Types of U.S. Currency
[US Notes] [Silver Certificates] [Gold Certificates]

United States Notes/Legal Tender Notes

United States Notes are also known as Legal Tender Notes because of the wording of the obligation. These notes are the 2nd earliest type and longest issued U.S. paper currency to date. The issuance of these notes stirred a great deal of Constitutional debate over the legality of notes backed only by the credit of the U.S. government.

Large size U.S. Notes consisted of 5 issues from 1862 to 1923. All series were titled "United States Note" except for the series of 1869 which were titled "Treasury Note" and the series of 1862-1863 which had no title on the note. The wording of the obligation carried on the reverse of the notes was changed several times during the entire issue.

The first issue, dated March 10, 1862 consisted of all denominations from $5 to $1,000. The earlier notes in this series carry the following obligation:
"This note is legal tender for all debts, public and private, except duties on imports and interest on the public debt, and is exchangeable for U.S. six per cent twenty year bonds, redeemable at the pleasure of the United States after 5 years."

Later notes in this series, as well as notes from the second and third issue carry the following obligation:
"This note is legal tender for all debts, public and private, except duties on imports and interest on the public debt, and is receivable in payment of all loans made to the United States."

The second issue was dated August 1, 1862 and only issued in denominations of 1 and 2 dollars.

The third issue was dated March 10, 1863 and were issued in all denominations from $5 to $1,000 dollars.

The fourth issue, authorized by an Act of Congress on March 3, 1863 were issued in denominations from $1 to $10,000. Series dates consisted of 1869, 1874, 1875, 1878, 1880, 1907, 1917, and 1923. All of these notes carried the following obligation:
"The United States will pay to bearer __ dollars. This note is legal tender at its face value for all debts public and private, except duties on imports and interest on the public debt."
Series 1869
Series 1875
Series 1878
Series 1880
Series 1907
Series 1917
Series 1923

The fifth issue, authorized by the Legal Tender Act of 1862 and 1863, consisted only of the series 1901 $10 note.

The obligation on these notes was worded as follows:
"The United States of America will pay to the bearer ten dollars. This note is a Legal Tender for ten dollars subject to the provisions of Section 3588 R.S. This note is a Legal Tender at its face value for all debts public and private except duties on imports and interest on the public debt."

Small size United States Notes were issued in series 1928, 1953, 1963, and 1966 in denominations of $1, $2, $5 and $100, but not all denominations were issued for all series. The obligation carried on series starting in 1928 read as follows:
"This note is legal tender at its face value for all debts public and private except duties on imports and interest on the public debt."

The wording was changed again by an act of Congress on May 12, 1933 to read:
"This note is legal tender at its face value for all debts public and private"

The wording was changed still again with the series of 1963 to read:
"This note is legal tender for all debts, public and private"

The Act of May 3, 1878 required that circulation be maintained at $346,681,016. This was accomplished by the Treasury, in recent years, by moving the necessary amounts of the small size $100 notes, which were last printed in 1969, from one vault to another. This remained in effect until 1993 when the Legal Tender regulations were repealed. In 1996, disregarding talk of selling the obsolete small size $100 U.S. Notes to collectors, the remaining notes were destroyed.


Silver Certificates

Silver Certificates were authorized by Congressional Acts of Feb. 28, 1878 and Aug 4, 1886. In 1878, the U.S. economy was doing quite well and the need for silver coinage outstripped the available supply. The idea was not to replace coins, but to create an easier method of exchange. The government would hold the equivalent amount of silver coins and bullion and promise to redeem the certificates on demand.

Due to the Silver Purchase Act of 1934, the redemption clause was changed to allow redemption in Silver Dollars or Silver bullion and in March 1964, the Secretary of the Treasury halted redemption in Silver Dollars. Silver Certificate legislation was abolished by Congressional Act June 4, 1963 and all redemption in silver was halted in June 24, 1968.

Large size silver certificates consisted of 5 issues.

The first issue consisted of series 1878 and 1880 in denominations from $10 to $1,000. The obligation on these notes read, "This certifies that there have been deposited with the Treasurer of the U.S. at Washington D.C. payable at his office to the bearer on demand ___ silver Dollars. This certificate is receivable for customs, taxes and all public dues and when so received may be reissued."

The second issue consisted of series 1886, 1891, and 1908 in denominations of $1 to $1,000.
Series 1886
Series 1891
Series 1908

The third issue consisted of the "Educational" series 1896 in denominations of $1, $2, and $5.

The fourth issue was series 1899 in denominations of $1, $2, and $5.

