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Do $100 bills make tempting target?

 

You’d have to be nuts to collect $100 bills, wouldn’t you?

Or at the very least you’d have to be someone who has founded a company, cashed out and now have nothing better to do, right?

If you are looking for good values you sometimes have to look in surprising places. There are not many who collect $100 notes and there is good reason.

In the case of large-size $100 notes of any type it can be a difficult search as the supply is very limited, but even if you find the note you want to add to your collection the cost can be a significant problem as well. Under the circumstances, there are few who even attempt large-size $100 notes. These are the federal issues that began during the Civil War and essentially remained the same size until 1929, when the small-size notes were introduced. This size remains current today.

Interestingly enough, there are also not many who try to collect small-size $100 notes either even as they are more plentiful and familiar. In fact, many are missing out on a real opportunity as small-size $100 notes offer the same opportunities as large-size in many cases, but at a vastly reduced cost and with better availability. These notes can make for a great collection at great values. While demand remains modest it is a great opportunity for you to form a collection that will impress everyone.

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The small-size $100 is a collection that you have to consider slightly differently than you might others. Certainly prices are higher, but so is the face value, and that has to be factored in. A friend who I spotted one day on a bourse floor with a $100 Federal Reserve Bank Note in his pocket and a big smile on his face explained the situation well. “I just paid $125 for it,” he explained, adding, “That is like paying $1.25 for a $1 United States Note. It’s only 25 percent over face and any time you get a note for 25 percent over face it’s a great deal.”

He had an excellent point. As you consider small-size $100 notes of various types and especially in circulated grades you quickly realize that you are not paying large premiums for many of these issues and that realistically some should be much more expensive when you consider that someone had to save these notes in some cases during the Great Depression when the hourly wage was 25 cents if you could find a job at all.

The supply of small-size $100 bills of various types is always an issue and it is the thing that makes many of them such great values today. After all, to save $100 during the 1930s and 1940s was not easy for most. In fact, even today few collect $100 notes of any size because of their high face value. When you realize that the note you are buying had to be saved sometimes almost 80 years ago when that $100 could buy so much more you begin to appreciate what a sacrifice the owner made and how few were likely to have been saved. The supply today reflects the limited saving, but with limited demand at least for now many small-size $100 notes are available at prices that are hard to believe.

Even though $100 was a great deal of money during the 1930s, the supply of small-size $100 notes in many cases is still sufficient to keep them at very reasonable prices particularly when compared to their large-size counterparts. This is due in part to the fact that in the wave of bank failures that occurred in the four years after the stock market crash of 1929, many people took all their money out of banks and kept it in cash. The 10 or 20 $100 bills that represented a life’s savings as well as the price of a good car, were easily concealed for safe keeping – and easily forgotten (and preserved) for long periods.

In other time periods, there were other reasons that people held cash. Russell Sage, a robber baron of the 19th century kept large sums of cash in steamer trunks in bonded warehouses to be loaned at very high rates of interest during the periodic financial panics of the era.

Not only did he get rich, his actions and those of others like him probably helped preserve some of the notes collectors prize highly today.

You can be sure that Sage’s trunks were not full of $1 bills.

The most available large-size $100 is the blue seal $100 Federal Reserve Note of Series 1914. In fine condition they are approximately $350 for the cheapest ones. (A Choice CU 63 can be found for $1,750.)

An available but well circulated $100 large-size Gold Certificate would be closer to $700 and the most available large-size National Bank Notes in circulated grades would be potentially $800. Those are the only types of large-size $100 notes you can even consider for less than $1,000 and that is only in lower grades.

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By comparison, small-size $100 bills of virtually all types are available for much less. We would expect the current $100 Federal Reserve Note to be available for face value and would attach little premium to other recent notes issued since the Series 1996 dramatically changed the look of the denomination by greatly enlarging Benjamin Franklin’s head.

There are many others that seem to be at prices that suggest significant supplies, yet that is not the case. We know even from the 1960s when many were saving Silver Certificates as they were disappearing from circulation that the vast majority of notes saved were lower denominations. In fact, any denomination other than the basic $1 was saved in very small numbers and if that was the situation in the 1960s we can only imagine how little saving there would have been of $100 notes back in the 1940s. Even collectors and dealers of that time would have been unlikely to save many, if any extra examples of $100 notes of any type as there would have been no reason to believe that some day there would be substantial demand and higher prices.

If you had wanted to save one for each grandchild that was possible but the idea of a dealer deciding to save a nice stack of $100 National Bank Notes was extremely unlikely.

