Frequently Asked Question: I believe I own a 1934 $100,000 Dollar Bill. What is it worth?
Right Answer: $0. Your note is 100% fake.
Fr. 2413 1934 $100,000 Gold Certificate with signatures of Julian-Morgenthau is naturally a curiosity for both the collecting and non-collecting public. A $100,000 bill? Who could own such a high denomination, especially circa the World War 2 era? What banks offered these notes? Is my example genuine?
To be historically accurate, yes the United States Bureau of Engraving and Printing DID produce a $100,000 Gold Certificate, the highest denomination in the history of the United States. These notes were NEVER issued for public circulation. Instead, they were used to settle large cash transactions between Federal Reserve Banks and other government fiscal channels. (*This information paraphrased from HighDenomination.com’s page on the $100,000 Gold Certificate – Click Here)
Remember, this note was produced long before electronic banking began. Using a $100,000 denomination made sense because counting out $1,000 or even $10,000 notes for cash transactions reaching into the millions of dollars would be tedious and inefficient. If you’re moving $50,000,000 in cash from the Federal Reserve Bank of Boston to the Federal Reserve Bank of New York, it’s much easier to move 500 $100,000 notes opposed to using a smaller denomination with the potential for counting errors or theft.
These notes were NEVER circulated publicly. They were only used by the government. According to Paper Money of the United States by Arthur L. and Ira S. Friedberg, only 42,000 1934 $100,000 notes were printed in total. ALL notes have since be accounted for and NONE remain outstanding. Possession of an authentic note would be considered ILLEGAL. The government kept a few sheets of these notes in specimen form that are all punch canceled. This display can sometimes be viewed at major paper money shows. A handful of non-canceled single notes do exist in numismatic museums, most notably the paper money collection of the Federal Reserve Bank of San Francisco. That’s where this picture comes from:
The government also produced Fr. 2410 1928 $5,000 Gold Certificate with signatures of Woods-Mellon and Fr. 2411 1928 $10,000 Gold Certificate with signatures of Woods-Mellon. These notes are legal to posses and have green reverses. Fr. 2409 1934 $1,000 Gold Certificate and Fr. 2412 1934 $10,000 Gold Certificate with signatures of Julian-Morgenthau are illegal to own and never circulated publicly. They have orange reverses. Important: These particular gold certificates were used in the same manner as the $100,000 bill, for government cash transactions only. ALL of these notes have been redeemed and accounted for, and NONE remain outstanding. Possession of an authentic example of any of the aforementioned notes would be considered ILLEGAL.
What about $10,000 bills I see for sale at big auctions? Are these notes legal to possess? Yes, because some of these are 1934 Federal Reserve Notes, not 1934 Gold Certificates. The Bureau of Engraving and Printing did indeed issue and circulate $500, $1,000, $5,000 and $10,000 Federal Reserve Notes bearing the series years of 1928 and 1934. Although not widely available, they were fully legal for the public to possess. Most of these notes circulated between commercial banks to settle large cash transactions. Some examples did manage to escape into public hands, most notably to Benny Binion’s famous hoard of 100 $10,000 notes (linked page displays all serial numbers and position in the original Binion display). These notes all have green seals and greenbacks like any other Federal Reserve Note printed from the series of 1928 or later. The government-only high denomination 1934 Gold Certificates all have orange seals and orange backs.
Our website doesn’t specialize in high denomination notes, but we do get emails from people requesting appraisals of their $100,000 bills. All of these bills are replica or novelty items. Some people find them when settling the estate of a relative and think they’ve struck it rich, when in fact the note is no more valuable than Monopoly Money.
Buyer Beware (Funny Stories): There are people who also send us emails with laughable stories and claim they own a fist full of $100,000 notes. These people are scammers. In fact, we’ve received email from two different people in the Philippines who supposedly unearthed a “long forgotten box of cash from World War 2”, chock full of $10,000 and $100,000 notes. When asked to supply a photo to substantiate their find, it’s very clear that their notes are play money. Once this unfortunate reality is explained to them (including the fact that NO $100,000 bills remain outstanding), they will often reply with even crazier stories or justifications for the legitimacy of their find. At that point, we simply reply: “These notes are fake. If you believe they are genuine, bring them to a United States bank and exchange them for cash. You will be arrested on the spot.” That usually sends them packing. 🙂
The mythic $100,000 bill and misinformation surrounding its circulation will likely persist for years until a good Wikipedia entry is written about it containing accurate information. For now, enjoy them on display at the Bureau of Engraving and Printing booth at the next big paper money show!