The fifth issue of 1923 was printed in denominations of $1 and $5.

The obligation on the last four series of large size silver certificates read, "This certifies that there have been deposited in the Treasury of the United States ___ silver Dollars payable to the bearer on demand. This certificate is receivable for customs, taxes and all public dues and when so received may be reissued."

Small size silver certificates were issued in denominations of $1, $5 and $10 in series 1928, 1933, 1934, 1935, 1953, and 1957. The obligation on the 1928 series silver certificates stated that they were redemable for "One Silver Dollar", which was changed in 1934 to read "One Dollar in Silver."


Gold Certificates

Gold Certificates were authorized by the Currency Act of March 3, 1863 and were issued in series from 1865 to 1934. The earlier Gold Certificates, due to their higher face values, were not intended for general circulation, but were used almost exclusively in interbank channels to settle gold accounts.

70 years after being authorized, Gold Certificates met their demise by the Gold Reserve Act of 1933. On December 28, 1933 the Secretary of the Treasury, Henry Morgenthau, Jr., issued an order forbidding the holding of Gold Certificates and required their surrender. Banks were ordered to turn in all stocks of gold certificates as well as the general public. A provision had been made for collectors allowing them to retain their collection of gold coins, but this provision did not include Gold Certificates. Finally, 31 years later on April 24, 1964, the Secretary of the Treasury, C. Douglas Dillon, issued regulations removing all restrictions on the acquisition or holding of Gold Certificates which were issued by the US Government prior to January 30, 1934. This covered notes up to Series 1928 only.

LARGE SIZE

Large Size Gold Certificates consisted of 9 issues and were authorized by the Currency Act of March 3, 1863. The first, second, third and sixth issues were mainly used between banks and clearinghouses and not intended for general circulation.

The first issue was printed in denominations of $20, $100, $500, $1,000, $5,000 and $10,000 and is extremely rare. The obligation on the first and second issues read; "It is hereby certified that ___ dollars have been deposited with the Assistant Treasurer of the United States in New York payable in gold at his office to the bearer."

The second issue was printed in denominations of $100, $500, $1,000, $5,000 and $10,000 with only one example of the $500 note known.

The third issue consisted of series 1875 and was printed in denominations of $100, $500 and $1000 and was a blank back uniface design. The obligation on the third issue read; "It is hereby certified that ___ dollars have been deposited with the Assistant Treasurer of the United States payable in gold at his office to the order of ...." These notes were countersigned and dated by hand.

Gold Certificates entered general circulation with the fourth issue and the obligation was changed to read:
"This certifies that there have been deposited in the Treasury of the United States of America ___ Dollars in gold coin repayable to the bearer on demand." The word "repayable" was replaced with "payable" after series 1882. Series 1922 also bore the following: "This certificate is a legal tender in the amount thereof in payment of all debts and dues public and private. Acts of March 14, 1900, as amended and December 24, 1919."

The fourth issue consisted of series 1882 and was printed in denominations of $20, $50, $100, $500, $1,000, $5,000 and $10,000.

The fifth issue consisted of series 1888 and was printed in denominations of $5000 and $10000.

The sixth issue consisted of series 1900 and was printed in a $10,000 denomination only. This issue was used primarily between banks and clearing houses.

The seventh issue consisted of the following series and denominations:
Series 1905 $20 (Considered the most beautiful Gold Certificate because of a red seal and serial numbers and on the back, gold tinted center and gold border.)
Series 1906 $20
Series 1907 $10

The eighth issue consisted of series 1907 in a $1,000 denomination only.

The ninth issue consisted of the following series and denominations:
Series 1913 $50
Series 1922 $10, $20, $50, $100, $1,000

SMALL SIZE

Small Size Gold Certificates consisted of three series. The seals and serial numbers continued to be printed in gold ink, but the back lost the distinctive gold color and used the standardized green rear design of the other small size notes.

The obligation was changed to read: "This certifies that there have been deposited in the Treasury of the United States of America ___ Dollars in gold coin payable to the bearer on demand." "This certificate is a legal tender in the amount thereof in payment of all debts and dues public and private."

Series 1928 was printed in denominations of $10, $20, $50, $100, $1,000, $5,000 and $10,000.

Series 1928A was printed in denominations of $10, $20 and $100, but were never released to the public. BEP 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.

Series 1934 was printed in a $100,000 denomination only which was intended for use only in fiscal channels and was never released to general circulation. This would make them illegal to be held even by collectors.

© Copyright 2001 Ron Pfiester. All rights reserved.
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