Silver is one of the oldest forms of money on the planet.
This white, lustrous metal appears alongside gold as means of exchange in almost every major civilization to have ever existed. Hence, it is no surprise that it was a mainstay for a significant proportion of American monetary history.
Over our history, silver has appeared in United States currency in two main forms: silver coins and silver certificates, both of which were common features in the daily transactions of the citizenry during specific periods.
During the earlier part of the United States monetary history, silver coins were one of the bedrocks of commerce and the favored currency type for many.
However, with the U.S. gradually moving from metal coins—which drew a considerable portion of their value from the intrinsic market value of the contained metal—a progressive replacement of silver coins with silver certificates (which were redeemable from the Federal Reserve) for actual silver coins) was the natural progression.
Nevertheless, by the mid-20th century, the U.S. discontinued silver currency (including silver certificates) altogether, rendering them obsolete and only exchanging them for their face value in dollars.
However, while this edict devalued silver by making it a non-currency, it had the opposite effect on already existing silver currencies.
With no new silver-backed currencies being produced, the existing supply of these specimens (including silver certificates like the $5 silver certificates) became substantially more valuable to collectors and investors, as they were now rare and were only going to get rarer.
How much, then, is a $5 Silver Certificate worth today?
While these certificates are no longer exchangeable for silver, they are still redeemable for their face value ($5) in Federal Reserve-issued dollar notes or coins.
This $5 price sets the floor for $5 Silver Certificates, as every single undamaged specimen will be worth at least that. However, most $5 Silver Certificate pieces will retail on the collector’s market for multiples of that price.
On average, the oldest $5 Silver Certificates are the most valuable and can easily reach prices in the $150 to $1000 range, with super rare variants priced even higher.
In contrast, $5 Silver Certificates from the last two production years retail for significantly less, typically selling for between $10 and $60. However, notes in exceptionally immaculate conditions and rare variations will auction considerably higher.
Do you have a note you suspect may be amongst the more valuable $5 Silver Certificates? Stay tuned as we walk you through the most popular variants of this denomination and their current market value.
First, let’s look at the eventful background of the dollar-denominated silver certificate and the unique period in American monetary history it represents.
The $5 Silver Certificate’s History
The history of silver’s use as a currency in the United States predates even the official formation of the country as we know it today.
Similar to what was obtainable in most parts of the world at the time, silver and gold formed the basis of most of the currency used in internal and external financial transactions in the colonial territories of America.
With the establishment of the United States, this policy continued. The Constitution, which became active in March 1789, gave Congress the power to create the United States monetary system by minting gold and silver coins for use as the country’s official currency.
Four years later, in 1793, the United States was set up in Philadelphia and began producing our new currency. However, the Mint only created silver coins for the first two years, as it was only until 1795 before the United States had its first gold coins.
With the advent of paper money use in the U.S. (as a means to increase the ease of moving currency around), the Federal Government also began producing silver certificates, issuing them from 1886 to 1953. Now, you could easily deposit your silver coins, use silver certificates to transact in their stead, and redeem the certificates at any time for silver coins of marching value.
This order of events already emphasizes how important silver was as a currency in the History of the United States.
Consequently, it was no surprise that when Congress passed the Coinage Act of 1873—which ended the free coinage of silver and effectively placed the U.S. on the gold standards as it heavily restricted the availability of silver coins—there was considerable pushback from sections of the public.
For most of recorded history, a considerable percentage of all the major empires used a bimetallic currency system where both silver and gold coins were acceptable forms of money for all transactions.
However, gold’s extreme rarity and value meant that it was often relegated to use as a store of value.
In some periods, a dime-sized gold piece was worth as much as a high earner’s weekly or even monthly wage. In contrast, silver (especially low-grade silver) was considerably lower priced and hence more suitable for everyday purchases and for use as a unit of account.
Naturally, silver often became the people’s currency, which stayed this way in many regions until Great Britain moved to the gold standard in the 18th century.
However, silver coins continued to be an integral part of monetary transactions in the United States until they met even greater pushback in the 20th century.
In modern times, the rapidly fluctuating supply of silver proved to be quite problematic for the United States monetary system.
When silver was in low supply, the Mint produced fewer silver coins, and the citizenry hoarded silver due to its perceived increased value. In contrast, when silver supply increased dramatically, its value on the open market fell significantly.
These notable drops in silver prices created a loophole where savvy investors could use then used cheaply bought silver to get silver from the Mint, trade these silver coins for its pegged value in gold coins, sell these gold coins abroad, then bring the proceeds back to the United States to buy back significantly more silver than they started with.
In response to this value drain, many citizens will then resort to hoarding gold coins, taking them out of circulation, further destabilizing the monetary system.
