Banknote Collecting, For the New Banknote Collector

Banknote Grading: Grading the Notes you acquire

Depending on how you’ve acquired any notes you may now have in your collection or accumulation of worldwide currency, probably you have already entered into the exciting and sometimes controversial realm of grading. Grading means assigning a condition of preservation to a note. Happily, banknote grading is, in my opinion, generally easier to master than coin grading and therefore not quite so subject to broad interpretation and controversy as is the grading of a coin. For one thing, a note is basically a two-dimensional object, while a coin is three-dimensional. The grades that banknote collectors use are essentially analogous to that of the coin collector, although the 70-point grading scale, where the state of UNCIRCULATED is broken up into eleven different substates (MS-60 to 70), is starting to rear its ugly head in the world of banknotes, though seemingly restricted for the moment to the more rare U. S. and world notes.

In any case, if you’re actively acquiring notes by buying or trading for them, you need to have a good working knowledge of grading so that you can make astute decisions when purchasing or swapping these items. Also, you’ll probably want to get an idea of what the items you already have may be worth. To some collectors, this monetary value is of little concern and they collect what they like (and what they are able to afford) without regard to the value the item might bring in the collector market. In fact these collectors may well derive the most pure pleasure from their holdings. Most paper money collectors, however, like to think that what they’re buying may at some future date appreciate in value. Whether this will be the case or not, as some issues do indeed go up in value while others do not or remain static, in order to determine a reasonable range of value for most notes, it is necessary to be able to identify what you have correctly and be able to determine its state of preservation accurately using standards widely accepted by the collecting community.

Let’s then look at the subject of grading, keeping in mind that the collector must develop his own standards based on his interpretation of the commonly-accepted system devised by the International Banknote Society, of which we will speak later. We’ll start with the lowest grades and work our way up the scale. Be aware that you should examine a note out of its holder under a strong light in order to be able to see the true condition of the bill. This is especially important for high-grade notes, as some light creases and flaws are very difficult to detect except under the best lighting conditions.

Note – a some point in the future we will try to get some high resolution scans of examples of notes in various grades.

POOR – a virtual ‘dog,’ generally a raggy, dirty, torn and sometimes taped-up poor-excuse of a banknote that has seen better days and is generally collectible only as a filler unless it is extremely rare.

FAIR – this is barely one step up, maybe not quite so raggy or dirty but perhaps missing a piece or more of the note along with other defects. This grade still exhibits extreme limpness generally.

GOOD – like the grade ‘GOOD’ for a coin, GOOD really isn’t so good although it is possible to have a semi-attractive note that still grades only GOOD due to the fact that it may have tears and small missing pieces as well as heavy creasing. Most GOOD notes have seen a lot of circulation and will show evidence of this such as many heavy folds, stains, edge tears perhaps extending into the design, pinholes, a center hole from excessive folding, etc.

VERY GOOD (VG) – this grade will have fewer or less severe defects than the grade of GOOD and a number of VG notes are in fact quite attractive, especially instances where a note has been folded and refolded numerous times on the same creases, wearing a small hole through center and maybe causing a tear to appear in the design. At this point I want to introduce the notion of split grades, that is, an instance where the note is clearly better than GOOD but not quite VG. In this case, we might call the grade G-VG or G+ or even aVG (about very good). Experience is the best teacher for this; after you’ve handled dozens of well-used notes, you may feel more comfortable about split grading. Maybe you’ll never feel comfortable because you might not even like the idea. We use split grades on occasion and believe most dealers and collectors do. I am less enthusiastic about the use of a 70-point grading scale such as is used for grading coins; more on this when we get there.

This Algerian note is graded Very Good
Available at

FINE – this grade exhibits still considerable circulation with a number of creases, folds, wrinkles, minor border tears (which cannot enter the design portion of the note), and maybe a few pin or staple holes. At this point, a note is appearing somewhat attractive at least. After handling enough different notes, you’ll come across some that appear to meet or exceed a certain grade except for some defect. Usually, this is handled by assigning that grade to the note but following it with a description of the defect. For example, you might have a note that is at least a FINE except for that somewhat obvious stain in which case you would describe it as FINE but stained or FINE but moderately stained or FINE but heavy corner stain, etc., whatever the case might be. Naturally the value of a note like this would normally be lower than a defect-free note of the same grade. Generally the higher grade a note is, the more ‘picky’ you should be about describing a defect that is not a normal characteristic of that grade. For example a VERY FINE note with a tiny tear or two might be listed as VF but border tear or could just be downgraded to F-VF or “net F-VF,” though the tear should still be described.

