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High Denominations

There are two types of small size high denomination notes – Gold Certificates and Federal Reserve Notes. These notes were printed for different series at different times. It’s important to understand which notes were printed, issued and delivered if they were in fact intended for general circulation. One can then determine which of these issues are “collectible”, which notes are legal to own yet “unobtainable”, and which notes are illegal to own and should be considered “government property”.

Gold Certificates

Small size Gold Certificates were printed for three different Series – 1928, 1928A, and 1934. The only regularly issued Gold Certificates came from the Series of 1928 (these were actually printed in 1929 and were in use from 1929 to 1933). The signature combination on these notes is Woods and Mellon. Seals and serial numbers were printed in distinctive gold ink although the actual color resembles orange / yellow. The backs were printed in green ink as seen on the reverse of our standard small size FRNs today. Denominations of 1928 Gold Certificates printed and issued were: $10, $20, $50, $100, $500, $1000, $5000, and $10,000.

The four lower denominations are generally available. The Series 1928 $500 and $1000 Gold Certificates are considerably more expensive with uncirculated examples running well into the five-figure range. Interestingly, the 1928 $1000 Gold Certificate has a large blank area on the right where the denomination would normally have been printed. This makes for a most unusual look. This author speculates approximately 150-200 of each $500 and $1000 Gold Certificates are extant. The majority of survivors have been heavily processed or “improved”- look for closed pinholes on many of these. Unmolested, original examples are the exception and should be considered rare.
Also issued for Series of 1928 were the $5000 and $10,000 Gold Certificates. These notes (as with all small size Gold Certificates) were immediately recalled following the Gold Reserve Act of 1933. It is therefore unlikely that any exist outside of institutions and government archives. They are however entirely legal to own. One of these notes surfacing would certainly make for the ultimate discovery note. Currently there are none in private hands.

Series 1928A Gold Certificates were printed in denominations $10, $20 and $100.  BEP (Bureau of Engraving And Printing)  records indicate that notes were delivered, but none appear to have been released to the public. There is some discrepancy as to whether these notes were destroyed or whether they are in a storage vault at the United States Treasury building in Washington, DC. The notes are infact legal to possess but should in all likelihood be considered unobtainable.
Woodrow Wilson is depicted on the Series 1934 $100,000 Gold Certificate. It is the highest denomination printed for all Federal paper money. The $100,000 Gold Certs were intended for use in fiscal channels only and not general circulation. The notes are strictly government property and are not legal to own. From time to time the notes can be seen in BEP exhibits at larger coin or currency shows.

Federal Reserve Notes

$500 and $1000 Federal Reserve Notes were printed for Series 1928, 1934 and 1934A. $5000 and $10,000 Federal Reserve Notes were printed for Series 1928 and 1934. These regularly issued high denomination FRNs were printed up until 1946 although they continued to circulate until 1969.  A handful of Specimen notes were also printed for Series 1934B and 1934C. These Specimens are uniface and not considered legal tender.

There were twelve issuing districts for series 1928, 1934 and 1934A $500s and $1000s with the following exceptions…there were no 1934A Boston $500 FRNs, and there were no 1934A Dallas $1000 FRNs. A complete district set of $500s would therefore consist of 35 notes and the same can be said for $1000s. Completing a 35-piece district set is a very popular way to collect. Collecting all 12 districts of one series and one denomination (in highest possible grade) is also very popular.

Print quantities for each district vary, as do survival rates. Print figures can be deceptive as some notes may show a high printing but can be very rare ( eg. 1928 $500 FRN Boston District).  Other notes show lower printing but may be easily available due to hoarding.

$500 and $1000 replacement (notes with a star in the serial number) do exist. Collecting high denom star notes by district can be extremely challenging. The 1928 stars are ultra rarities. Putting together a district set of 1934 stars is possible although the number of complete sets are limited by the availability of certain districts. For example, the 1934 $1000 New York star is a rarity. This is ironic as the “B” district was one of the most prolific issuers of non-replacements. The Series 1934A stars are even more rare than the Series 1934 replacements.

There are significant seal color variations for $500 and $1000 FRNs. The Series 1928 notes come in five seal colors ranging from deep forest green to olive green. The olive green is often called “light green seal”. Seal color collecting for this series has not yet hit the mainstream as data is still being collected. However, series 1934 high denoms are highly collectible by seal color. There are three seal color variations for 1934: Dark Green Seal, Light Green Seal and Transitional Green Seal. The LGS variety is for the earlier serial numbered notes. These 1934 LGS or “lime green seal” notes are avidly collected – 1934A $500s and $1000s come in dark green seal only. Contrary to popular belief 1934 $5000 and $10,000 FRNs were all issued light green seal.

$5000 and $10,000 FRNs are very rare yet among the most popular U.S. currency issues. Putting together a district set is prohibitive and most collectors find type (one example from each denomination) to be more than sufficient. BEP records indicate 674 pieces outstanding (340 $5000s and 334 $10,000s). Actual numbers recorded/reported in the field is closer to half of the BEP numbers. Regardless of the exact numbers, demand consistently outstrips supply for these ultra high denoms.