady was also featured, along with her husband George, on the series 1896 $1 Silver Certificate. This bill is part of a group of notes that are often referred to as the "Educational Series." These early, large size notes display beautiful engravings and are highly sought after by collectors.

    The U.S. Series 1869-1878 $10.00 notes featured an engraving of the painting Introduction of the Old World to the New World, or Pocahontas Presented at Court by T.A. Liebler.

  • What do the designs on the reverse of the $1 note mean?

    After many revisions, the Great Seal became the national emblem in 1782. The back of the current U.S. $1 Federal Reserve Note displays images found on both sides of the seal.

    The obverse of the seal is found on the right side of the note and was designed by Charles Thomson. A bald eagle holds an olive branch with 13 leaves in one talon and arrows (the traditional American Indian symbol of war) in the other. The eagle is facing the olive branch to signify that peace is preferable to war. Written on the ribbon above the eagle's head is the national motto in Latin "E PLURIBUS UNUM," meaning "one from many" or one country composed of 13 states. The 13 stars, leaves, letters and stripes denote the 13 original states or the Continental Congress.

    The reverse of the seal, located on the left, was submitted by William Barton and displays a pyramid, a symbol of strength and permanence, however the structure was left incomplete, just as the United States continues to grow and build. The eye in the triangle overlooking the pyramid suggests the "all-seeing Deity" emphasizing spiritual welfare, while also recognizing education and freedom of knowledge. The Latin phrase "ANNUIT COEPTIS" translates "He (God) has smiled on our undertakings." The mottos have 13 letters, and there are 13 steps on the pyramid. "NOVUS ORDO SECLORUM" means "A new order of the ages." The date at the base, 1776, refers to signing of the Declaration of Independence on July 4, 1776.

  • When was the motto "In God We Trust" placed on our paper money?

    In 1955 Congress expanded the earlier law that stated that the motto "In God We Trust" could be placed on all U.S. coinage to one that required the motto to be placed on all coins and paper money. However, "In God We Trust" did not actually appear on U.S. paper money until after 1957. Since paper money is not dated yearly, but by series numbers that are based on changes in style and design, Series 1935G and 1935H Silver Certificates bear the motto because they were produced after 1957.

  • Can you explain Silver Certificates? Do these notes hold collector value?

    Silver Certificates were legal-tender issue notes authorized by the Acts of February 28, 1878, and August 4, 1886, and have been issued in all denominations up to $5,000. Many of the early "Large Size" issues featured beautiful, ornate engravings. The later "Small Size" notes resemble Federal Reserve Notes but bear blue seals, and feature the wording "Silver Certificate" on the face. Silver certificates were last issued in 1957.

    While these notes were legal tender for debts public and private, they were once exchangeable for silver. In 1967, in an attempt to pull the notes out of circulation and replace them with Federal Reserve Notes, the U.S. Treasury offered the public an exchange rate of $1 to .77 oz. of silver. The redemption period ended June 24, 1968. In all, $150 million in notes were exchanged, leaving approximately $240 million in notes still outstanding and in circulation.

    Silver Certificates are still valid forms of legal tender, however some may carry numismatic value as well. Early "Large Size" notes are particularly sought after, and depending on condition, can command high numismatic values. Later "Small Size" issues in crisp, uncirculated condition may also hold a premium over face value. However, notes that have been in circulation and are folded and/or torn will probably carry only legal-tender value.

  • Why are there so many different colored seals on U.S. paper money? Does this make them more valuable?

    Historically the U.S. Treasury has issued many different types of notes. These notes bear numbers and seals in a variety of different colors that are distinctive to the type of note. The most common note in circulation today, and the one that we are used to seeing, is the Federal Reserve note bearing a green seal and numbers. Following is a listing of the note types and seal colors:

    Silver Certificates---blue seal
    United States Notes---red seal
    National Bank Notes---brown seal
    Gold Certificates---yellow/orange seal

    Some early notes in crisp, uncirculated condition may hold a numismatic value over the legal-tender amount. You may want to take your notes to a local ANA member dealer for evaluation.

  • What changes have been made on recent U.S. notes?