VERY FINE (VF) – Moving along, we start getting into the truly bright and more attractive notes in the VF grade and up. General characteristics of a VF note include: not more than a few vertical/and horizontal folds, a crisp paper, edges and corners can show slight wear but no tears are found in the border areas or anywhere else for that matter on the typical VF note. A slight amount of soil or smudging can be present but this should really be minimal in my opinion.

This Chinese note is grade VF
Available at

EXTREMELY FINE (EF) – This is an extremely attractive note, showing only minor evidence of handling. According to the grading standards of the International Bank Note Society, or IBNS, an EF note may exhibit ‘a maximum of three light folds or one strong crease.’ An EF note is bright and without signs of soil. To the casual observer, it should appear just about new. There will be only very minute wear on the corners or edges.

This Afghani note is rated EF
Available at

ABOUT UNCIRCULATED (au-UNC) – The next step up from extremely fine, this is a note which would grade uncirculated except for some very minor handling or use such as a so-called wallet fold where the note has a very light fold (not a creased fold). An AU note might have a slight bend or wrinkle from being counted. In any case, this remains a very bright, new-looking note. An AU-UNC designation is often applied to notes with an extremely inconspicuous counting wrinkle, or a note which might have a tiny corner nick, rippled surface of the paper (due to humidity or some other environmental condition), or a note having a so-called dimple at the top of the security strip. Another term used for such an AU-UNC note may be “borderline uncirculated.”

UNCIRCULATED (UNC) – New, as issued, with no defects with one possible exception. It is possible to have an UNC note that has staple holes, this due to the fact that some countries, including India and Pakistan, normally staple quantities of notes together prior to issue. In this case, a description of ‘UNC – usual staple holes’ is the rule. Otherwise, an uncirculated note is just that. More so in regards to U. S. paper currency but also occasionally used in describing UNC world notes are the adjectives ‘choice’ and ‘gem.’ I could see a particularly well-centered, attractive note perhaps earning one of these designations, however, I’m not convinced we need both terms. This mainly due to the concern that people would next move toward a silly multi-point UNC grading system like that of coins, particularly U. S. coins. In fact this has come to pass. Some very rare and not rae at all U. S. and world notes are being “slabbed” (put in special sealed holders) and commercially graded by numismatic grading companies using the 70-point scale. It has become a big business and most expensive notes today are slabbed sooner or later. Whether this is a good thing has been a matter of debate among collectors and some dealers as well. I would say third-party grading might be useful to determine authenticity of a valuable note and “perhaps useful” as a second opinion on grading.

Just my personal take on this, but it seems like a convenient way to squeeze a lot more dollars for a “superb gem UNC MS-66 note.” To newcomers to the numismatic community, “MS” refers to mint state (i. e. Uncirculated) and the “66” part indicates the relative “grade of uncirculation” with 60 being the lowest and 70 the ultimate or theoretically “perfect” note. About Uncirculated would range from 50 to 59, etc. This system has been in use for a number of years now in the coin business. The worst part is the difference in a coin’s value from a single key grading range (say MS-65 to MS-66) can be thousands of dollars for a “rare” item. This great difference in perceived value by some is why the whole grading system is controversial by nature because grading, is, in the final analysis, subjective (i. e. “beauty is in the eye of the beholder”). I believe a note will stand on its own; if it’s hard to find, attractive, and actively sought by collectors, it’s going to bring a better price. Many world notes are also common, but so attractive that they are always eagerly snapped up by enthusiastic collectors. But, I digress…

Another item to perhaps bear in mind, the grading system for U. S. notes is similar in many ways to that of world notes, but it has been my experience that the world system is generally more conservative, particularly for the upper grades. I have seen ads like “UNC – 1 fold.” What does that mean? Sounds like an EF or AU note to me (EF if creased, AU if just a light fold or “wallet bend”).

An additional point – notes, like coins, have sometimes been cleaned or had their appearance improved in some way. Some collectors have no problem with this, others feel, as with coins, that the items shouldn’t be altered in any way. For notes, alterations can include actually washing the note (literally “laundering money!”), trimming it, erasing graffiti, pressing the note, mending tears, etc. The buyer should be aware that a note can be washed and pressed to improve its grade and a note altered in this way should not command the price of a note naturally appearing in this grade. A word of advice on mending tears, if you are inclined to mend tears, please don’t use cellophane tape. Sooner or later it makes a mess of whatever its been taped to as it turns yellow and brittle. If you feel you need to tape a tear, use the permanent translucent tape that’s now widely available.

