Paper Money

Low grade notes desirable

Even though significant parts of this note are missing, it is still highly valued and collectible to those who understand its rarity as the only known example.

Image courtesy of author.

Mention third-party grading and most people’s minds picture gem Uncirculated notes nestled in the polyester embrace of their favorite grading service’s holders.

For most obsolete paper money collectors, however, third-party grading is a minor consideration, or at least it should be. Here’s why.

Most obsolete paper money is quite rare on both a relative and absolute basis. Great rarities abound, with perhaps only one or two surviving examples known.

Don’t walk away from a rare note just because it has condition issues. You may never find another one, and if you do, you will usually find a willing buyer for the note that you have been able to upgrade.

Most obsolete notes circulated to the verge of physical destruction. Knowledgeable collectors understand and accept this and collect notes based on their rarity and not simply because the notes are in flawless condition.

Most obsolete notes in perfect condition are so-called “remainders.” When a bank closed, failed or stopped issuing particular notes, uncut sheets of unissued or partially issued notes were often left over. Many of these notes have come down to us today after these sheets were cut up to be sold as individual notes. Notes from the Canal Bank of New Orleans, for example, are still very common today and almost always come as Crisp Uncirculated examples.

Fully issued examples in more humble grades are worth multiples of the high-grade notes’ valuation.

Another example is the Franklin Silk Co. notes from Ohio. Due to the discovery of a cache of uncut sheets a number of years ago, virtually every note known is a very high grade, unissued remainder. Again, they all grade high and they’re all common. The true rarities are two fully issued notes that grade Very Good and sell for six to 10 times the price of their perfect condition brethren.

The price curve on obsolete bank notes is quite flat compared to coins. Most notes come in just a few grades, maybe “wretched,” “decent” and “really nice” with the prices for this range of conditions going from $50 to $250. And remember, many of the great rarities may not come in those higher two grades.

As proof of this situation with obsoletes, consider this. When was the last time you ever saw a dealer and collector of obsolete paper money arguing over whether the note was Very Good or Fine?

I’ve never seen it happen and I bet you haven’t either! Enjoy these rarities for what they are.

Wendell Wolka has been a paper money collector and educator for more than 40 years. If you have questions or suggestions, you can reach him by email at, or by mail at Box 1211, Greenwood, IN 46142. Send a self-addressed, stamped envelope if a written response is required.

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