Is Black Friday Good for Buying Greenbacks?

How was your Thanksgiving? After the turkey and football game, was everyone around you revving up to go out shopping?

The “Black Friday” phenomenon came about several years back, when marketers figured out it would be the perfect day for people to begin Christmas shopping. A few major big box companies agreed with this idea, and started pushing the Friday after Thanksgiving as the time to shop. It makes sense: many people have the day off or an abbreviated work schedule. Plus, if shopping Friday is an impossibility, eager shoppers can always stop by on Saturday and Sunday for the best deals while they last. As the years passed by, “Black Friday” commercials inundated TV, radio, the internet, and print. When it comes to making your marketing message successful, sometimes the best thing to do is beat it to death. Repeat something enough times and most people will begin to believe it.

2012 was no exception to this madness. Major online retailers like Amazon and eBay offered specials, encouraging people to stay out of stores and buy on “Cyber Monday” (another unofficial shopping holiday). Walmart, Target, Costco, and many other stores crammed Black Friday down our throats with commercials beginning after Halloween. They also cleverly waited to release certain products beginning on Black Friday only, so people would feel an urgency to get out and buy things. In major metro areas, it’s not uncommon to see people lined up for hours outside stores for Black Friday specials. A few hardcore shoppers set up tents and cots just hours after finishing their Thanksgiving dinner. Come hell or high water, they were determined to be the first in line.

Is Black Friday A Good Day for Buying Paper Money?

Generally speaking, currency dealers and major auction houses do NOT schedule events around the Black Friday shopping day. might boldly advertise items for sale to regular currency buyers, but that doesn’t mean the sellers have notes available at a discount. Black Friday is aimed at more mainstream shoppers looking for good deals on clothing, electronics, jewelry, and other holiday gift staples.

The paper money hobby, much like coin collecting, usually runs its annual calendar according to major auction events. Top auctioneers Lyn Knight and Heritage Auctions have a bevvy of events scheduled throughout the year aimed at currency lovers on all budgets. These events are well attended by top dealers and aggressive buyers, hoping to find the perfect new note for their collection.

Paper money – particularly valuable notes – does not surface according to shopping days. Great notes popup at live auctions,, and other collectible resale events when their owners are interested in selling. Currency sold by dealers comes available at varying price points based on current market supply and demand. Paper money values can be highly volatile: a note valued at $5,000 with only 5 known examples might suddenly lose value when 3 other notes are discovered or released from long term collections. When several notes flood the market, prices go down. If only one note hits the market in a calendar year, chances are it will go for a higher price because there is no other anticipated opportunity to purchase it.

Without a doubt, many people bought paper money as gifts on Black Friday, regardless of whether or not dealers were offering discounts. Many shoppers save money or payoff credit cards with the intention to shop the day after Thanksgiving. As a result, why not purchase a few notes while you have the money?

Beyond that exception, most collectors regularly patrol and major auction offerings for great notes year round, not limiting themselves to the holiday shopping season. In fact, some popular notes might be marked up BECAUSE the holidays are around the corner, and this reality gives many paper money shoppers the impetus to pay a little more than usual.

Otherwise, the best deals on currency are found scavenging through auction catalogs, searching the web, or contacting major dealers for quality notes. Like the stock market, the currency market has its own cycles: high times, low times, and everything in between. You probably wouldn’t buy stock on Black Friday unless you were getting a great deal, so don’t let the trends of the “secular” shopping world govern your hunt for great paper money.

What Are Courtesy Autograph Notes?

You’ve probably come across many notes with handwriting on them. Most of the time, it is graffiti, counting numbers, or doodles. In other cases, you might have a note that has been signed by various unknown parties. Some people sign their name on notes for the hell of it, while a group of people might all sign a note as a gift or memento of a special occasion. Beyond any sentimental value for the people’s signatures on the note and the memories they conjure, 99% of notes with handwriting on them are not collectible. They are often assigned lower grades than notes in a similar state of preservation because the paper has been fundamentally altered from its original state.

As with most general rules of the paper money hobby, there are exceptions. A note signed by a celebrity, former president, top athlete, or musician will usually catch the attention of collectors, even if the note itself is not considered rare without its famous signature. Many note collectors are also history buffs, and that means autographs of major figures in United States government garner the most attention.