The best advise I can give you is to try and look at lots of notes, offered by a multitude of dealers/sellers and see how (or if) they grade their items. Some online sellers “cop out” of grading by saying to look at the scan or scans and come up with your own grade. This might be fine and dandy except it is very difficult to determine the grade of a note unless it is a very high resolution scan and also not possible to determine if the item being offered is genuine from a scan. In the long term, having one or more experienced and trusted dealers to work with to build your collection is invaluable. Scans are great to show you the general design of a note. Some scans on this site are of the actual note being sold when it is a one-of-a-kind (particularly circulated notes). But for many bills, a generic scan is all that is used due to time constraints. Since time is money, it’s just not profitable for a dealer to individually scan each of a group of notes that may be selling for less than a dollar to a few dollars each. There are so many hours in a day and a dealer needs to use them wisely in order to remain in business.

Hopefully this clarifies grading a little if you’re a beginner or at least serves to demonstrate my interpretation of it and what kind of grading criteria you should expect and demand from my company. Clients have been, I am happy to report, very pleased with the quality of service as the return rate for notes has been a tiny fraction of far less than one percent. Indeed, most returns are due to a collector having accidentally ordered an item which he/she already had in his/her collection. With grading under your belt, you can then start to determine a valuation range for your notes.

Banknote Collecting

October Newsletter – Currency Banknotes

Here we are halfway through September and just about into Fall.  The time sure flies by!  It seems like it was just a month ago we launched, but actually it has been much longer.  Hope you have had a great summer wherever you live and looking forward to getting back into the “collecting groove” (if you ever left it)!

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Since our launch, we have added many more items and attracted some new collecting friends. We are trying to get as many interesting products as possible on there.  We have lots of notes and other related collectibles, it all just takes time as I am mostly a one-man show as far as listing goes although now getting some help from Rev. Nate our webmaster.  Thanks to his efforts, I think we have a pretty well-thought-out and hopefully accessible storefront for all our goodies!

The biggest obstacle to listing new notes is the scanning process.  It takes quite a bit of effort to scan in any note and add it in, even though Nate has made it pretty straightforward for me.  I try to add in notes of all price ranges from cheap to intermediate.  To be honest, adding in a cheap note, especially when it is a one-of-a-kind, is not really worth it from a dealer’s point of view, but I think it’s important to provide my lower-budget customers with as many products as possible.  So I have made the effort and you will find quite a few notes most other dealers won’t bother listing, and at prices that will hopefully wet your whistle.

We value our repeat customers and also welcome the new ones to our fold.  The latter is silver, the former, gold!  As a repeat customer, you should definitely take advantage of the opportunity to become a free member of  It offers you an instant 10% discount and access to offers that will not be available to the casual buyer.  In addition, we have plans to increase our member discount in the near future and are working towards that goal as I write.  So do sign up and use your free membership to get your maximum benefit.

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We have added in a few wholesale lots recently of multiples of the same note we have in quantity for investors and dealers.  Of course, lots more of them to offer as well, and I’m redoing the wholesale list so it coordinates with the retail products.

One thing I have been thinking about offering is a “virtual junk box” section that would quickly list some inexpensive items without scans and offer at very low prices for you bargain-seekers.  Years ago before computers and fancy catalogs, most notes were purchased via the mail based on descriptions and catalog numbers and the system worked pretty well. I have actually acquired most of my notes this way in the past.  Of course, you need to work with a dealer or dealers you can trust.  The “junk box” at coin shows is a time-honored tradition where you can sometimes find some neat notes for your collection. There are good junk boxes and not-so-good.  I have seen some dealers put in very common $1 and $2 notes in a box labeled $10, but that’s another story!  So if you would like to see/try a “virtual junk box” on my site, let me know and maybe it will be a feature we add in.

As a longtime dealer who has supplied countless hobbyists (and other dealers) with coins and notes, stocks and bonds, movie prop money, novelty bills, and fantasy art private issue banknotes over the years, I certainly do appreciate your continued trust and repeat purchases so much.  Please tell all your collecting friends and acquaintances about us – we have many great items to move and increased sales volume will bring down our already fair prices even lower!  Check our listings daily as we will be adding in lots of interesting pieces at appealing prices.

