Paper Money

Heritage sale shows strength of large-size market

The April 27 to May 2 Heritage Currency sale in Schaumberg, Ill., featured more than 3,000 lots in three floor sessions and one Internet-only section. The large-size note category, the one most observers look to when trying to categorize the state of the market, remains strong and active. Less than a dozen lots in the Friday floor session went unsold. Even though among issues that are readily available on the market no significant upward movement is observed, sales for notes at the upper levels of rarity and condition set records.

Five of the six large-size notes that sold for more than $50,000 broke the previous price record for a note in the same grade, if not for any grade ever. At $223,250, including the buyer’s fee, a Paper Money Guaranty-graded About Uncirculated 55 Series 1869 $50 United States note (Friedberg 151) surpassed the price Heritage got for an AU-58 example in 2013 by $47,000. This particular “Rainbow Note,” as the issue is known, had been off the market since 1983, and of the 64 known only three are graded higher.

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An F-1200 Series 1922 $50 gold certificate in PCGS Currency Superb Gem New 67 Premium Paper Quality owns the highest grade ever awarded by PCGS for the issue. It beat its own 2½-year-old record of $70,500 when it sold for $79,312.50. No other example has ever reached half that much at public auction. The reason is the premium that collectors are willing to pay for what they consider extraordinary — in this case original paper and perfect color and centering.

A $20 Series 1886 Silver Certificate (F-313) graded PMG Extremely Fine 40 that sold for $28,600 16 years ago went for $70,500 in the recent auction. Only 19 are known of this note, and although five are graded higher, none has hit the market in over a decade. The three Very Fine 30 notes that sold in the last three years were all in the $25,000 to $35,000 range, illustrating the geometric progression in prices as grades escalate.

Equally notable was the $54,050 paid for a Series 1891 $20 silver certificate (F-321) in PMG Gem Uncirculated 66 Exceptional Paper Quality that sold for $28,750 in 2008. This particular piece is the highest graded of the more than two dozen Uncirculated ones known. Until now, notes with a numerical grade of 66 by either of the two major grading services had been selling in the low $30,000 range when offered.

Thanks to a hoard located many years ago, loads of Series 1905 $20 gold certificates exist in very high (65+) grades, with the very top examples of these F-1180 “Technicolor Notes” fetching more than $100,000. But the PCGS Currency Very Choice New 64 example offered in the sale was not exactly for bargain hunters. It realized $54,050, twice what it sold for in 2012 and more in line with what notes graded a number or two higher have been selling for.

Finally, the only note to miss its mark did so only by a whisker. An example of the famous “Watermelon Note,” F-377 Series 1890 $100 United States note, sold for $152,750 in what PMG called Very Fine 25 Net because of restoration that the sale catalog said was “of virtually no consequence.” This is only the third Watermelon Note to be sold since 2012, when a PMG VF-25 note reached $161,000.

Three small-size Federal Reserve notes cracked the top 10 in prices realized. Two were Series 1934 $5,000 notes, one from Dallas for $211,500 in PMG Choice Uncirculated 64, and the other from St. Louis in PMG Choice EF-45 at $117,500. A $20/$10 1974 double-denomination note in PMG Choice Uncirculated 64 EPQ realized $37,600. 

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