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What is the right grade to seek for notes?

Auction action is one method of gauging the market. Currently it appears that while great notes are up, really good notes seem a bit soft, especially in circulated collector grades.
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By Bill Brandimore

Auction action is one method of gauging the market. Currently it appears that while great notes are up, really good notes seem a bit soft, especially in circulated collector grades.


If you want nice looking notes, I recommend not putting away anything in less than Very Fine 25 condition. Very Fine 20 notes with a bit of soiling or minor imperfections will be harder to find buyers for in the event you want to sell and improve your notes, or just for resale consideration.

I prefer nice Extra Fine 40 notes or a bit better. You usually get great color, perhaps some embossing and a nice look. These are the notes many budget-oriented collectors look for. Of course, the Almost Uncirculated 58 note is a special treat. These 58 notes look like Gems with some small imperfection that frequently is very hard to spot.

Right now it looks like some of the nickname notes are a bit more affordable. Indian Chiefs and Buffaloes in Very Fine have been a bit soft. Both these notes seem to hold their own in Extra Fine and above.

Small-size $1 Federal Reserve Notes need to be strong Choice or Gem uncirculated to be collectible except in cases of the very rarest notes. Many of these Federal Reserve Notes were put away in packs. Most of them can be found with a bit of looking.

National Bank Notes also seem to be suffering a bit when in low grade. Type collectors want nice uncirculated notes. True bank rarities, however, will bring great prices if a geographical location has two or more deep-pocket collectors.

Don’t be ashamed to purchase a rare National Bank Note in low grade. You might not see it or any other one again. Of course, finances have to be considered, but don’t expect to steal a rare bank example.

Eric P. Newman’s reference work doesn’t even give prices for some scarce Colonial notes above Very Fine. Third-party grading, however, has made an impression in this field as well. Not too many Superb Gem 67 or 68s are out there to hype, however.

Back in Colonial times people didn’t put away packs for long-term investment purposes. I like Colonials, especially putting together a 13 colony set. Some of the Colonials are tough, New Hampshire and Georgia, for example, but it is not an impossible feat for the ordinary collector.

Whatever you do, be careful purchasing notes designated “Apparent” by a third-party grading service. Unless it is a really rare item, the “Apparent” tag is the kiss of death. California National Gold Bank Notes all seem to come that way – just don’t pay full catalog for one.

Ten dollar Robert Morris Silver Certificates and $20 Stephen Decatur notes also seem hard to find without the “Apparent” tag. Hopefully, we’ll be able to solve some pricing problems with Decatur notes.

When you use this price guide, sometimes there is just too much identifying data and that can cause some prices to not line up properly in the columns. If you spot one of these computer-generated glitches, let me know. In the last few issues, I have spotted Fine prices that were pushed out under the Extra Fine designator and Extra Fine prices under the Choice Uncirculated listing. The prices are properly displayed in the annual catalog as there’s enough room. For now, you should note that we only show Fine and Extra Fine prices for some rare notes.

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