The highest denomination U.S. paper money currently in use in general circulation is the $100 Federal Reserve note, which bears the portrait of statesman and inventor Benjamin Franklin on its face. The latest issue, the Series 2009 $100 Federal Reserve notes, printed under the NextGen program and incorporating sophisticated anti-counterfeiting devices, began entering circulation in March 2016, five years behind schedule because of production problems.
From 1861 to 1945, the Bureau of Engraving and Printing — which has officially produced U.S. paper money since 1862 — printed $500, $1,000, $5,000, $10,000 and even $100,000 notes, but not necessarily for general commerce. Some denominations were reserved for exclusive use in transferring large sums of money between banks.
All together, 11 different types of U.S. paper money were issued bearing denominations of $500 and higher spanning 20 different series dates.
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During the Federal note issuing period beginning during the Civil War, the earliest high-denomination notes included three-year interest-bearing notes of $500, $1,000 and $5,000 face values that were congressionally authorized on July 17, 1861.
Series 1934 gold certificates denominated $100, $1,000, $10,000 and $100,000 were issued after the repeal of the gold standard, when most gold was required to be surrendered to the federal government under provisions of President Franklin Roosevelt’s Executive Order 6102. As a consequence of that presidential directive, none of those gold certificates were issued to the public; they were relegated to only transactions between Federal Reserve Banks. Production of Series 1934 gold certificates ended in calendar-year 1940.
Although no longer printed, high-denomination notes of $500 and higher are still considered legal tender in the United States. Notes in denominations higher than $100 were last printed by the BEP on Dec. 27, 1945, but released over the next more than two decades.
If you come across any of the high denomination notes in your numismatic travels, they are still considered legal tender, but one would be smarter to direct such acquisitions to a well-heeled collector.
For example, a Series 1934 $10,000 Federal Reserve note, graded Currency Grading & Authentication Gem Uncirculated 65, realized $70,150 in a September 2005 Heritage Auctions sale.
A Paper Money Guaranty Choice Uncirculated 64 Series 1934 $5,000 Federal Reserve note brought $164,500 in a May 20, 2015, sale conducted by Stack’s Bowers Galleries and Sotheby’s.
Apparent lack of use was cited by the Federal Reserve for officially discontinuing use of high-denominated notes in transactions as of July 14, 1969. The $5,000 and $10,000 notes had effectively disappeared from use well before that date, according to the Treasury Department.
President Nixon issued an executive order July 14, 1969, initiating withdrawal from circulation through the Federal Reserve of high-denomination notes above $100.
According to government sources, fewer than 170,000 $1,000 notes, and fewer than 400 notes each of the $5,000 and $10,000 issues from all series are reported extant.
In total, 100 of the extant $10,000 notes were displayed in an acrylic enclosure beginning in 1951 in the entryway to Binion’s Horseshoe Hotel & Casino in Las Vegas, Nev. The exhibit was dismantled in 2000 after the notes were sold to an individual buyer and then resold as individual notes to collectors. All of the Binion notes are Series 1934 Federal Reserve notes.
What could such highly denominated notes be used for?