12 Sep 2013

How Much are My Paper Notes Worth?

Paper billsPaper bills are about as straightforward as currency gets. Their value is literally spelled out across them, making their worth virtually undebatable, right? Well actually, it’s not that simple. While modern bills are pretty straightforward depending on what type of note they are, older currency can be worth hundreds and thousands of dollars, even if all that’s printed on it is a measly “$1”.

So how can you figure out the going rate of your money collection? Here are a few tips to help you get started.

Quality Grade

When it comes to any collector’s item, quality is of utmost importance. Paper note collectors use a grading scale that ranges from poor (torn, taped, and faded), to uncirculated (brand new condition with no defects). While notes in rough shape that are extremely rare will still have some value, in general they will only be worth a fraction of the price of a bill that’s in nearly uncirculated condition.

Year of Issue

As is the case with almost all collectibles, age is one of most important factors when it comes gauging value. A $20 bill from 2012 isn’t going to be worth any more than one from 2013, but the same currency from 1912 will have an exponentially higher price tag. Furthermore, some years will have had an extremely low number of bills issued as a result of economic circumstances, making these notes extremely collectible.

Serial Number

The digits in front of the dollar sign aren’t the only important numbers on your paper notes. Serial numbers can also mean a lot in terms of value, especially if they’re deemed unique. As is outlined on “Ron’s currency, stocks, and bonds” Some examples of unique serial numbers include: low numbers (A00000024A), 6-8 same digits (A333333333A), or numbers which read the same forwards and backwards (A12344321A).


Not to be confused with a low-quality bank note, bills with manufacturing errors can actually be worth much more than their perfect cousins because of their rarity. The US Error Note Encyclopedia writes: “A Currency Error is any note that does not meet the minimum quality standards of the bureau of engraving and printing, but still somehow manages to escape being pulled during the many human and mechanical inspections.” These can include cutting errors, inking errors, and missing designs.

Dollar Value

Although we’ve been stressing how little impact the actual dollar value of your paper note has on its worth, it’s still important. Many “less honest” collectors may try to lowball you by say, offering $90 for a shoddy and torn $100 bill. Don’t fall for it, any official federal bank note is worth at least as much as the number on it, regardless of how old it is, so even if it’s not worth a fortune, it’s still worth something!

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