Exploring the collecting of autographed Colonial, modern notes

From courtesy autographs to celebrity signatures, signed notes can offer a great entry point into the hobby
By , Coin World
Published : 10/15/15
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Editor's note: The following is the first of a three-part series on autographed notes that appears in the Nov. 2, 2015, issue of Coin World.

Collecting autographed notes is a solid access point to begin collecting paper money, just as these notes provide a way for an experienced collector to delve deeper in the hobby. 

Typically, what comes to mind regarding signed notes are modern U.S. notes with a handwritten autograph, a “courtesy signature,” of the treasurer of the United States or the Treasury Secretary above the plate signature that is printed on every note. 

In Colonial times, notes were signed individually. Some of the men who signed Colonial currency also signed the Declaration of Independence and the signed notes are the primary way to collect their signatures today. 

Finally, celebrities sign their name on many things, sometimes including money, which makes the signed note fall in both the numismatic and entertainment memorabilia categories. 

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‘Courtesy’ signed notes

With the millions upon millions of individual notes produced by the Bureau of Engraving and Printing each year, it’s obvious that the treasurer and Treasury secretary cannot sign every note. Because of this, their signatures are put on the printing plates and so appear uniformly on each note. 

At some coin shows and other events, a Treasury official, most often the U.S. treasurer, signs what are known as “courtesy autographs,” where the official personally autographs a note above the facsimile signature. Usually collectors provide $1 and $2 notes for the signing, although higher denominations are seen. 

This collecting area took off in the 1950s and 1960s, corresponding with the rise of coin collecting more generally, although earlier examples can be found. All treasurers and secretaries of the Treasury since the 1950s have autographed bills. 

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