This article was originally printed in the latest issue of Numismatic News.
>> Subscribe today!
One of the most popular small-size notes especially with new collectors has to be the Silver Certificate. There is good reason as for generations in the past century the Silver Certificate $1 was in the pocket of virtually every American. That makes for a large potential audience of collectors and once they get to know the history of the small-size Silver Certificate those new collectors can easily become dedicated Silver Certificate fans as once you start a collection it is too much fun to stop.
First off, we should define our terms. Small-size is the current size paper money. It got its name because notes in circulation in the United States before the 1929 changeover were much larger, and not surprisingly are called large-size notes.
The Silver Certificate at the time of the change to small-size notes had already had a fascinating history. The Silver Certificates in large-size were an issue created by the silver dollar legislation that began in the 1870s. All the silver dollars which had to be produced as a result of legislation like the Bland-Allison Act and Sherman Silver Purchase Act served as backing for Silver Certificates.
As the 1900s dawned, however, there were changes on the horizon as the United States was getting out of the silver dollar minting business. There were hundreds of millions of silver dollars sitting in vaults and it was decided that no more were needed. At the time, some thought they would never be needed to be struck again. That changed when some 270 million dollars were melted by the Pittman Act in 1918 during World War I to help out India, a possession of our ally Britain. That resulted in additional silver dollar mintages in the 1920s until 1928 but basically by the time the change was made to small-size notes, the silver dollar production was finished.
With a relatively fixed supply of silver dollars as officials were determining the future role of various types of notes, including the Silver Certificate, it is clear that a decision was made to reduce the role of the Silver Certificate. While a number of denominations would not be produced in small-size, the fact that the Silver Certificate initially was to be the only small-size paper $1 printed regularly over the years made them an enormously important note. If you remember using $1 bills before 1963, you were using a $1 Silver Certificate.
The public probably did not even notice that Silver Certificates were suddenly the only $1 denomination as throughout the history of Silver Certificates there had always been other types of notes in the denominations where there were also Silver Certificates. Moreover, with all the interest in the change to small-size notes there were probably too many other things to consider.
The first small-size Silver Certificates were $1 notes from Series 1928 (which was introduced to circulation in 1929) with a Tate-Mellon signature combination. On small-size notes the facsimile signatures of the Treasurer of the United States to the left of the portrait and that of the Treasury secretary to the right. H.T. Take was treasurer and A.W. Mellon was Treasury secretary.
The printing was large and as the lowest denomination of the new small-size notes there was probably more than the usual amount of saving by the public. As an historic first, the Series 1928 $1 Silver Certificate makes for a fascinating note today and thanks to a price of $80 in Choice Crisp Uncirculated, or $150 in Gem CU, it is a note most can have in their collection in one of the top grades and for a very modest price, which makes it a good note for someone just starting a collection. A star replacement example of the Series 1928 is tougher but certainly not impossible at $750 in Choice CU and $1,200 in Gem CU. While those prices might seem high, they are truly scarce notes.
While this was the start of Silver Certificate issues that were in regular use in circulation until the $1 Federal Reserve Note made its first appearance with the Series 1963 issue, there was one other Series 1928 $1 note. It is called $1 United States Note. It has a red Treasury seal where Silver Certificates have blue seals. These $1 red seals were actually printed years after the Series 1928 Silver Certificates early in Franklin Roosevelt’s administration in 1933. Fewer than 2 million were printed and they were all shipped to Puerto Rico so they wouldn’t be confusing in the mainland United States.
The Series 1928 Silver Certificate was followed by the Series 1928A and 1928B and they are available at similar prices although in the case of star replacement notes the Series 1928B is tougher at $2,500 in Gem CU, but while tough the star replacement notes that follow will be even more difficult as the stars have far lower printings and there were very few collectors at the time who would have thought to set aside a Gem CU star note as there was very little interest in stars and that makes the already modest supply even lower.
The star appears at the end of the eight-digit serial number instead of a letter.
The Series 1928C with a Woods-Woodin signature combination had a very low printing of just 5,364,348 notes. By this time the novelty of the small-size notes was gone and there was very little saving even of regular notes. In fact, someone who saved just a nice example of the Series 1928C, 1928D and 1928E for face value would have done very well in terms of price appreciation over the years as all had low printings with the Series 1928E being the low at just over 3.5 million.
Not only did the Series 1928C, 1928D and 1928E have low printings. They also had quick retirements as they were the final series to promise ONE SILVER DOLLAR in payment. That policy of promising a silver dollar in payment was changed during the Great Depression when the wording was changed to ONE DOLLAR IN SILVER, which allowed for payments in bullion if necessary (something that actually happened in the 1960s).
The impact of the low printings and quick retirement are seen in the prices today as the Series 1928C lists for $1,200 in Gem CU. In VF it is $250.
A star replacement note for the Series 1928C is $6,000 in VF and $75,000 in Gem CU. Top conditions cause prices to jump by multiples just as it does in coins.
