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We don’t stop to think about the real value of money in our daily lives. We operate under the assumption that $1 = $1. Inflation does make us realize that money’s value goes beyond what’s written on the bill, but usually we don’t inquire much further.

There is an entire world, however, that values and collects old currency for its unique history and rarity. You shouldn’t think of these bills as money, but as collectible items. These vintage $100 bills can be worth significantly more than face value, and their value only increases as they age.

Collectors seek out specific serial numbers, unique markings, and even mistakes made during printing. The rarity of these features drives up the value of the bill. Additionally, certain years or editions may hold historical significance for collectors.

Unlike smaller bills, $100 bills are not frequently used in everyday transactions, leading to a decrease in circulation and therefore an increase in value for collectors.

In this article, you are going to learn about the history of the $100 bill, and learn how to best evaluate one. We will also see some examples of bills that fetched a high price in recent auctions.

The History of the $100 Bill

The first version of the $100 bill was issued in 1862, during the Civil War. It featured a portrait of General Winfield Scott on the front and an image of the United States Capitol building on the back.

Over the years, various amendments were made to the design – including adding security measures such as a watermark and color-shifting ink. The $100 bill has undergone a few design changes over the years. Here are some of the most notable ones:

The first version of the $100 bill was issued in 1862, during the Civil War. It featured a portrait of General Winfield Scott on the front and an image of the United States Capitol building on the back.

1914 was the year that saw the first $100 printed by the Federal Reserve. The note featured a portrait of Benjamin Franklin on the front and Independence Hall on the back.

In 1928, a small size note was introduced, which is still in circulation today. The reason for this switch was to reduce printing costs and make the bills easier to handle.

The most recent design was unveiled in 2013, featuring a portrait of Benjamin Franklin and updated security features.

One interesting thing to note is that the $100 bill comes in two sizes: large and small. Large size notes have been printed from 1862 to 1928, while small size notes were printed from 1928 until present day. The two bills hold the same nominal value, but large size notes may hold more value for collectors due to their rarity.

If you adjust the value for inflation, a $100 bill released in 1913 would be worth $$2,998.06 today, as the cumulative inflation rate has grown to 2898.1% since then. That alone shows the potential for collecting vintage currency to hold its worth over time.

Fun fact: The $100 bill is the largest denomination currently in circulation. Bigger denominations, such as the $500 and $1,000 bills, were discontinued in 1969 due to lack of use.

Evaluating $100 Bills

Even if you don’t plan to become a grading expert, it is imperative to know how to properly evaluate a $100 bill for its value as a collectible.

Here’s what you should look at when evaluating a $100 bill:

  • Grade — Currency is graded on a scale from 1 to 70, with 70 being perfect condition. Grades are often abbreviated using the letter-number combination (such as VF35 or AU50), and can greatly affect the value of a bill.
  • Serial Number — Certain serial numbers, such as repeating digits or low serial numbers, can make a bill more valuable to collectors.
  • Signatures — The signatures on a bill can also impact its value, as different Treasury Secretaries and Federal Reserve bank presidents were in office during different time periods.
  • Miscuts/Errors — Any misprints or errors made during the printing process can make a bill rare and valuable.
  • Age — Older bills are rarer and thus hold more value.

Collecting $100 bills can be a fun and worthwhile hobby. If you’re just starting out and don’t particularly care about snatching an ultra-rare piece, online marketplaces like eBay can be a great place to find affordable bills. For example, here’s a 1934 $100 Federal Reserve bill auction.

1934 $100 Federal Reserve bill auction
Source

But if you want to expand your collection and are willing to invest in some rare finds, attending auctions or reaching out to dealers can help you track down unique $100 bills.

Grading is the most important aspect to consider when purchasing a $100 bill, as it will determine its value and the price you should pay for it. It’s worth doing your research or investing in grading services to ensure that your collectible bills are accurately evaluated.

Grading a Dollar Bill

To properly grade a dollar bill, you will need to examine the following:

  • The condition of the paper — Is it crisp and uncreased, or is it torn or wrinkled? Specifically, look at the edges (where the wear can be more prominent) and the creases.
  • The ink quality — Is the ink bright and clear, or faded?
  • Any folds or creases present — Are they light and not detracting from the overall appearance, or are they deep and distracting?
  • The look — As subjective as this sounds, a bill that is more aesthetically pleasing will generally hold a higher grade and value.

Professional graders use these criteria to assign a grade on a scale from 1 to 70, with 70 being perfect condition. These observations must be done with a magnifying glass or loupe to closely inspect the details of the bill and determine its grade. Here’s a grading list if you wish to learn more about each grade.

As a general rule of thumb, grades above 60 will typically be worth more to collectors, as they are in better condition. However, certain serial numbers and signatures may increase the value of lower grade bills. The bill’s history also heavily affects its value — for example, a bill that’s been on the moon (known as ‘flown to the moon’ bill) or a bill owned by a famous historical figure will hold more value despite its condition.

Buying a Vintage $100 Bill

The first and most important step when you decide to purchase a vintage $100 bill is to ensure that it has been accurately graded. Look for reputable dealers or grading services, and don’t be afraid to ask questions about the bill’s condition or history.

Once you have found a vintage $100 bill that interests you, do some research on its value and compare prices from different sellers. The age, grade, and rarity of the bill will all play a role in determining its value.

When it comes to making the actual purchase, be sure to use a secure payment method and keep your receipt or proof of purchase in case any issues arise. It’s also important to keep storage in mind — bills should be kept flat, away from moisture and extreme temperatures, and in a protective sleeve or holder.

To give you an idea of prices for a non-rare vintage $100 bill, here’s one from North River Bank that went for $205,63. Another example is this $100 bill from the National Gold Bank of D.O. Mills&Co that went for $124.

Around the same price point we see this 1966 Very Fine legal tender note that sold for $192 and this 1914 Federal Reserve note that went for $216.

1966 Very Fine legal tender note
Source

For a rarer (and more expensive) piece, here’s a 1950 bill signed by Elvis Presley, Ted Williams, Casey Stengel, and others that fetched a $2,040 price.

1950 bill signed by Elvis Presley, Ted Williams, Casey Stengel, and others
Source

But if you’re after the more unique pieces, prepare to shell out some serious cash. Let’s see some heavy hitters in the vintage $100 bill market.

The Five Most Valuable $100 Bills

Prepare yourself, these figures are not for the faint of heart. These bills are as unique as it gets, which is why they go for such crazy-high prices.

But before getting into the list, we must give you a word of warning. All of these pieces were sold at auctions, which means that the prices listed do not necessarily reflect their real value. Auction fever is real, and it often drives the prices up.

Warning: Counterfeiting is also a major issue in the vintage bill market. Always buy from reputable dealers, and if you have any doubts about authenticity, have the bill authenticated before purchasing. Here’s a video that shows how to recognize whether a bill is fake:

Let’s get into the list.

Fr. 1166c $100 1863 Gold Certificate PCGS Apparent Extremely Fine 40 — $2,115,000

1166c $100 1863 Gold Certificate PCGS Apparent Extremely Fine 40
Source

This piece is extremely rare, with only four known examples in existence. And this one is the only one that is in private hands (which means it’s not in a museum or some super-secret government vault. It was first issued in 1863 and features a black ink design on gold-tinted paper, hence the ‘Gold Certificate’ title.

The front design displays the classical bald eagle perched on a shield with the U.S. coat of arms. The back features a large box with the words ‘One Hundred Dollars in Gold Coin’ in the middle of it, surrounded by wreaths.

This bill was part of the Schermerhorn Collection, which is known for its high-quality and rare notes. It was auctioned off in 2013 by Heritage Auctions.

Fr. 1202a $100 1882 Gold Certificate PCGS Apparent Very Fine 35 — $822,500

1202a $100 1882 Gold Certificate PCGS Apparent Very Fine 35
Source

This bill also falls under the Gold Certificate category, with a golden-orange ink design on gold-tinted paper. The front features a portrait of Thomas Hart Benton, a U.S. Senator from Missouri and an advocate for expansion of the western territories. The back displays a bald eagle in flight with the words ‘GOLD Certificate’ above and below it.

Allegedly, this bill has undergone under minor restorations, but Heritage Auction itself couldn’t find any sign of such work.

Only 3 examples of this bill are known to exist, making it extremely rare. This particular piece was part of the Greensboro Collection and was auctioned off by Heritage Auctions in 2014.

Fr. 1202 $100 1882 Gold Certificate PMG Very Fine 30 — $750,000

1202 $100 1882 Gold Certificate PMG Very Fine 30
Source

This is the 2nd of the 3 exemplaries of the bill we just discussed. The only difference is in the grading – this one has been graded as Very Fine 30, whereas. 1202a was graded as Very Fine 35.

The lower grade is what affected the ultimate auction price, making this bill fetch a price lower by over $70,000 compared to 1202a.