Before proceeding any further, it’s important to define the term “courtesy autograph” correctly.

Definition – A courtesy autograph note is a genuine example of United States currency with a handwritten signature of either the Secretary of the Treasury or Treasurer of the United States inscribed above the printed signature. A note with a famous signature from someone other than the Secretary of the Treasury or Treasurer is considered an autographed note. The qualifying word “courtesy” means it bears the handwriting of someone whose signature already appears on the bill in printed form.

Signatures can appear elsewhere, but placement above the printed signature has been standard practice since the late 1800s. Most signers of United States paper money in the 20th century have offered courtesy autographed notes in bulk to friends, family, or to collectors. A courtesy autograph 1957 $1 Silver Certificate with printed signatures of Priest-Anderson with a hand signature from either individual will only value 2 – 3 times greater than the note by itself, simply because these notes are extremely common and many courtesy autographs are known to exist. On the other hand, large size notes bearing courtesy autographs from officials who only served briefly in office are much more valuable. Further, if the note itself is in Uncirculated condition and is known to be a rare type, its value goes up even more.

I have a hand signed National Bank Note, does this make it more valuable?

Not necessarily. Some National Banks printed and circulated smaller amounts of currency compared to others. A common cost saving measure was to have bank officials sign the notes by hand, or have a staff of clerks do it for them. The exception to this rule would be a National Bank Note with printed signatures AND the actual handwritten signature of the banking official elsewhere on the note. Otherwise, hand signed Nationals are nothing to get excited about unless your note is considered rare already (regardless of the signatures on it).

Let’s have a look at some of the most famous courtesy autograph notes to sell publicly.

Fr. 276 1899 $5 Silver Certificate – Napier-Thompson – PCGS 64 PPQ – Thompson Courtesy Autograph – Serial H4

Fr. 276 1899 $5 Silver Certificate - Napier-Thompson - PCGS 64 PPQ - Thompson Courtesy Autograph, Serial H4 - Heritage ANA Signature Currency Auction Oct. 17-23, 2012
Fr. 276 1899 $5 Silver Certificate - Napier-Thompson - PCGS 64 PPQ - Thompson Courtesy Autograph, Serial H4 - Heritage ANA Signature Currency Auction Oct. 17-23, 2012

This gorgeous note has the “perfect storm” of rarity: the Fr. 276 is the rarest of all 1899 $5 Silver Certificates, its condition is phenomenal, it has a remarkable H4 serial number, and it has a courtesy autograph from Carmi Thompson, Treasurer of the United States.

Realized: $21,150

If $21,000 is too rich for your blood, here’s a modest courtesy autograph note that is well within the reach of most collectors. This particular note was one of the most affordable courtesy autographs listed for sale at Heritage Auctions. Most exceed $50 and usually not more than $500 unless they are exceptionally rare.

Fr. 1619 1957 $1 Silver Certificate – Priest-Anderson – Fine – Priest Courtesy Autograph

Fr. 1619 1957 $1 Silver Certificate - Priest-Anderson - Fine RAW - Courtesy Autograph Priest - Heritage Auctions
Fr. 1619 1957 $1 Silver Certificate - Priest-Anderson - Fine RAW - Courtesy Autograph Priest - Heritage Auctions

Realized: $12

Courtesy autographs are a neat genre of USA paper money collecting, and most notes are very affordable. If you like investment grade material, there is a small pool of high-end material available, but it doesn’t surface often. In the meantime – as you delve into the world of courtesy autographs – start slow and work your way up. A note with a valuable handwritten signature always feels much more personal, because you know that the person actually handled note themselves before it found its way into your collection.

Parting advice: If you have the budget for high value courtesy autograph notes – valuations of $500 or more – we highly suggest purchasing slabbed notes only (notes that have been graded and authenticated by PMG, PCGS, or any other third party grading authority). Raw notes going for big money might be forgeries. We’re actually surprised this isn’t a rampant problem in the hobby: find an old note, fake the signature, and mark it up for a big profit. Don’t risk your hard earned money on something that could be fake. Buy authenticated notes only, from dealers with strong reputations.