"I have such and such note. What is it worth?" is the most common question I get in emails and comments. It's extremely difficult to answer because there are many factors to consider. Finding the answer often takes time and effort - more than I can reasonable give to the dozens of weekly requests. Luckily there are tools available to help determine what a note might be worth.
Option 1: Reference Books
Every currency collector should own at least one reference book - they are the simplest way to get an idea of your note's value. They typically break down note values by note type, denomination, series, and FRB/block letter (or star note). All you need to do is find the right page! Books will give you a value range for a variety of conditions. Find the one that best matches your note and voila - your question is answered.
Recommended Reference Books
- Standard Catalog of United States Paper Money
- A Guide Book of United States Paper Money
- The Standard Guide To Small-Size US Paper Money 1928 To Date
- Paper Money of the United States
Get more details about these reference books here.
Reference Book Limitations
The values shown in reference books are referred to as "book value." The term implies caution: real world values don't always match theoretical book values. Additionally, books can quickly become out-of-date as new notes are printed and markets change. They're also not very helpful with extremely unique notes such as a star note with a fancy serial number, or an old note with a printing error, etc.
Option 2: Online Auction Results
The best place to find a "real world" value for your note is to look in the...real world. Where is that? The two best sources I know of are ebay and Heritage Auctions.
Using ebay's advanced search you can search the "Coins and Paper Money Category" for your specific note to find similar active listings. You can include past auctions by checking "Sold listings" and "Completed Listings." This will give you a lot of information to consume:
- How many similar notes to yours have been listed and sold
- How much they sold for
- If they went unsold, what price does the market consider too high
Heritage allows collectors search their auction archives to see the prices that notes sold for. (If the link above doesn't work, go https://currency.ha.com and click on "All Sold.") Guests can search the archives but you must be a registered collector to see the final prices. Creating an account is completely free so there's not reason not to join. Being able to access the 500,000+ sold item prices is extremely useful.
When searching ebay and Heritage Auctions, it is crucial to compare apples to apples. You must find the most similar notes as possible to get a good estimate of your note's value.
- Note condition is critical. How does yours compare to the ones you see in the searches? Values go down considerably from uncirculated to circulated.
- Serial numbers too. Notes from different FRB's or star note runs can have drastically different values.
- When did the auction end? The more recent the auction completed, the more relevant the result is.
Online Auction Result Limitations
Searching auction archives is extremely powerful, but there still are some limitations. For example: a new star note run was printed and it is extremely rare. There won't be any auctions to compare against to estimate value. Another example: you found an misprinted note with a fancy serial number. It's so unique that there aren't any similar auctions.
Option 3: Local Currency/Coin Dealer
If you have a local coin/currency dealer, they could be a good resource for getting value estimates for notes that are too new for books and too unique for auctions. They buy and sell every day and likely have seen a note similar to yours somewhere at some time.
Currency dealers always try to buy low and sell high. They need to make a profit to cover their store's rent, expenses, wages, etc. There's nothing wrong with that, but keep it in mind. I wouldn't recommend walking into a currency/coin shop and blindly selling my note for the first offer. You should do some research on your own (see options 1 and 2) and/or get a second opinion from a different dealer.
- Reference books will get you to within a value range with the least effort, but are limited to older, less unique notes.
- Looking at online auction archives can reveal real-world pricing and supply of notes similar to yours. Searching the archives takes time, effort, and some experience to understand.
- Your local currency dealer buys and sells currency for a living. They likely have a decent sense for what your note is worth, but they're looking to make a profit as well.
Still don't know what it's worth? List it on ebay and you'll find out.