We do add newly-issued banknotes to our inventory that catch our eye but our primary inventory consists of older material mostly purchased some years ago, some of which is getting very difficult to locate as existing supplies are “gobbled up” by the collecting community.  Hang in there and don’t be discouraged by sold-out notes  or the sheer volume of material out there (much of it very pricey). No one can own it all and there is still a lot to collect.  I started out as a collector/dealer with a few 25 cent purchases and little-by-little bought and sold and built up my collection/inventory to where it is today.

Next time I will try to delve into some different things and ways to collect.

Until then, Happy Collecting and Many Thanks!


For the New Banknote Collector

Safely Storing your Banknote Collection

How you store and/or display your notes should be determined largely by how much you paid for them, how prized they are by you, how scarce they are in general, and finally, your own particular taste. If you just collect low-cost modern notes, often-times the holder you put the note in is worth almost as much as the note itself! But for valuable items, you should use archival grade polyester or polyethylene holders or albums. The albums especially can get quite expensive but if you have the truly rare notes, this may be the route to take. Many dealers use the polyester (also called MYLAR which is a particular brand) 5×8 holders for their stock. These are available generally from 40-50 cents each depending on the quantity you buy. Then the 5×8 holders can be placed in a box or container of suitable size and built of a relatively inert material so as not to cause a problem with your collection. Do not use holders containing PVC for long-term storage of your notes as they can react with paper as they do with metal. There are some very thin holders now on the market which are crystal clear and seem to be polyester. These should make good holders for low-value notes.

PVC Free Vinyl Banknote Sleeve
An example of a PVC free, vinyl currency sleeve. PVC holders should be avoided for long term storage because the PVC will interact with the paper.

How you store your notes may also be determined by where you will store them, i. e. if they’re going into a narrow safety deposit box, you can rule out using big albums. If you’re using labels on your holders, which most collectors use, make sure they can be peeled off in one piece in the event you need to change the label or want to use the holder for a different note.

A three pocket currency sleeve that can be used for storing your collection in albums.

Of course, care should be taken to store notes in the proper environmental conditions (40 to 50 percent humidity is ideal to prevent the paper from drying out). Obviously you don’t want to keep them in a place that’s too damp where mold or mildew could form. Insects and other “critters” can be extremely destructive to your valued notes! Bright and constant light is another hazard as the ink on notes will fade when subjected to a lot of bright light (UV) for an extended period. Other considerations include keeping notes in a good location protected from calamities such as floods and fire, as well as theft, as much as possible.

Banknote Collecting, For the New Banknote Collector

A Banknote Collecting Glossary

Allied Military Currency (AMC) – notes used in WWII by Allied military forces. These were issued for use in such places as France, Germany, Italy and Japan.

Allied Military Currency – (occupation of Japan at the end of World War II)
available at

Altered Note – this is a piece of paper money which has had one or more of its prominent features changed in order to make it worth more.  This could also apply to a previously devalued note which has had a fake overprint applied in an effort to make it acceptable in a country where the old notes have been officially overprinted.

Assignat – this is a note of the French Revolution from the 1790’s.  This money was not backed by gold or silver but by seized Church property.

Back – the side opposite the face of a note, basically the paper money equivalent of the reverse of a coin.

Banknote (Bank Note) – this can be spelled as one word or two.  If you’re a dealer and you run classified ads, it’s definitely one word!  This term has comesto indicate any paper money, whether or not it was issued by a bank.

Broken Banknote – this is a note of the 19th century which became non negotiable or worthless as money due to the issuing bank going out of business.  Sometimes a bank was never really in business but issued notes as a money-making scheme. This type of bank was called a wildcat bank.

Cancelled Note – one which has had its legal tender status removed and been declared worthless. Cancellation may be performed by punch or pin perforation, cut cancellation or an overprint.

This cancelled note is from Mozambique (1933 – cancelled in 1942)
available at

Cartones – basically these are cardboard issues from the Mexican Revolution years which were presumably issued to help with the shortage of coins during the war.

Check – These have been around for quite a while and are essentially paper instruments ordering a bank to pay out a sum of money to a specified individual or organization, usually after being signed or stamped. Often old checks are collected along with paper currency.  Many are very ornate.

College Currency – In the course of teaching business practices and the handling of currency, some business schools in the late 1800’s produced their own fake ‘banknotes’ for use by students in the classroom. These are highly collectible today.

