Everyone has heard the saying that things can “turn on a dime,” meaning things turn quickly, and that is precisely what the realm of high-end, U.S. paper money has done.
Early this year, when we originally wrote a preface for the just-released 20th edition of Paper Money of the United States, the opening paragraph said: “It is fair to say that prices have recovered to realistic levels, and while another million dollar note any time soon is unlikely, mid six-figure prices are once again attainable when warranted.”
What a difference a couple of months make! We have had to rewrite the preface completely because, since then, four notes went on to break the million dollar barrier.
Three of them were sold by Heritage Auctions in April:
➤ A Series 1890 $1,000 Treasury note, Friedberg 379a (Paper Money of the United States by Arthur L. Friedberg and Ira S. Friedberg), brought $1,527,500.
➤ A Series 1891 $1,000 Treasury note, F-379c, sold for $2,585,000.
➤ A Series 1863 $10 gold certificate, F-1166c, realized $2,115,000.
The fourth note to speed past the million dollar mark was in a reported private sale June 12 by Stack’s Bowers Galleries: a Series 1891 $1,000 silver certificate (F-346e) that sold for $2.6 million.
Then, during the June 14 to 16 International Paper Money Show in Memphis, Tenn., Heritage announced the discovery of four previously unknown Series 1882 gold certificates, including a $500 note (F-1215d) that is the only one known in collector hands, and a $1,000 note (F-1281e) that is most likely the only one known in collector hands. It is safe to say that, with these discoveries, soon more notes will top $1 million.
So what happened? First, if you track the trade in the collectibles market over time, you will find that its ups and downs usually closely track that of the overall economy, so this should be expected.
Second, there has been a return of confidence. Buyers are once again ready to spend and sellers are no longer afraid they won’t receive their asking price.
Third, discovery fuels the market. When notes appear for the first time or after years off the market, their appearance generates momentum.
Rarity and quality are an elusive duo that together make their own timing. A knowledgeable collector understands that sometimes chances need to be taken to obtain certain “trophies” that one may never see again in a lifetime.
The sale of the Series 1891 $1,000 silver certificate is the third time since 2006 that a note has reportedly sold privately for more than $2 million. While this is does not necessarily portend a trend, it shows that auctions are not the only option for sellers of rare notes.
Private sales, for example, eliminate buyer’s fees and promotion costs and are an indication of the size of the market at this level.
Another 80-plus silver certificates from the same collection as the 1891 $1,000 rarity will not be sold privately but will be offered at auction during the Aug. 13 to 17 American Numismatic Association World’s Fair of Money in Rosemont, Ill. The decision to sell those notes at auction is recognition that there is no one best way to sell something, and that it is important to adjust to conditions and circumstances.