As paper money collectors awaited the annual
International Paper Money Show in Memphis, Tenn., from June 18 to 21,
they had a chance to review the state of the various sections of the
market at midyear.
The glamour and attention has historically always gone to large-size
type notes, and it still does. The diversity of types and designs
makes most of them easy to collect in the lower grades, where some
prices may have softened a little but are stable. Higher graded notes
and rarities have for the most part gravitated to the auction market,
where the number of sales and the quantity of individual lots in each
sale are plentiful, and where the momentum of the market shows no
signs of weakening.
Several changes in the way better notes are handled have by now been
institutionalized. The first is the market’s insistence on third-party
authentication and grading. Second is the expansion of grades in the
Uncirculated category. The market progressed from one grade a
generation or two ago, to three — Uncirculated (60), Choice (63) and
Gem (65) — and now to 11 grades from Uncirculated 60 in numerical
sequence all the way to the theoretically perfect Gem Uncirculated 70.
Third, within the Uncirculated grades, “extra credit” is given for
outstanding paper quality. It is somewhat hard to explain how a note
at the very top grade could possess inferior paper.
Collecting at this elevated level is not for the faint-hearted or
inexperienced, in which case working with an veteran dealer is a wise
decision. The appeal of a superb quality note can result in price
differences of geometric multiples between, for example, items graded
Gem 65 to Gem 68.
In some ways, the small-size note market is catching up,
particularly within the categories of early silver certificates, legal
tender notes, star notes, and especially, high denominations. Despite
what at first glance appeared to be a recent glut of the latter, all
notes offered were absorbed into the market at strong prices.
Small-size notes in the highest grades with good paper, margins and
embossing are bringing exuberant prices, as are ones with low and
other special serial numbers. Error notes draw attention in every sale
with prices remaining strong and consistent.
Some national bank notes are truly rare, and, when offered, command
attention and high prices regardless of condition. Part of the appeal
of national bank notes is the potential for the discovery of things
previously unknown. The past year alone at least half a dozen such
notes have come to light. Usually discoveries take the form of a new
type from a bank or a state. Last year one even warranted the creation
of a new Friedberg number (545a) for a series 1882 Date Back $10 note.
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