Colonial Currency – Specifically the paper money issues in North America while under the rule of Great Britain prior to the Revolution, from about 1690 to 1774.

Commemorative Note – Similar to a commemorative coin, such a note is made to commemorate a specific person, persons, or event.  It should be noted that there are far fewer different commemorative notes than there are coins.

Contemporary Counterfeit – A counterfeit note which was made during the time the genuine notes were circulating. Generally this term refers to an old counterfeit of an old note, as opposed to a modern reproduction or counterfeit of an old note.  Many old contemporary counterfeits today are worth as much or more than the notes that they were supposed to be imitating.

Continental Currency – These were banknotes issued during the American Revolution from 1775 to 1779 by the Continental Congress.  The expression “Not worth a Continental” comes from the fact that the currency rapidly lost its value during the war. Today, of course, these notes are highly valued by collectors.

Copy – A replica of a note, not intended to fool anyone into thinking it is genuine currency.  It may or may not have the word “COPY” somewhere on the bill.  Other interchangable terms include facsimile, photocopy, replica, or reproduction note.

Counterfeit Currency – Paper money forgeries created to pass as the genuine item.

Counterfoil – Certain old notes had basically a detachable stub which would be kept by the issuer as a record of the note having been issued.

Currency – Any form of money in use as a medium of exchange or value.

Demonitized Note – Similar to a cancelled note in that the legal tender status and redemption value of the note has been removed.  A demonetized note has not necessary been cancelled, however.

Devil’s Head – This describes an early Canadian note vignette of Queen Elizabeth II which, it was said, contained a likeness of the devil in her hair. There was a hue and cry raised over this and the Queen’s hairdo was modified as in this vignette.  It could be said a “Devil’s Head” note is one that has been demonitized (oohhh!!).

Educational Note – This refers to any of three issued U. S. large size silver certificates from the 1896 series. They are in $1, $2 and $5 denominations and are considered by many to be the ultimate in beauty as far as U. S. paper currency is concerned.

Error Note – Any banknote which after printing is not of the quality intended for release, for whatever reason. It may be smudged, be lacking some part of the printing, the serial numbers might not match up, etc.

This Iraqi error note has two errors: an ink smudge and mismatched serial numbers.
available at

Essay Note – This is a design of a trial note which may have subsequently been authorized or rejected by the issuing authority. It may be used to test the viability of the design or to check the difficulties of manufacture.

Face – The front of a piece of paper money, basically the paper money equivalent of the obverse of a coin.

Facsimile Note – A copy of a note, not intended to fool anyone into thinking it is genuine currency.  It may or may not have the word “COPY” somewhere on the bill.  Other interchangable terms include copy, photocopy, replica, or reproduction note.

Fantasy Art Concept Note – This is a print of a design or denomination that may not even exist, usually of high artistic and/or production value (i. e. not to be confused with some “lower-end” novelty bills that are cranked out by the thousands, although some fantasy art bills have been printed in the thousands due to popularity). Some of these creations can look quite real to the casual observer.  These are not to be confused with counterfeit, replica, or reprint notes.  They are created by artists and usually have some disclaimer and a copyright notice on them somewhere.  Some, such as money artist R. J. Reed, sign some of their actual works, adding additional value.  Many of today’s “higher end” creations have security features on them similar to genuine currency and can include a security thread, ultraviolet light-sensitive embedded security threads or hidden letters/words/images, microprinting, perfect front-and-back registration, holograms,  individual serial numbers, could be printed on polymer or hybrid paper, and other advanced features.  These are artistic creations and not to be confused with counterfeit, replica, or reprint notes.  It does include some series (such as the Marie Byrd Land series) which may be refundable or partially refundable depending on their “face value,” “exchange rate,” and “date of expiration.”  So in this sense these type of “notes” could be considered a form of money in that, in theory, they could be used as a medium of exchange since they may carry, at least for a limited time, some sort of “value” in their refundability or “quasi-redeemability” (i. e. “Reedeemability”).

Fantasy Note – This is a faux note of a design or denomination that may not even exist. Some of these can look quite real to the casual observer.  These are not to be confused with counterfeit, replica, or reprint notes.  By no means are all fantasy notes considered fantasy art concept bills.  However, all fantasy art concept bills are a type of fantasy note.

Fantasy note designed by Richard J Reed
available at

Federal Reserve Bank Note – This is a special type of U. S. currency issued sporadically from 1915 to 1933 by the country’s Federal Reserve banks.