The Series 1928D with a Julian-Woodin signature combination is the most available of the three thanks to a printing of nearly 14.5 million. A regular Series 1928D is $800 in Gem CU. In VF it is $95. A star note is extremely tough at a current prince of $60,000 in Gem CU.
The Series 1928E with a Julian-Morgenthau signature combination had the lowest printing of the three at 3,519,324 and it is reflected in the prices with a Gem CU at $3,250 CU. A VF is $800. A star if found in Gem CU would be $110,000 and would rank as one of the prime small-size rarities.
The Series 1934 was heavily produced and had more changes than just the wording, including a large numeral “1” on the left in the old location for the seal which was moved to the right side of the face. With its large printing, the Series 1934 is available with a Choice CU at $100, A Gem CU $100 while a star replacement note in Gem CU is $2,250.
The Series 1935 made further changes in the design specifically on the back. With the changes in the Series 1935 the design would remain basically the same until the “In God We Trust” motto was added in the early 1960s as a result of Public Law 140 which was signed in 1955.
The $1 Silver Certificates from the Series 1935 through the final Series 1957B are relatively easy to acquire even in top grade.
Many of these notes are under $100 even in Gem CU Some are as low as $15. Silver Certificate prices rose rapidly 1995-2008. The recent recession has interrupted the upward surge.
It must be remembered that back in the mid 1960s when the public realized that the familiar blue seal and serial number Silver Certificates were starting to disappear, the hoarding of Silver Certificates began in earnest. The hoards were usually small and usually circulated, but the potential for numbers of Silver Certificates to appear on the market was very real and that helped to keep prices lower than might normally have been the case.
The 1964 end to the Treasury paying out silver dollars manifested itself in the paper money field by the end of production of the Silver Certificate, which is what was being redeemed to get each silver dollar.
On June 24, 1968, the Treasury ceased paying out bullion for Silver Certificates, ending this chapter of silver-backed money in U.S. history.
Now 40 years after the Silver Certificate began to disappear from circulation the vast majority of the hoards have been broken up and the market is unlikely to see large supplies of previously unknown Silver Certificates in the future. That means that prices are now able to move more freely without fear that suddenly new supplies will emerge and depress them. Most hoards were primarily small and usually circulated and now previously low priced dates have started to move.
The 1957B star in Gem CU in 1998 was $5.50, but today it is $15. Grading has change somewhat in that period, so prices are not strictly apples to apples comparisons.
A Gem CU Series 1935G with motto star was $35 in 1998 and now it is $325. The amount of the increases can vary but the point remains that the fears of the hoards are disappearing and the higher prices have already started to be seen and while star replacement notes seem to be leading the way, the prices are higher in almost every series.
Paper money dating is peculiar. The Series 1935H and 1957B were produced basically at the same time and have the same Kathryn O’Hay Granahan and C. Douglas Dillon facsimile signatures.
The old dating policy was the date changed when a major change occurred to the design. New signatures merely added suffix letters.
The small-size Silver Certificate started out as just a $1 note, but it expanded quickly. It could easily be suggested that just as there was a change to a Series 1934 for the $1 note, the new denominations were products of the Great Depression.
The crisis of the Great Depression would produce a variety of unexpected changes. There would be the rather unusual $1 United States Note already mentioned while Gold Certificates would be recalled and emergency Federal Reserve Bank Notes would be issued. Major changes in Silver Certificates were limited to a degree because silver was needed to back them. The Treasury did, however, make some silver purchases at the time and in any case where it was possible to add notes to circulation officials were going to do it. New silver dollar mintages in 1934 and 1935 were one result and so were $5 and $10 Silver Certificates.
A $5 Silver Certificate was introduced starting with a Series 1934 with a Julian-Morgenthau signature combination. The Series 1934 was heavily produced and is available at less than $100 for a Gem CU and just over $900 for a Gem CU star. The Series 1934A and 1934B Gem CU stars are $600 and $4,000, respectively, but many $5 Silver Certificates are $50 in Gem CU.
The final $5 Silver Certificate was the Series 1953B with a Smith-Dillon signature combination. The print run was not totally released. That makes it tougher in the case of a star replacement note which now lists for $20,000 in Gem CU.
The introduction of the $5 Silver Certificate went relatively smoothly, but the same was not the case for the $10. The $10 Silver Certificate started with a hurried printing of a Series 1933 $10 with a Julian-Woodin signature, but that was followed almost immediately by a Series 1933A with a Julian-Morgenthau signature combination. Both may have been jumping the gun as they promised payment in SILVER COIN and with changing policies at the time that had to be changed and quickly meaning a retirement of outstanding notes and no release of notes printed but not released.
In the case of the Series 1933, which had already been cut short by the retirement of Woodin, that meant a printing of just 216,000, while the printing of the Series 1933A was only slightly higher at 336,000.