Consequently, further attempts to reestablish bimetallism in the 20th century revealed this instability and led to the eventual acceptance of the gold standard.
Ultimately, this situation led to the end of the silver dollar coin in 1935. By 1965, Congress passed the Coinage Act of 1965, which removed silver from U.S. nickels and dimes and reduced the silver content of the Kennedy half dollar from 90% to 40%. For the final nail in the coffin, by the mid-1970s, the United States Mint entirely abandoned silver producing all four circulation coin denominations only in copper-nickel-clad versions.
Unsurprisingly, silver certificates suffered a similar fate.
While silver certificates were originally redeemable for matching amounts of silver in coin or bullion, by 1968, the Mint stopped honoring these terms. From this point onwards, silver certificates like the $5 silver certificates were only redeemable in federal reserve notes.
This move effectively rendered silver certificates obsolete, as they were no longer differentiated from regular federal reserve notes.
While silver certificates are still considered legal tender, the fact that they are no longer redeemable for silver means that they are now worth only their face value in United States dollars. Taking a $5 silver certificate to the Federal Reserve today, will only earn you a 5 dollar bill in return.
However, like with most other types of old notes with limited availability, some variants of this note attract a significant premium on the open market.
The extent of this premium depends heavily on the note’s rarity level and the amount of demand for it on the collector’s market.
$5 Silver Certificate Rarity
Similar to other forms of discontinued currencies, the $5 silver certificate supply has been gobbled up by collectors seeking to possess one of the dwindling amount of pieces available to the general public.
However, in this type of mad rush, collectors always favor some variants more than others.
With the $5 silver certificate, one common driver of popularity is the note’s design. The $5 certificate series packs a disproportionate amount of note designs that collectors across the country highly covet. Unsurprisingly, the notes with the most desirable design have a higher chance of retailing for significantly more than their face value.
Nevertheless, all the other collectible currency metrics apply here too, and on average, a $5 silver certificate that is rarer than most will attract considerable price premiums on the open market.
The most important factors to consider when judging a $5 silver certificate’s rarity include:
Like most other forms of collectible money, one of the key determinants of a $5 silver certificate’s rarity level is its production year.
On average, the oldest notes are typically worth more than the newest ones. This situation is easy to understand when you consider that these older notes have had a longer period during which a significant portion of the supply has been destroyed, damaged, or lost.
Consequently, these older notes are often harder to find and attract a premium for the tiny supply that is available in decent condition.
If you have a $5 silver certificate in hand, the chances are that it is one of the newest iterations: the 1934 series and the 1953 series. Both notes are the easiest to get as they have the most percentage of their supply still available in pristine conditions. Except in rare cases, even uncirculated specimens of this note will typically retail for under 50 bucks.
On the flip side, immaculate specimens of the oldest $5 silver certificates can sell for dramatically higher prices. For example, this super rare sample of an 1886 $5 dollar certificate with a rating of superb gem uncirculated (MS 67) sold for a sizable $76,375 in 2013.
Another major factor characteristic that can significantly increase a note’s rarity for older notes is its combination of unique variations such as its seal color, signature, or serial number.
These identifiers can create distinctive pieces that are considerably harder to find than the rest of the notes issued in the same year.
For $5 silver certificates, the signature combination is one of the most important variations to look out for. Some notes in this series have multiple versions released in the same year with a consequent amount of signature changes during its production period.
For example, the 1899 series—which is already one of the rarer $5 silver certificates thanks to its age and unique design elements—had eleven different signature variations during its production period. Of these eleven variations, the notes signed by Napier Thompson, Ellis Robert, and Frank White typically attract a considerable premium on the collector’s market.
A good illustration of this price discrepancy amongst signature variants is the fact that this MS68-rated $5 silver certificate signed by Ellis Robert sold for more than 50% higher than another similarly rated specimen signed by Napier Thompson despite the fact that the Napier Thompson had the added rarity of having a small, double-digit serial number.
Like with other collectible United States notes, with the $5 silver certificate series, notes with unique serial numbers will always attract a premium from collectors. A note with a highly coveted serial number can sell up to double the average price of a regular note in the same series.
Some of the most sought-after serial numbers are low-count pieces that are 100 or low. These notes typically sell at a considerable premium.
Other unique variations exist that can also attract similar demand, such as this rare specimen with a Solid Serial Number (N11111111) that sold for $48,000 despite having a rated condition of only MS 64.
Star notes are almost always more coveted than the regular variant in every collectible United States note series.
These notes are special pieces produced by the Bureau of Engraving and Printing as substitutes for misprinted bills (or those damaged during production) that were removed from the batch before its release.