Federal Reserve Note – Sounds like the above but actually these notes are issued through the Federal Reserve banking system but backed up by the Federal Government and comprise almost all of the notes you’ll encounter in circulation today. They’ve been around in one form or another since 1914.

Foxing – This may be considered sort of the paper money hobby’s equivalent to toning on a coin, except that the yellow-brown stains of varying intensity which are foxing are generally undesireable, whereas toning on a coin may be desireable, depending on who you talk to.  Generally considered a minor defect unless its a really noticeable stain.

Fractional Currency – In general, banknotes of a value less than one of the issuing authority’s standard units.  When talking about U. S. paper money, this term refers to the less than a dollar denominated, government-issued notes from 1862 to 1876.

Gold Certificate – A note issued by the United States which was at one time redeemable in gold coin for the face value.  Issued between 1863 and 1922, these certificates are all still worth their face value today but can no longer be exchanged for gold.  Other countries have issued notes redeemable in gold from time to time.

Greenback – This term generally refers to all of the U. S. Federal Government issued notes since 1861, even though some of them don’t have green backs.

Guilloche – This is the technical name for a geometric design found on many banknotes. Generally these guilloches are used not only to make the note look pretty but to make it tough to copy, thus they are a security device.

Handsigned Note – One which has one or more actual autographed signatures of an authorized person. Signatures may also be engraved or handstamped.

Hell Banknote – A fantasy note which has been created specifically for use in Chinese funerals, where these notes are burned.

Hologram – A special type of photographic film used in 3D imaging. These are sometimes used on notes as a security device although their use has been somewhat limited to date. It’s a relatively new technology.  You’ll see holograms on many credit cards.

Incredible Reedserve Note – A play on the term “Federal Reserve Note” which is used by money artist R. J. Reed on some of his concept note creations, such as the Piwi Island bills.

Inflation Note – This type of note has an extremely high denomination and generally is seen in countries where massive inflation rates are occurring due perhaps to war or other severe economic pressures.  Examples in the 20th century include post WWI Germany, post WWII Hungary and present-day Yugoslavia, where multi-billion-dinara notes were issued a few years back.

Inflationary Banknote from post-World War II Hungary
available at

Interest-bearing Note – This is a piece of currency upon which is written a promise to pay interest after a specified passage of time.

Invasion Note – Any note issued by a country’s military to troops during the course of an invasion into another country.  This term has also come to represent JIM notes, explained next.

Japanese Invasion Money (JIM NOTE) – This currency was issued by Japan during the Second World War for use in countries which they had overrun and occupied, including Burma and the Philippines.

This Japanese JIM note was printed during its occupation of the Philippines during World War 2.
Available at

Military Currency – Any note officially issued solely for the use of its armed forces by a country’s military. If it’s issued in an occupied country by these military forces, it’s often called occupation currency.

Military Payment Certificate(MPC) – These certificates comprise several series of U. S. military notes issued solely for use by its military and only in establishments of the U. S. armed forces. The idea behind these was to prevent or limit activities by military forces with respect to the black market.

Movie Prop Money – these are facsimile notes or totally concocted notes for use in movies, tv shows, theatrical performances, etc. and are sought after by some currency collectors.  Another term for this is stage money.

National Currency – U. S. banks with a federal charter issued these notes which are also called national bank notes. They were backed by Treasury bonds and were issued from 1863 to 1935.

Notgeld – this term means ’emergency money’ and is applied to some early 20th century local German issues as well as a number of other countries.  A lot of the later so-called notgeld were actually issued as souvenirs and collectibles and have much less rarity and value, though they are still enthusiastically collected by a number of people today.

Overprint – This is an extra printing which has been added to a note sometime after the note’s original issue and it’s been added by the authorized issuer or successor. These overprints may serve as cancellations or as a means of changing the value of a note.

Paper Money – This is a generalized term that represents all money produced in the form of a paper note.  It also is applied, however, to certain items produced from bark, plastic, cardboard and other materials.

Photocopy – A replica of a note, not intended to fool anyone into thinking it is genuine currency.  It may or may not have the word “COPY” somewhere on the bill.  Other interchangable terms include copy, facsimile, replica, or reproduction note.

Pick Number – The catalog number of a note listed in the Standard Catalog of World Paper Money, the hobby’s bible. Each number is unique for any one country. You could have a P-1 for Bolivia and a P-1 for Brazil, but they would be totally different notes.

Plate Number – A small number that sometimes appears on currency showing the number of the plate used to print it. These numbers are especially in use on U. S. paper money.  If you’ve heard of the term “web note,” you use the location and style of plate number to determine whether or not you have a web note, that is, a U. S. Federal Reserve note that has been printed within the last several years on an experimental press known as a “web press.”

Playing Card – This was a type of emergency issue produced by the French colonial authorities in Canada sporadically between the late 17th century and mid-18th century due to a major shortage of coinage.  Basically they cut up actual playing cards into pieces and marked them as currency.

Portrait – This is a person’s picture appearing on a piece of currency.

P.O.W. Note – Currency produced for use in POW camps by prisoners of war under terms of the Geneva Convention.

Private Issue Note – A currency note that has been issued by a private (non-governmental) issuing authority.  This term is also sometimes used to describe fantasy art concept bills, although a private issue note can also be one considered as, and used as, actual money in some instances.

Proof Note – This is a design of a note and may be complete or not but was not issued for general circulation. As such, serial numbers and signatures are usually lacking and often there are punch holes through the area where the signatures would normally appear.  Proofs are produced to test the technical operation of the press and the quality of the results, among other reasons.  Sometimes proofs exist in colors different from the genuine issues and may represent color trials.

Propaganda Note – This is a copy of a note (sometimes crude, but with the intention of attracting a person’s attention to it) with some sort of message printed on it.  A note like this might be produced by a country which is at war with another.  The country might plant or airdrop a bunch of these phony propaganda notes onto the enemy’s soil so they would be picked up and read.

Radar Note – One whose serial number reads the same, forward or backward.  Some collectors, particularly those of U. S. currency, collect paper money with radar serial numbers.

Rag – A very well-worn piece of paper money, generally in an uncollectible state except for rarer issues.

Ragpicker – A slang term for a paper money collector, i. e. one who sorts thru rags, seeking out the collectible items.

Raised Note – one which has had its original value raised by means of an overprint from the issuing authority.  A raised note can also refer to one which has been altered in appearance in some way by unscrupulous individuals in the hopes of passing it as a higher value note.

Redeemable Note – one that may be exchanged at a bank or via a government issuing authority for other currency in circulation.

Reedeemable Note – some fantasy art concept notes (such as the Marie Byrd Land series) may be refundable or partially refundable depending on their “face value,” “exchange rate,” and “date of expiration,” by money artist R. J. Reed.

>Reissued Note – one which has been withdrawn from circulation and then put back in later on.

Remainder – an unissued or unfinished note which never was placed into circulation by the authority backing it.  A remainder usually is missing some aspect of the typical issued note, usually a date or signatures, and sometimes a serial number as well.

Replacement Note – one which has been issued to replace a damaged, destroyed or lost note.  You can usually identify a replacement note by its serial number.  Some, such as on U. S. currency, have a star at the beginning of the serial number.  Thus, replacement notes of the United States are known as “star notes.”  Notes from other countries might have an asterisk, or start with the letter R or the number 9, for example, depending on the country.  Usually a replacement note is in demand, depending of course on its condition, because it’s quite a bit scarcer than the so-called regular notes.

Replica – A replica of a note, not intended to fool anyone into thinking it is genuine currency.  It may or may not have the word “COPY” somewhere on the bill.  Other interchangable terms include copy, facsimile, photocopy, or reproduction note.

Reprint note – This can be an actual note which had a first printing and then another subsequent printing (usually due to demand in commerce).  It could also refer to an officially reprinted copy of a note such as the souvenir cards bearing reprints of currency notes by the U. S. Bureau of Engraving and Printing.  These official reprints are not actual currency and have no redeemable value.

Reproduction – A replica of a note, not intended to fool anyone into thinking it is genuine currency.  It may or may not have the word “COPY” somewhere on the bill.  Other interchangable terms include copy, facsimile, photocopy, or replica note.

Revalidated Note – a note which was made no longer legal tender, then restamped and re-released as legal tender currency at a later date.

Safe Conduct Pass – this is a variety of propaganda note that promises safe conduct to enemy soldiers who surrender and turn in the note. These passes are usually airdropped behind enemy lines.

Scrip – this is a type of substitute paper money that can be used to purchase goods or services or may be redeemable for cash in some instances.

