Documents of the pre-federal era, particularly in the period of the
American Revolution, reveal the enormous role paper money played in
the lives of everyday Americans.
Its rise and fall had an enormous impact on the Framers, making 18th
century paper money even more important to students of history and
economics than the coins of the era. The notes are beautiful, the
number of impossible rarities is far outweighed by the proportion of
issues that are easy to find, and many notes are available in nearly
New condition. What’s not to love?
Continental currency is, clearly, the most popular segment of this
market. It makes sense that folks would enjoy collecting our first
federal currency, the stuff that paid the soldiers and suppliers of
the Continental Army. Its simplicity is appealing: 11 resolutions from
1775 to 1779, 23 different denominations from $1/6 to $80, 102 total
notes required for a complete set. Most notes are easily acquired, and
nearly all can be had in About Uncirculated or Uncirculated grades.
The diversity of devices, and their connection to Benjamin Franklin,
is a visual and historical feast.
What mystifies me relates to the grading and pricing structure: If a
modern collector or dealer cuts single notes from a miraculously
intact uncut sheet precisely enough that the notes have nice broad,
square borders, they merit extraordinary numerical grades.
Such notes sell for enormous prices compared to single notes that
may have been cut in the 1770s, as those examples were often trimmed
less precisely and may have received — heaven forbid — some wear.
Notes from the individual colonies and states rarely bring prices
close to the sums realized by these super high grade Continental
notes, despite being significantly scarcer on the whole, excepting
hoard issues like 1776-dated notes from Delaware and Pennsylvania or
the 1786 Rhode Island issues.
Even astounding rarities from the Original Thirteen Colonies sell
for less than high grade Continental notes for one simple reason: demand.
Many collectors like Continental currency. Colonial and state notes,
however, tend to be sought after by specialists in one state or
another, and the number of collectors who avidly pursue all the issues
from some individual states could be counted on one hand.
If some of the collectors who complete their Continental currency
sets would discover the fun of collecting the colonial and state paper
money issues, the market could look considerably different.