While star notes are officially worth the same face value as other regular notes, on the collector’s market, their unique star badge adds a layer of rarity that typically makes them more valuable.
Case in point, despite having a meager rating of MS 64, this 1889 $5 silver certificate star note managed to sell at auction for $37,375 in 2007.
For all collectibles (and especially currency), condition is always king. Irrespective of the other metrics the piece brings to the table, its physical state will always be a major decider of the finalized price of the unit.
A $5 silver certificate in an uncirculated or near uncirculated state will always retail for significantly higher than a subpar specimen. For the rarest immaculate conditions gems—from the older notes in the series—rated MS 65 or higher, you can typically expect prices north of $10,000.
However, prices of the top-rated specimens of the newest notes are not as impressive because notes from more recent years have a significantly higher percentage of immaculately preserved pieces.
Nevertheless, these notes will still attract a premium over lower-condition variants from the same batch.
The $5 Silver Certificate Series (and Their Value)
All the existing $5 silver certificates were produced by the Bureau of Engraving and Printing between 1886 to 1953. During that time, the agency released 7 different notes with unique designs on each piece.
The first five of these notes were printed in the large note format. These notes, being the oldest, are also the most valuable on average.
Many of the notes issued before 1929 were large-size notes. These notes, which measure a sizable 7 3/8 by 3 1/8 inches, were around 40% larger than the newer, smaller notes that were created after that year.
Collectors often hail the large note era for producing the largest variety of elaborate artistic designs and aesthetically pleasing bills with profound subject matter that often included legendary motifs and strong odes to American history.
In addition to being old, this reverence for their artistic quality further reinforces the premium that these larger-sized bills attract on the collectors market.
The last two notes in the series, which were produced in 1934 and 1953, ditch the large note format for the newer small note format. Since they are the newest in the series and most available on the collector’s market, these notes typically sell for significantly less than their predecessors.
Here are all the notes from the $5 silver certificate series that are available for purchase on the open market today:
1886 $5 Silver Certificate
With most forms of collectibles, the first in the series is often quite valuable as it is typically disproportionately sought after by collectors. The same rules apply to the $5 silver certificate series.
The note that started it all was the first five-dollar certificate issued in 1886. This bill sports a front that displays an off-center vignette of Civil War hero President Ulysses S. Grant, while the back of the note shows an image of 5 Morgan dollar coins, 4 of which put half of their reverse on view, while the centerpiece coin shows its obverse in full instead.
This unique design—showing morgan silver dollars on the reverse—earned the 1886 $5 silver certificate the nickname ‘Morgan Back.’
Experts speculate that this strange addition to the coin’s reverse was appended to show more obviously that the note was backed by five silver dollars. Since this note was released in an era when intrinsically valuable coins were the go-to, not notes, the citizenry may have needed some assurance before making the full jump to metal-backed notes.
While this design depicts the note’s back by five dollars in silver coins, over the years, it has endeared it to coin collectors everywhere.
As the first note in the series, an extremely design option amongst collectors, and an old bill that is super rare, especially in decent condition, it is no surprise that this piece attracts a hefty ransom.
On average, you should expect even 1886 $5 silver certificates in decent condition to set you back a thousand bucks. Good condition notes from this series will easily reach the $2000 – $3000 range, very fine pieces will hover around $5000, while uncirculated notes (MS 63) will sell for close to $10,000.
Uncirculated notes from this series are already almost impossible to come by. However, if you find one that is even a higher grade than MS 63, the chances are that you have an auction record breaker on your hands.
Some special variants include specimens that often retail at a higher premium are notes with a small red seal and others bearing a Rosecrans / Nebeker signature pair.
1891 $5 Silver Certificate
Five years later, the Bureau of Minting and Engraving went on to produce the next iteration of the $5 silver certificate.
This new version of the note released in 1891 mirrored the same front design on the 1886 version, displaying the off-center vignette of President Ulysses S. Grant. However, on the reverse, this note ditched the Morgan coin pattern, opting instead for a relatively unembellished design.
It’s possible that after the release of the 1886 $5 silver certificate and its first five years of use, the public was comfortable with them enough for the government to forgo the five-coin reverse on subsequent notes.
However, a side effect of that change is that the note is not as aesthetically pleasing as its predecessor, and it unsurprisingly sells for less on the collectors market.
You can expect immaculately preserved MS 63+ 1891 $5 Silver Certificates to retail for between $4000 and $5000. Notes in very fine condition will sell for close to $1000, while lower condition notes will typically retail in the $400 to $500 range.
1896 $5 Silver Certificate
The 1896 $5 silver certificate is part of the famous “Educational Series.”