    Several changes have been occurred on U.S. paper money in recent years. The changes have been implemented during the redesign of denominations of U.S. Federal Reserve notes (with the exception of the $1) beginning with the $100. Several features have been added to protect our money from counterfeiting include:

    1. An enlarged portrait placed off-center to accommodate a watermark visible when the note is held up to a light.
    2. A polymer security thread embedded vertically in the paper. The location of the thread varies depending on the denomination.
    3. Fine line printing patterns behind the back illustration.
    4. Microprinting on different areas of the notes.
    5. Color-shifting ink that appears black when the front is viewed at an angle.
    6. A low-vision feature on the back, lower right corner for easier identification of the denomination.
    7. New Federal Reserve indicators including a universal seal and a letter and number below the serial number identifying the issuing Federal Reserve Bank.
    8. A unique combination of eleven numbers and letters that appear twice on the front of all notes.
  • I found a note of my grandfather's that has HAWAII printed on the reverse. What was the purpose of these notes?

    The U.S. note that you describe is a WWII emergency issue. After the Japanese attacked Pearl Harbor in 1941, the U.S. Government issued specially marked notes for circulation only in Hawaii as an economic defense measure in case of an invasion. After August 15, 1942, it was illegal to hold any other currency on the islands without a special license. If the feared invasion did occur, the government could easily declare the specially marked money valueless.

    Some specimens of the "Hawaii" overprint in crisp, uncirculated condition may hold numismatic value over the legal-tender amount. To be certain, take your notes to a local ANA member dealer for evaluation.

  • What is a "Barr Note"?

    At one time, it was speculated that the notes signed by Treasurer Joseph W. Barr would eventually hold a high numismatic value since he was in office for only 23 days in 1968-69. However, during that period, a total of 484 million notes were produced with his signature. The high quantity produced dictates that the notes will never be considered rare in our lifetime.

    Interestingly, in 1995, numismatic author Alan Herbert stated, "A $1 Barr note deposited in an interest-bearing account in 1969 would have been worth over $4.00, figuring 6% interest compounded annually. A circulated Barr note kept in a safe-deposit box for 26 years is worth $1 today."

  • I found an old note from The Bank of the United States that is dated 1849 with the serial number: 8894. It bears the portraits of six men. Is this note rare?

    The note you describe is a well-circulated replica that holds no legal tender or numismatic value. The original rests in a known, private collection.  See question #11 for further information on replica notes.

  • I found several Colonial and/or Confederate notes with early dates. Are these valuable?

    Many Colonial, Early American and Confederate notes have been reproduced throughout the 20th century and sold as souvenir and novelty items or included as premiums with bubble gum. While the notes may look and feel old and brittle, as if they really were printed years ago, in actuality, paper produced before the early 20th century had a high rag content and lacked acid, the chemical that causes paper to become yellow and brittle. Genuine notes from this period remain quite white and supple.

  • My note has a star next to the serial number. What does this mean?

    The star or replacement note displays a star as a suffix on Federal Reserve notes. A star is used to replace defective notes found during the inspection process at the Bureau of Engraving and Printing. Since the highest number that can be printed by an eight-digit numbering cylinder is 99,999,999, a star has been used to denote the 100,000,000th note off the press.

    Historically, star notes hold a value slightly higher than the legal-tender value, with the amount dependent on condition and denomination. Replacement notes are usually listed as a variety in published valuation guides.

  • Why is some of the printing missing on my note?

    A misprinted note is known in numismatics as an error note, or simply a mistake that occurs during the printing process at the Bureau of Engraving and Printing (BEP). With the stringent quality controls practiced by the BEP, the chances of error notes reaching the public are really quite slim, but it does happen. Oftentimes these notes have numismatic value above the legal tender-value. The amount generally depends on the denomination, the complexity of the error and the condition of the note.

    You will find further information on U.S. notes on the websites of the United States Treasury or the Bureau of Engraving and Printing.

  • I heard that the Treasury was recalling all of the "new" $20.00 bills because the date is wrong. Is this true?

    This popular rumor went around a few years ago. The redesigned $20 notes began circulating in 1998, although the date read 1996. In actuality, Congress approved the design change in 1996. Since the dates on notes are changed with major design and signature changes, 1996 remained as the date of approval not the date of issue.