The printings alone would have made the Series 1933 and 1933A $10 Silver Certificates better especially when you remember they came at a time when no one had any money. Actually a few did have money, but with 25 percent national unemployment and 50 percent of the nation behind in house payments there was not going to be much saving of a $10, which could have purchased a lot at the time when 25 cents an hour was a going wage.
That situation was complicated even further by the fact that in November of 1935 government records indicate that 368,000 $10 Silver Certificates were destroyed. They could have only been the Series 1933 and 1933A, with the report suggesting that ultimately only 156,000 Series 1933 and 60,000 Series 1933A notes were ever released. That 60,000 total was extremely low and it was a bad time to expect saving. but we think the report is in error as no Series 1933A has ever been reported suggesting the entire Series 1933A was destroyed along with some numbers from an already very small Series 1933 printing.
The result is that today the Series 1933 $10 Silver Certificate is seen as a great prize, a key small-size note of any type. It lists for $6,000 in VF and $25,00 in Gem CU. In the case of a Series 1933 star replacement note and the Series 1933A none are expected to ever surface as there is no evidence either was ever released although that official total of 60,000 released can continue to keep hope alive even if we suspect it was wrong.
Any of the early $10 Silver Certificates especially in Gem CU can be tough and the stars are even more of a problem with Gem CU stars for the Series 1934 and 1934A being $2,200 and $3,500, respectively but the key remains the Series 1934B with a Julian-Vinson signature combination. You see relatively few notes with a lower printing than the 337,740 for the Series 1934B $10 and that explains a current price of $5,000 in CU for a regular note while a CU star is likely to be $30,000.
Other $10 stars were tough as well with a Series 1934D at $6,000 in Gem CU while even a more recent Series 1953A is at $2,000. Others are more moderately priced but realistically there is nothing easy about a $10 Silver Certificate star. The $10 was simply a denomination most did not attempt to save as it was too much money and that even makes many regular notes better.
Clearly a $10 small-size Silver Certificate collection is a more difficult undertaking than either the $1 or $5, but except for the Series 1933 basically all issued $10 Silver Certificates are possible to acquire but very tough in Gem CU while the other denominations are available in most cases even in Gem CU.
To the basic collection of small-size Silver Certificates there are some special notes that might be added.
World War II presented the nation with a challenge unlike any other and that was reflected in the notes. In the early days of the war there was a very real fear that Hawaii would fall into enemy hands. In fact, the fear was that Hawaii was just the starting point and that enemy forces might well be seen in California. Facing the prospect of large amounts of dollars falling into enemy hands and the reality that those dollars could easily be turned into material needed to fight Americans, it was decided to make special notes that could be easily identified. That resulted in the Series 1935 $1 Silver Certificate with a large HAWAII overprint and brown seal.
The same idea was expanded to North Africa where invading troops and their dollars might be potentially captured. That saw a special issue of Silver Certificates with the normal blue serial numbers but a yellow Treasury seal for use by the troops. There were $10 from the Series 1934 and 1934A, Series 1934A $5 and Series 1935A $1 Silver Certificates created with the yellow seal for use in the North Africa campaign.
Realistically any notes for Hawaii or the North Africa campaign stand as special having been a part of the war effort in World War II. They were clearly notes made for the front lines in the epic struggle and that means a special demand for both groups. The 1935A $1 Hawaii is $350 in Gem CU, but you get one for $50 in VF.
The 1935A North Africa notes are priced around $400 in Gem CU and $50 in VF. The stars in Gem CU start at $5,000 for North Africa and run up to $8,000 for Hawaii.
The North Africa higher denominations are also available but tougher. A 1934A $5 regular note is roughly $700 in Gem CU while a Gem CU star would be about $6,000. The $10 is typically tough with a Gem CU from the Series 1934A at $700 while a Series 1934A star in CU would be roughly $5,000 in Gem CU. In the case of the Series 1934 they are rarely encountered with an example in VF likely to be at least $4,000.
World War II also saw a special pair of $1 Silver Certificates that were part of an experiment. It was feared that the supply of security paper might run low and to determine if other paper could be used so 1,184,000 Series 1935A notes of the regular security paper and an identical number of a paper being tested were created. The notes of the regular paper carried a red “R” while notes made from the special paper being tested carried a red “S.” There were also 12,000 stars of each type with the notes being placed into circulation. Apparently the test was inconclusive and the supply of the regular paper never ran into trouble but the so-called “R” and “S” experimentals are definitely better and interesting notes today with an VF of either being over $100 while stars and CU examples are tougher and more expensive.
Whether you include the special issues of World War II in your collection is a choice you get to make. Certainly whatever you decide the fact is that small-size Silver Certificates are a great collection and one that in every denomination features notes with an interesting story. It’s a lot of fun to collect small-size Silver Certificates and it can be a great education about America in the past century as well.
One thing to remember, don’t be put off by the high Gem CU prices. If you are willing to collect in circulated grades, prices are very reasonable.
More Coin Collecting Resources: