Hobbyists who collect money, or numismatists, are frequently thought to assemble only coins. However, the entire field includes a wider study of the nature of paying debts and exchanging goods or services, and this involves coins, paper money and other economic instruments. Expert numismatists know that there are many qualities involved in assessing collectible currency values.
Many collectors start by checking a note’s year of printing. All currency carries at least one printed year, and sometimes includes several. The year of printing is called the series, meaning when the design of that particular note was authorized for printing as legal tender. It doesn’t necessarily mean the year in which a particular note entered circulation. For instance, the series of US 1935 silver certificates began in 1935, but continued printing through 1956. That’s a lot of 1935 series notes, whatever their denomination!
Serious collectors quickly learn that the better way to find the true age of paper money is to check the signatures. Federal officials in charge of the U. S. Treasury and the mint are engraved on the plates used to print currency. These signatures change regularly, so by dating the tenure of the people who signed the currency, it’s possible to date when any note was actually printed.
People also think that collectible currency values rise if the money is quite old, and if the paper has few signs of wear and tear. Currency experts know that age is really of little use in determining the value of collectible money. What matters most instead is how rare the note was when it was first created. For example, there are thousands upon thousands of currency notes from the 19th century that are in pristine shape. Yet this paper money is worth little more than its face value because so many of the notes were printed in the first place. Collectors can’t stress enough that it’s currency’s original rarity and the rate at which rare notes survive that determine their value.
Another thing that confuses many outsiders to collecting is the issue of currency condition. Many people think that if a note’s printing is readable, that plays a major role in its value. In reality, any note that wasn’t able to be read wouldn’t be a collectible anyway, because there would be no way to determine whether it belonged to a class of rare currency in the first place.
Veteran collectors try to teach novices some of the complex methods for classifying paper money. Instead of using vague terms such as “mint condition” or “good for its age” and so on, collectors are encouraged to describe their currency based on precise factual observations. For instance, it’s better to note how many folds a note has, or whether its corners are torn. Descriptions such as these are far more likely to gain the respect of other collectors who may be interested in purchasing the currency.
In the final analysis, the primary factor in assessing collectible currency values is this: If the note is rare when it’s printed, it’s valuable. Even with rare notes, saving them for many years won’t make them any more precious. Experts say it’s always better to sell a rare note today for its top value than to try to make it worth more tomorrow.
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