First, let me be clear: not everyone has a $10,000 monthly budget to buy collector currency. Money comes and goes. More often than not, people have more like $100 on a good month, sometimes even less. Other times, money is needed for medical care, business investments, college tuition, etc. and one can only afford to buy modest notes. If you think people only shop for high end material, think again: a quick run through eBay.com’s paper money listings will show notes starting for as little as $0.01 up to $1,000,000. In other words, there’s a market for everyone.
Another common occurrence is people inheriting a modest currency collection from a deceased loved one. The retail value of the collection might not even exceed $85. Even so, the inheritor would like to sell the notes for cash.
Suppose you have 10 non-star 1957B $1 Silver Certificates in About Uncirculated to Uncirculated condition. Despite the fact the United States government hasn’t printed these notes in decades, they are actually considered very common in the paper money hobby. There are still reports of people finding these notes in cash withdrawals from banks or grocery store change. They are still legal tender, but do they have collector value?
As a rule of thumb, most notes printed bearing the series of 1934 or later usually aren’t worth thousands of dollars unless they have other defining characteristics that make them rare. Consider the following when reviewing notes printed in the last 70 years:
1. Condition – Anything with “normal” circulation – meaning the note has folds, creases, tears, stamps, handwriting, or stains – will not have much collector value. A note that looks like it just came off the presses yesterday is much more desirable.
2. Star serial number – Star serial numbers are much rarer than normal serial numbers, because they are printed as replacements for notes that returned to the Treasury as damaged. A star serial number note in near perfect condition usually equates higher collector value. On the other hand, heavily circulated notes with star serial numbers don’t have much numismatic value with a few small exceptions.
3. Unique Serial Number – See if the serial number itself has anything unique or interesting about its pattern of digits. For example, is it 12345678, or 00000005, or 33334444, or 00001945 (a birth year note). Notes with interesting patterns of digits or very low numbers (under 100) are highly collectible, even if they were printed in the 1990s.
4. Notes that have BOTH a star and a unique serial number (even more valuable).
5. Notes with authentic printing errors (ink smears, missing impressions, inverted reverses, foreign matter, etc.).
6. Notes with a rare autograph – If your note is signed by a former president, artist, musician, military officer, or other celebrity it will be more valuable.
7. Notes with a verifiable unique history – A $20 note printed in the 1970s accompanied astronauts to the moon during an Apollo mission. It’s collector value exceeds $150,000, but if you saw the note in a currency auction without knowing this critical information, you probably wouldn’t pay more than $25 for it. Fortunately, this particular $20 bill was stamped and came with 3rd party corroborating evidence that proved it did indeed travel to the moon. Lunar-landing bank notes aren’t the only notes with great stories: if you have John Lennon’s last $10 bill and can prove it, it will have significant collector value.
If after examining serial numbers and checking for printing errors your 10 non-star 1957B $1 Silver Certificates still don’t have anything unique about them, the value will be around $50-$60 for the lot (as of the date of this article, 10/30/2012).
How do I get the most money possible for low value paper money?
The short answer: sell the notes yourself, particularly if your group of notes has an appraisal value under $500. The important qualifying phrase in the previous sentence is “group of notes”. If you have one note worth $500, your strategy for selling it would be much different. A $500 note will catch the attention of most dealers and they’ll be more than happy to make you offers on it.
How do I sell the notes myself?
Selling the notes yourself can be relatively pain free particularly if you are familiar with major online auction sites like eBay.com. If eBay isn’t your thing, you can ask friends, family, or work buddies who collect currency if they might have any interest in your notes. Finally, you can also try researching your area for coin or currency collector clubs and approach them with your notes in person.
The goal is to directly connect to a collector who will be willing to pay more for your notes than a dealer.
Dealers can’t offer top dollar on very common notes because they have to make money when they resell them. More often than not, if you approach a dealer with a note valued at $8 retail, they’ll probably offer $4 for it.
Here’s how to sell them quickly on eBay.com:
- Look at your note’s series year and denomination, and review current “Buy It Now” prices on eBay.com for similar notes. Sometimes people inflate “Buy It Now” values in order to leave room for negotiation, so search through a few different listings before you settle on a rough valuation.
- Scan the front and back of all your notes and post listings for them, making sure to identify the note’s series year, signatures, denomination, and seal color in the auction description. Include the scanned images with the auction so buyers know what they’re going to get if they decide to purchase your note.
- Sell notes one at a time, unless you are in a hurry to get fast cash. A lot of 20 random notes will usually sell for less than the total amount of money you could get if you sold them individually.
- If nobody shows interest in your notes, decrease the prices by 5% a week until you get a sale.
- Upon completing a sale, carefully package and mail the note to your buyer. Best practice currency selling usually requires all sellers have a return policy. It doesn’t have to be complicated: give the buyer 7 days to examine their purchase. If they’re not happy, they return the note(s) for a refund. After 7 days the purchase is considered final and offer no returns.
Places to avoid selling your notes, if at all possible: Pawn shops, flea markets, thrift stores, or antique shops that don’t specialize in collector currency. They will only pay you a fraction of your note’s true value.
People collect paper money for all sorts of reasons. While a particular note or group of notes might not have much market value or demand, that doesn’t mean you can’t get more than face value for them. Basic research, patience, and a little luck will help you convert your modest collection of notes into cash!