Numismatists everywhere hail this selection of bills as the most beautiful pieces ever produced by the Federal Government, and for many United States collectors, the notes in this series represent the Holy Grail of American paper currency. Take one look at the entries in this series, and it is not hard to see why.
The “Educational Series” earned this nickname thanks to the unique design of its notes, which features a full-page neoclassical allegorical motif across each bill’s obverse.
This uncharacteristic eye-catching aesthetic is a major deviation from the portraits that typically grace the front of United States notes. On these notes, you will find two portraits of notable figures placed on the note’s reverse instead.
The 1896 $5 silver certificate takes things a step further, as it is arguably the most famous piece from the series.
In front, the art piece paints a busy scene, with Liberty standing in front of the Capitol Dome and holding up a light bulb while being flanked by a flying dove and three angels, one of which is riding a horse-drawn chariot and another blowing a long-tubed trumpet.
This note is considered by many to be the most beautiful American bill, and this reverence reflects in its demand and price.
Even in relatively subpar conditions, this bill will typically retail between $500 and $1000. You should expect to pay significantly more for higher-quality specimens, as regular uncirculated condition pieces typically retail for between $10,000 and $12,000.
1899 $5 Silver Certificate
The 1899 $5 Dollar Silver Certificate is yet another note from the five-dollar certificate series that draws a significant amount of its popularity from its unique design.
This bill is the only one in the series (and in all United States paper notes) that features the portrait of a Native American. On the obverse of this bill, you will find the bust of Chief Running Antelope, an image that earned this note the nickname “the chief.”
Running Antelope (Tȟatȟóka Íŋyaŋke) was head chief of the Húŋkpapȟa and was a notable Native American that was famed for his bravery, oratory, and diplomacy (especially with the whites.)
However, Running Antelope’s portrait on this note was cause for some controversy. In the portrait, he is pictured wearing a Pawnee headdress, a gear that is native to a tribe that is different from that of the chief. Running Antelope was a member of the Sioux tribe.
Since the native headgear of his tribe was too tall to fit inside the engraving, the note makers opted to switch the headdress with a smaller one.
There is a great deal of variety available to collectors of this note, as there are eleven different signature variations to choose from when making the purchase. Of these eleven variations, the notes signed by Napier Thompson, Ellis Robert, and Frank White typically attract a significant premium on the collector’s market.
On average, you should expect to pay between $500 and $1500 for notes in good to very condition. Uncirculated specimens of this bill will set you back at least $3000.
1923 $5 Silver Certificate
The last $5 silver certificate from the large note era is this piece that heralded the new era of smaller, less elaborate United States bills.
The large note era is considered by many collectors to be the golden age of American notes for its production of aesthetically pleasing bills with intricate and highly artistic designs. In contrast, the new era created significantly stripped-down, industrial designs. No note captures this switch better than the 1923 $5 silver certificate.
This note is the first five dollar silver certificate in the series to feature a portrait of Abraham Lincoln on the obverse. This Lincoln portrait became the face of the $5 silver certificate (as well as that of many other United States notes and coins) for the rest of its production years.
On first look, you will notice the considerable reduction in complexity from the previous notes on this list as this one features more black spaces and less elaborate patterns.
However, its design is still significantly more complex than that of its successors. You still get a simple yet prominent motif that runs along the edge of the note’s obverse and an eye-catching frame around the Lincoln portrait that earns this note its nickname, “The Porthole,” because it looks like a ship’s porthole.
With only around 1500 surviving pieces of this note, it is rarer than most newer notes, though not as rare as most of the older bills in this series.
In its uncirculated condition, you should expect a price between $2000 and $3000, while bills in lower condition will sell in the $400 – $1500 range.
1934 $5 Silver Certificate
The 1934 five dollar silver certificate is the first small note in the series. The downgrade in design complexity is immediately obvious, as at first glance, it looks like your regular five dollar bill today compared to the artistic feel of the older notes in this series.
This note is one of the abundant from the series today and is consequently not as valuable as the other rarer pieces. On average, you should expect a 1934 five dollar silver certificate to sell for $20 – $60 in very fine condition and $100 – $300 in an uncirculated state.
Star notes from this release are significantly rarer and can reach the $1000 – $2000 range.
1953 $5 Silver Certificate
The 1953 five dollar silver certificate mirrors the exact same design as its predecessor with only a few cosmetic differences—a smaller seal and a differently-colored “5” on the left side of the Lincoln portrait.
This note is even less valuable, with regular specimens selling for $10 – $15 in very fine condition and around 30 bucks in their uncirculated state.
Star notes from the series attract a slightly higher ransom, selling for around $100 in their uncirculated state and in the $30 – $40 range for very fine circulated notes.