Security Strip – this is a special strip of material inserted into a note during manufacture that may be magnetic or can glow under ultraviolet light or utilize some other property that helps to make counterfeiting that note a little more difficult. The more recent U. S. Federal Reserve notes from denominations of $10 up have a security strip in them.  The newly redesigned notes have a strip that glows under uv light.  To the casual observer, the strip can sometimes look like a fold in the note.

Serial Number – This is a system used in the majority of currency issued to keep track of the number of notes in circulation and to make counterfeiting more difficult because each note has a unique number. These numbers can be important to the collector, who often has a passion for low or special numbers. A bill with a serial number consisting of all the same numerals, for example, is highly sought after.

Shinplaster – slang term for U. S. continental currency notes issued during the American Revolution.  Because of their nearly worthless status at the time, the notes were said to be good only to stuff in your boots to fill the holes and keep your legs and feet warm.  This term also has been applied to small fractional notes from the U. S. and Canada.

Short Snorter – refers to one or more notes which have been autographed as souvenirs, especially by members of an armed forces group. These are collected by a number of individuals today.

Siege Note – a type of emergency currency issued during a siege to reduce a money shortage usually caused by hoarding.

Slabbed Note – This is a piece of currency that has been encased in a plastic holder by a third-party authentication/grading service.

Silver Certificate – a U. S. banknote which guaranteed payment of its face value in silver by the U. S. Treasury. These are still legal tender but are no longer redeemable for silver.

Small Size Currency – this generally refers to U. S. paper money issued on and after July 10, 1929.  It is quite a bit smaller in size than the older so-called large size note shown here.

Specimen – a sample currency note, often but not necessarily with serial numbers of all zeroes. The original purpose of such notes was to provide banks and other agencies with examples of newly-issued money.  A number of such specimens have been created expressly to satisfy collector demand.  Some of these were regular-issue notes simply overstamped “SPECIMEN” in the official language of the issuing nation.  In most examples of specimens, they are over- stamped in this way.

Stage Money – these are facsimile notes or totally concocted notes for use in movies, tv shows, theatrical performances, etc. and are sought after by some currency collectors.  Another term for this is movie prop money.

Stutter Note – a note which has a serial number that is a repeating number.

Uncut Sheet – this refers to a sheet of paper money which was how it was printed prior to being cut up.  Obviously there are different numbers of notes to a sheet for different countries or different historical times.  Many obsolete “broken” banknotes were printed four to a sheet.  Modern U. S. currency is printed with 32 notes to a sheet and is said to be a 32-subject sheet.  Partial sheets, where the complete sheet has been cut up into smaller sections, also exist for some notes.  U. S. currency sheets are available at the Bureau of Engraving and Printing, in $1, $2, & $5 denominations.  They are also available by mail order from the Bureau and also sometimes from dealers and at certain coin shows where the Treasury sets up an exhibit.

Uniface – a note which has been printed only only one side.  Many old U. S. “broken” banknotes are uniface notes.

Validation Stamp – generally a rubber-stamped, hand-applied impression placed on a note to authorize it’s use in a certain area or to validate the issue in some way.  It could also be used to change the original value of a note or to re-issue a previously withdrawn note.

Vampire Note – this is a slang term for a certain German 10,000 mark note design, of which there are a couple of size varieties and two different back types of the larger size note.  It’s referred to as the “Vampire Note” because, if you turn the bill a certain way, it was said you could see a vampire reportedly sucking the blood out of the neck of the German worker pictured.  This is the German equivalent of the Canadian “Devil’s Head” note.

Victory Note – this is any of a series of Phillipine notes issued from 1944 to 1949 with the word “Victory” overprinted in large letters on the back. These coincided with the return of Gen. Douglas MacArthur’s forces to recapture the Philippines from the Japanese in World War II.

Vignette – This is any picture or scene on a note other than a portrait.

Watermark – During the production of some paper, a special mark or design is implanted into the paper which is usually only visible or fully visible when the paper is held up to a light source.  Watermarks have been used by many countries as a security device for their notes for quite a long time.  The United States finally adopted a watermark for use in the newly-redesigned Federal Reserve notes.


Banknote Collecting, For the New Banknote Collector

Anatomy of a Banknote

There is a lot of strange and “insider” language in the world of banknote collecting. We hope that the following provides a simple and concise guide to the elements of a banknote. Below we have a banknote from the United States and a note from Cameroon.

United States: Ten Dollar Federal Reserve Note


Cameroon: One Thousand Francs Note


Interested in other articles? See our “For the New Collector” series.