Most paper money collectors I know got their start in numismatics by collecting coins out of circulation. Then they stumbled across some paper currency and the bug bit them. This is especially true if they were also stamp collectors, as you get to enjoy the engraving in a larger format.
Right now isn’t a bad time to start collecting paper currency. The economy seems to be offering some bargains and there are several areas of the paper money collecting venue that seem like especially good places to start.
Colonial currency is one of these. For one thing, there isn’t enough material to build a big advertising campaign on it, so it is off the beaten path by definition. On the other hand, silver dollars are easy to promote as there are large supplies of them even for some of the tougher dates. Because there has never been a big surge of interest in them, Colonial notes can be purchased for a lot less than some of our popular coins. Lower prices don’t mean there isn’t a great deal of enjoyment waiting for you in this area of numismatics.
Putting together a 13-colony set is one project that can be very challenging, but not unobtainable. A denomination set of Continental Currency is another. I like building sets, as it gives you a goal to pursue. You can certainly look for gem notes if you’d like, but there is no shame in circulated Colonials. They did their job in our nation’s early history and many of them carry great little inscriptions on the their backs. These usually relate to who they received it from in case it’s a fake, although I’ve seen grocery lists, too.
Prices are very affordable as it relates to what you get for what you pay. Some common notes can be purchased brand spanking new for less than $100. Others seem a great bargain given their historical background.
A New Jersey note signed by John Hart, a signer of the Declaration of Independence, can be had for $300 to $800 depending on condition. Notes engraved by Paul Revere sell for a lot less than his teapots.
You also are truly holding history in your hands. Continental Currency was counterfeited by the British as a weapon of war during the Revolution. The Union did the same thing to the Confederate States 85 years or so later. Many of the signers of Colonial currency were important people in the colonies. Eric Newman’s excellent reference, The Early Paper Money of America is a wonderful information source, with lots of historical information, as well as in-depth data on the signers of various issues.
For those of you who live on the East Coast, many states have a large variety of notes to collect. Those states include New York, Pennsylvania, Massachusetts, Rhode Island, or New Jersey, just to name a few. Dig into your home areas’ past. It can be addicting.
Take a look at your favorite dealer’s inventory the next time you go to a big show, or grab a copy of Bank Note Reporter, sister newspaper to Numismatic News published for paper money collectors. You can usually snare a free one at the Krause table at the American Numismatic Association convention, Central States, or other large shows.
Check out the dealer ads, too. You might be surprised. If you do choose Colonials, good hunting and I know it will be enjoyable.
Bill Brandimore is a paper money collector from Wausau, Wis.
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