Another interesting difference is in the collection this bill belongs to. While 1202a was part of the Greensboro collection, 1202 belongs to the Allan H. Goldman Collection, which is thought to be one of the greatest collections in existence, as it includes rare and valuable notes from all over the world. This bill was auctioned off by Heritage Auctions in October of 2022.

Fr. 337b $100 1878 Silver Certificate PCGS Very Fine 35 — $540,000

337b $100 1878 Silver Certificate PCGS Very Fine 35
Source

 

Silver certificates were issued between 1878 and 1964. These bills could be exchanged for their face value in silver dollar coins. However, when the price of silver rose above $1 per ounce in 1968, the redemption option was discontinued.

This particular bill features on the front a portrait of James Monroe, the fifth president of the United States, and the last Founding Father to become president. The back has the words “United States Silver Certificate One Hundred Dollars” printed in a large, elaborate box.

Only 4 examples of this bill are known to exist, making it a very rare find. This is exacerbated by the fact that only 2 of these 4 are privately held. That means, if you have a chance to own this bill, grab it – because there’s probably not going to be another opportunity.

This bill was part of the Coral Gables Collection (named after the city in Florida where it was assembled) and was auctioned off by Heritage Auctions in 2019.

Fr. 377 $100 1890 Treasury Note Choice New — $356,500

377 $100 1890 Treasury Note Choice New
Source

Treasury notes were issued between 1890 and 1893 to meet the needs of a growing government. This bill features a portrait of David Farragut on the front, who was a Civil War naval hero and the first admiral in the U.S. Navy. The back has a giant 100 and the words “One Hundred Dollars” printed on it.

This bill earned it the grade of Choice New from Professional Coin Grading Service (PCGS), which is reserved for notes that appear as if they were just printed, with no signs of wear or damage.

Bills like this one are often referred to as ‘watermelon’ bills, due to the green ink on the back and pinkish red ink on the front, just like watermelons that are green on the outside and red on the inside.

This is the only bill on this list that isn’t part of any collection. Usually, this happens when a bill is purchased by an individual for their own personal collection. This bill was auctioned off by Heritage Auctions in May of 2005.

$100 Bills Printing Errors

Printing errors can greatly affect the value of a bill. These are mistakes made during the printing process and can range from minor to major. Some examples include:

  • Off-center or partially missing design — There are mistakes that can be made when a bill is being printed. This might mean that part of the design is missing, or it might be printed off-center.
  • Double or tripled printed images — This happens when an image is accidentally printed twice or even three times on a bill.
  • Misprinted serial numbers — This includes wrong font size, wrong placement, or digits that are smudged or missing entirely.
  • Missing security threads — Security threads are thin, embedded strips that help prevent counterfeiting. If one is missing, it can greatly affect the value of a bill.
  • Foldover errors — This occurs when a section of paper is folded over during the printing process, resulting in an odd shape on the bill.

These errors often result in very low print runs, making them extremely rare and valuable to collectors. However, it’s important to note that not all printing errors will increase the value of a bill – it depends on the specific error and how noticeable it is.

FAQs

How do I store my vintage $100 bill?

It is important to keep your bill in a safe and secure location, such as a lockbox or safe. It should also be stored in an acid-free holder or sleeve to prevent damage from environmental factors such as light and humidity.

Can I still use my vintage $100 bill to make purchases?

Technically yes. Vintage $100 bills are still legal tender and can be used for purchases, however most merchants will not accept them because they’ll think it’s counterfeit. It’s best to sell or trade them with a collector.

What is the difference between a silver certificate and a treasury note?

A silver certificate is backed by a specific amount of silver held by the government, while a treasury note is not backed by any physical commodity. Treasury notes were issued from 1890-1893 to meet the needs of a growing government. Silver certificates were used from 1878-1964. Both are considered vintage and collectible.

Wrapping Up

Vintage $100 bills can make a valuable addition to any collection. These bills feature interesting historical figures and unique designs, and some can even be worth thousands of dollars due to printing errors or rarity. When caring for your vintage bills, it’s important to keep them secure and in a protective holder to ensure their condition stays pristine.

If you don’t care about getting the ultra-rare pieces, you can snag a vintage $100 bill for just a few hundred dollars – but if you want one of the rarest bills out there, be prepared to shell out big bucks. But don’t be discouraged by the prices you’re seeing in this article, these are auction prices.

Auctions are their own market, and you may be able to find a deal from a private seller or at a collectible shop. But should you participate in an auction, prepare to bid competitively – these bills are highly sought after by collectors.

Either way, owning a piece of history is an exciting prospect for any collector.

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