Online United States Currency: Major Government and Numismatic Organization Collections

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 – – 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!

Series 2009 New $100 Bill Not in Circulation: Inspections and Printing Still In Process

As of the date of this post, the series of 2009 $100 bill has yet to enter general circulation. It is the last of the new colorized designs with enhanced security features to be released by the Treasury, and we’re all eagerly awaiting its appearance. Unfortunately, this particular note has experienced some production problems and setbacks.

So much for the “Greenback”…

According to, the series of 2004 $20 bill was the first newly colorized note issued. It began circulating on October 9, 2003. Since then, the new $10, $5, and $50 notes have been rolled out. Despite modern advances in printing technology, it still takes a considerable amount of time to get new notes into circulation. Additionally, the Treasury must ensure that cash oriented businesses – banks, grocery stores, gas stations, casinos, bars, and restaurants – are adequately educated about the new notes. Even though the release of the colorized $20 bill was well publicized, a few merchants went to their local banks with notes that looked “suspicious”, only to be told that they were indeed authentic and examples of  the United States’ new currency design .

Many paper money enthusiasts were dismayed with the new notes: the classic black front and green back of United States paper money was forever changed in order to thwart counterfeiters. The new $20 bill is the most demure in appearance of all the new notes, and this is partially why it was issued first. It takes time for people to get used to change.  🙂  Meanwhile, the funky looking $10 bill and flag draped $50 bill are definitely eye catching. It seemed the United States finally caught up to other advanced countries that had been using fully colorized currency for decades.

…but where is the new $100 bill?

In brief, it’s not out yet.  The following is an example of the new note in Specimen form. No genuine series of 2009 $100 notes are in circulation. If you are handed a $100 bill that bears a resemblance to the new design, there’s a good chance it’s fake.

Series 2009 $100 Note Specimen
Series 2009 $100 Note Specimen – As of January 8, 2013, this note is not in general circulation.

According to Treasury officials, billions of these new notes were printed, slated to be released on schedule. Sadly, quality control procedures fell by the wayside during the printing process: approximately 1.1 billion of the new $100 bills were creased and deemed ineligible for circulation. Officials traced the problem back to the Crane Paper Company of Boston – the Bureau of Engraving and Printing’s official and only paper source – in addition to mechanical printing problems. Circulating damaged examples of the new $100 bills would have created havoc and confusion. Most importantly, the highly advanced design features of the note would have been compromised.

As a result, manual inspections of the 1.1 billion bad notes began shortly after their original circulation date. Treasury workers have identified the problem and rectified the printing process, but are still left to sort through a mountain of damaged notes. After manual inspections discerned a pattern to the creasing error, Treasury tentatively suggested that an automated process would be developed to hasten the inspection work.

The exact status of this ongoing saga is still unclear, and probably best left unknown in the interests of security.

What’s so great about the new $100 bill?

The government’s website details the features of the new $100 bill. Like the redesigned notes previously released, this note is multicolored, has micro printing, color shifting ink, a watermark, and faint representations of the note’s denomination printed in yellow ink on the front and back. Currency junkies will be happy to know that notes printed at the Fort Worth, Texas, B.E.P. facility are identified with a prominent “F.W.” on the obverse. The notes are still printed using the time tested intaglio process, creating a raised feel to the ink. The format of the the serial number and Federal Reserve District identification is the same as the other new notes.

There are also a few features unique to the new $100 bill:

  • On the reverse of the note, the vignette of Independence Hall is still present, except it is engraved looking at the back of the landmark, NOT the front.
  • An image of a quill, representing the signing of the Declaration of Independence, is engraved to the right of Franklin’s portrait.
  • The background of the note is pale blue.
  • A large gold “100” is now on the reverse, clearly distinguishing the note’s denomination from other contemporary examples of USA currency.
  • A large blue strip is interwoven into the note’s paper, seen to the right of Franklin’s portrait.
  • The first use of a hologram on paper money in the history of the United States is on the new $100 bill, to the bottom right of Franklin’s portrait. This hologram is extremely difficult to replicate.

All in all, it is an impressive feat of workmanship that will stymie the attempts of most counterfeiters attempting to mass-produce bum notes.

Any collecting possibilities?

As stated above, Treasury and the Federal Reserve have been vague and tight lipped about the exact status of the new $100 bill and its eventual circulation date. Supposedly all the creased notes are housed at the Fort Worth B.E.P. compound in a giant warehouse, waiting to be sorted out.

Some of the bad notes might sneak into general circulation, and would be nice catches for any collector if the crease can be authenticated as a byproduct of the original printing process. This opportunity would be short lived, however, since most notes naturally become creased as they get circulated and handled. Someone would literally have to grab a fresh pack of these notes in order to have a crack at getting a genuine B.E.P. error.

The other important factor is the actual “rarity” of the error, most likely to be determined years after collectors have a chance to analyze the market and track sales activity. If thousands of the creased $100 notes are known, it won’t be particularly valuable.

Finally, what about star notes? Did the B.E.P. print a billion star notes to replace the notes damaged during the initial run? If so, 2009 $100 stars won’t be considered rare unless millions spontaneously combust. The more likely scenario: the Federal Reserve will circulate notes with normal serial numbers first, and print star notes later once notes naturally return to the Treasury as damaged or otherwise unusable. The value of a 2009 $100 star note will be hit or miss until exact production numbers are known.

Keep your fingers crossed. With any luck, you’ll get your hands on a real 2009 $100 bill before AARP sends you its welcome letter! 🙂