Based on their signature combinations, the first small-size $100 notes were the Federal Reserve Note and the Gold Certificate. In fact, at least initially they along with the $100 National Bank Note were the only $100 notes to be produced in small-size. By comparison, large-size $100 notes had included Gold Certificates, Silver Certificates, United States Notes, Federal Reserve Notes, National Bank Notes and even both Coin Notes and National Gold Bank Notes.

Clearly in the change to small-size there had been a very conscious decision to reduce the number of types of small-size $100 notes and although others would be added at least initially it appears that officials were content with three types and even one of the three in the form of National Bank Notes was to be abolished in 1935, and with it the whole National Bank Note series that had been in production since the Civil War.

Because notes are not dated in the year of issue like coins are, the First small-size $100 Federal Reserve Note is Series 1928. It was issued in 1929 with the first deliveries in August of that year.

Because there are 12 Federal Reserve districts that issued these notes, prices range from a very modest $175 in VF for New York, Atlanta, Chicago, or Kansas City to $350 for the scarce Minneapolis district. In Choice CU 63 you might be able to pick up a Chicago one for $600 while the Minneapolis district would set you back $2,500. Star replacement notes for the districts that issued them start at $2,500 in Choice CU 63 grade and work their way higher.

The first small-size $100 Gold Certificate also is a Series 1928 even though it was issued in 1929. It was not to last for a long time. A total of 3,240,000 Series 1928 $100 Gold Certificates were printed along with 11,566 star replacement notes, but when the gold recall order of 1933 was issued all Gold Certificates were called in for destruction and it was illegal to own them like it was illegal to own gold coins. (They became legal to own again in the John F. Kennedy administration.)

Potential collectors of Series 1928 $100 gold Cerificates were suddenly faced with a decision to save them in violation of the recall order or turn them in for destruction. It was a very real dilemma at the time as even if you could afford to save a Gold Certificate as a type there were others of far lower denominations. With the recall order in many minds representing a threat that you might have the note seized, or even end up in legal trouble to save a $100 Gold Certificate was to take a very real chance with $100 that many at the time could not afford.

We cannot be certain how many $100 Gold Certificates were turned in, but we do know that some were saved and that results in a $450 price for a VG/F and $6,000 in Choice CU 63. To be fair, those are not cheap prices, but when you consider the odds of finding anyone today who would save a $100 in the face of a recall order in the middle of a depression it is a minor miracle that any were saved at all.

Certainly finding a tougher star replacement note is a serious challenge, but they are also possible at $3,000 for an VG/F and $30,000 for a Choice CU 63. Those prices show a significant increase in recent years and that is not surprising as a Gold Certificate $100 star is a real test of your patience and budget especially in top grades.

There was no recall of the $100 National Bank Note, but there was still only a limited period of time when they were made and much of that period was one of extremely difficult economic times for most Americans. That said, there are supplies available. The $100 National Bank Note came in two types with Type 1 having just two black charter numbers at the ends of the note while Type 2 had additional charter numbers by the serial numbers. Each National Bank had its own charter number on its notes in addition to its name.

The Type 1 is more available at a price around $250 in VF while a Choice CU 63 is $425 for notes from available banks in available states. The Type 2 starts at $350 in VF and goes to over $1,000 in Choice CU 63 and like the Type 1 the prices are for the most available notes. If you happen to want a specific bank or specific state, the note can be a good deal more as is typical of all National Bank Notes.

As the Great Depression caused Franklin Roosevelt to close all the banks in 1933 to determine which were sound and could be reopened and which were not, it also caused to be issued an unexpected small-size $100 in the form of the Federal Reserve Bank Note. The Federal Reserve Bank Note had been in issued previously in large-size as an emergency issue during the World War I financial emergency in Series 1915 and Series 1918 notes.

The Depression certainly qualified as an emergency as $624 million in gold had been withdrawn from the Treasury while the amount of currency in circulation had risen by a staggering $18 billion. More notes requiring less backing were needed and the Federal Reserve Bank Note was authorized to meet that need. A total of 1,608,000 $100 Federal Reserve Bank Notes were issue. Not every district was printed with Boston, Philadelphia, Atlanta and St. Louis having no $100 notes.

The $100 Federal Reserve Bank Note were issued quickly in March 1933, but today, prices for examples in fine condition are surprisingly reasonable. You can get the most available districts for $125 or $130. Naturally, Choice CU 63 examples are more, but at $235 for Chicago or $300 for New York, they are not by any means unattainable.

