You can find just about everything online nowadays, including pictures of rare currency rarely seen in public hands.
In the past, if you wanted to see an 1890 $1000 Treasury or Coin Note, a.k.a. “The Grand Watermelon” (and didn’t have a million or so in cash to spend) you had to visit the Federal Reserve Bank of San Francisco in person to see its collection. That meant a vacation out West or a major road trip. Let’s face it, when you want to see the best examples of United States cash, you’re going to have to spend cash. 🙂
The same was true for currency on display at the Smithsonian Institution in Washington, D.C., the Federal Reserve Bank of Philadelphia, or the American Numismatic Association. You either had to visit in person or settle for a picture book.
Now, many of these amazing collections are online for your viewing pleasure, without needing to plan a major vacation. For the cost of a cup of coffee, you can sit down at any internet cafe in the world and peek at examples of some of the USA’s rarest old currency known to exist, many of which exist nowhere else but inside these venerable museums. The images are low resolution and small, but that’s meant to prevent fraudsters from ginning up counterfeits.
Of course – as with most government websites – the layout is a little clunky and dated, but if you’re determined and have time to spare, you can get through most of the collections using your laptop within an hour. It’s safe to say these notes will NEVER hit the auction block, and paper money hobbyists frequently refer to them as “permanently impounded” or “in government hands”. In the rare event the Fed of San Francisco decides to sell off its collection, undoubtedly its 2 Grand Watermelons will greatly decrease the value of the 1 Grand Watermelon in private hands. Exhale. That chances of that happening are slim to none. 🙂
Major Government and Numismatic Organization Collections
The following are links to government and numismatic currency collections. We’ve put direct links to the beginning of each collection where possible. Otherwise, you might have to examine each page carefully to see the currency you desire. It’s fun and FREE. It’s also a great way to preview notes on display if you’re planning to see them in person at some point in your life. 🙂
- Federal Reserve Bank of San Francisco United States Currency Collection – The San Francisco Fed has some of the rarest notes known to exist in government or private hands. The collection is broken into historical eras in the the United States, for example “Westward Expansion”, “Civil War”, or “Industrial Revolution”. Sorry currency junkies, they don’t list notes by Friedberg number. The website needs an upgrade but it does the job. The San-Fran Fed originally kept examples of every note issued by the government in storage until they decided to put them all on display. Who could ever leave a Series of 1918 $10,000 Federal Reserve Note in storage without trotting it out? Sheesh!
- Smithsonian Institution Legendary Coins and Currency – At the moment it appears this website doesn’t have currency readily listed in its menu, although it claims to have currency in the exhibit. You’ll need the Flash Plugin to view the site, which is standard with most web browsers. If not, you might have to download an upgrade, which will only take a minute or two. Visiting the Smithsonian currency collection in person is nirvana for paper money lovers. For example, an authentic example of the 1934 $100,000 Gold Certificate is housed at the museum, not to mention a treasure trove of large size currency that will make you drool.
- Philadelphia Federal Reserve “Money in Motion” Exhibit – Although it doesn’t have the heavy hitters found in the Smithsonian or Fed of San Francisco, the Philadelphia exhibit does offer viewers a nice selection of currency used throughout the history of the United States, beginning with the 13 colonies. If you like Colonial Scrip you’ll be in paradise. The virtual tour might require advanced internet browsers, but like the Smithsonian site you’ll find most browsers are already compatible.
- New York Federal Reserve Exhibit – It’s not online at the moment but you can get information about visiting the museum on this webpage.
- American Numismatic Association – Money.org – The collection of the ANA is legendary, and has notes with provenance from the Bebee collection. Many notes from this formidable gathering grace the pages of the Friedberg Paper Money of the United States standard identification guide. Feast your eyes on some of the hobby’s rarities!
So there you have it: a few websites worth visiting if you want to see rare currency that you can’t visit in person at the moment. Admission to most of these museums is nominal if you visit in person, and the exhibits contain informative details about each note. Population counts, condition, and grade are not included 🙂 but there’s plenty of other places to find that information.
Have fun and enjoy the wonders of the internet!