It is fair to say that these notes are not as available as the price implies, but neither is demand very high. Have you ever run into anyone who said they collection $100 Federal Reserve Bank Notes? Perhaps you should be that one.

Where the $100 Federal Reserve Bank Note becomes a significant problem is if you want a star replacement note as there are probably fewer than 100 from all districts combined known to exist. The most available district especially in upper grades is Kansas City thanks to a small hoard dispersed some years ago, but the impact of that hoard is still seen in the prices as an XF is $750 while a Choice CU 63 is roughly $1,150. Those prices, however, only apply to Kansas City as other districts can be much more costly and in many cases there are so few from a specific district that chances of ever finding one offered for sale are not good and if offered the owner can basically name his price. The current listing for the next most available district shows Chicago at $2,000 in XF with basically no district other than Kansas City being found in any numbers in Choice CU 63 and prices reflect that.

The $100 Federal Reserve Bank Note is a unique challenge, but it is not the only small-size $100 that can be difficult. The $100 United States Note is more available, but it is a difficult note to explain. In fact, most have never seen a $100 United States Note for the simple reason that in most cases they spent most of their time in vaults as they were required to exist but not circulate. There were both a Series 1966 and Series 1966A with the Series 1966 having a Granahan-Fowler signature combination while the combination on the Series 1966A was Elston-Kennedy. The two were in vaults to comply with the May 3, 1878, law which required a sum of $346,681,016 be maintained by the government but they rarely circulated and even if some did reach circulation as all notes by the time were basically Federal Reserve Notes they were unlikely to circulate for long.

There was a debate as to whether to offer the inventory to collectors when legal requirements were changed in the 1990s, but the decision was to not sell them and that leaves the $100 United States Note as a slightly better small-size $100 with the Series 1966 listing for $350 in Choice CU 63 while the Series 1966A is $600 in the same grade and $200 in XF. Only stars are known from the Series 1966 where one is priced at $575 in XF and $1,300 in Choice CU 63.

The only type of small-size $100 that was introduced in 1929 and that still is circulating today is the Federal Reserve Note although their design has certainly changed especially in recent times. Their longevity makes them available, but it makes a complete collection a significant challenge, as with a potential 12 districts and 12 stars possible for each series even the face value alone of a $100 Federal Reserve Note collection can be very high. Certainly type notes are possible and usually in the case of a later series for prices not significantly higher than their face value.

For those with a sense of history the likely first small-size $100 the Series 1928 Federal Reserve Note is available to collectors despite its age. Even star notes in circulated grades can be found. For example, a star replacement note in the Series 1928 from New York is $300. When you consider the importance of the Series 1928 as the first, the prices today seem extremely reasonable.

Something that also should be remembered is that there were slight changes over time with $100 Federal Reserve Notes and in the case of the Series 1928 it along with the Series 1928A which is currently starts at $250 in Choice CU 63 were the two series dates that featured the so-called gold clause, which stated that the note could be redeemed for gold. That clause was in direct opposition to the gold recall order of 1933 and that meant that the next series became redeemable in “lawful money.”

Most regular $100 Federal Reserve Notes can be found and usually at very reasonable prices even in Choice CU 63, but the star replacement notes can be tough. That is especially true of the Series 1934D Clark-Snyder star which currently lists for $3,000 in XF and and $6,000 in Choice CU 63. Most have to settle for XF as examples in Choice CU 63 are extremely scarce. Other Choice CU 63 stars that are well into four figures include the Series 1934B and 1934C which are both around $4,500 while the Series 1950E stars start at $2,500. And remember, there are seven star notes in the 1934B series, six in the 1934C series and three in the 1934D series. The cost of these notes gets very large very fast.

As in the case of other denominations the Federal Reserve Note $100 can be an area where bargains are possible as the districts while sometimes priced at similar levels frequently did not have similar printings. The Series 1934C from New York had a printing of over 1.5 million but the Boston and Philadelphia printings were just 13,800 and 13,200, respectively. In some cases the low printing districts command significant premiums, but in others thanks to a limited demand the premiums are not what would be expected. In the future if additional collector demand surfaces it is possible that some districts from some series that today are priced at basically available levels will change to reflect their true scarcity.

However you choose to approach a small-size $100 collection, the options are many and the values are in most cases excellent. The small-size $100 may be overlooked by many but those who are aware of the small supplies and the low prices could be in on the ground floor of a great collection that will only get better.

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