Did you know that Canadian Money is also known as Monopoly money? They gained this interesting nickname due to the bright colors and unique artwork that makes them look like actual Monopoly game money. What we love about Canadian money is the fact that they all feature images of important national symbols, so they look like miniature works of art.
In fact, if you ask us Canadian currency looks way better than uniformed all-green American bills. However, since this blog is all about the value of coins and bills, in this article, we’ll introduce you to the most valuable Canadian bills, and teach you how to recognize them and where to find them.
Canadian Currency 101
Even though Canada is known as one of the most credit-card-friendly countries in the world they still use small denomination cash regularly on a daily basis. We can’t deny that using credit and debit cards is much more convenient than carrying cash around, however, how will you score a rare coin or bill if you don’t use them?
This leads us to the following conclusions – since most people use credit cards, the circulation of bills is modest yet most bills are in better condition. Also, fewer people using cash means there is more cash available to you.
However, Canadian bills as we know them have only been in circulation since 1870. The reason behind this is that a variety of currencies were in use throughout history, from British Pound to American Dollar, even the Spanish Peso was bound for some time.
Nowadays, since the currency isn’t tied to the value of the British Pound (Canada is a British Colony), the Canadian Dollar is proclaimed as one of the world’s top seven currencies for its reliability and stability.
Moreover, it is good to know that from January 1, 2021, some Canadian bills lost their legal tender status so they are discontinued. Those bills include the following denomination – $1, $2, $25, $500, and $1,000. Why is this a big deal?
That being said, you may want to reconsider the decision of returning them to the bank. Their value will for sure increase now when they are out of circulation. How much? That we can’t guarantee you. Don’t underestimate the value of your old Canadian bills, instead make sure you identify their worth and find out if they hold more than a face value.
Types of Canadian bills
Paper money is used for larger currency denominations. However, what makes Canadian bills different is their colorful design and the material they are made of. Even though they were once made out of paper, currently all Canadian bills are made from thin, flexible plastic – polymer.
The main reason is durability. Regular paper bills were phased out in 2011 and were replaced with the so-called “Monopoly” money. All of the Canadian bills feature designs of inspiring Canadians or some other national symbol.
$5 Canadian bill
This is the smallest bill denomination since $1 and $2 bills were retired. On the obverse side of the bill, you will see a portrait of former prime minister Wilfrid Laurier, who was known as the first French-Canadian to lead Canada. On the reverse side, you will find the Canadarm, a robotic arm that was used by NASA from 1981 until 2011. The bill is blue in color.
There is a funny story related to this bill. It seems like Canadians are big fans of the Star Trek series. Canadians have been defacing certain editions of the five-dollar bill by using ink pens to turn Laurier’s face to resemble Spock. They even have a name for this altered $5 bill and it is known as “Spocking Fives”.
$10 Canadian bill
The purple $10 dollar bill features a portrait of John A. Macdonald on the obverse side. This was Canada’s first prime minister and founder of the nation. However, when you turn the bill you’ll find an image of the cross-country Canadian railroad and The Canadian famous Vancover-Toronto train. This railroad was Macdonald’s signature accomplishment.
For those who didn’t know, there is a new $10 bill design that is currently in circulation. This bill features a black businesswoman Viola Desmond. In 1946 she was jailed, convicted, and fined for defiantly refusing to leave a whites-only area in a movie theater. This case was the initial pursuit of racial equality across Canada.
$20 Canadian bill
Considering Canada is a British Colony, a banknote with the portrait of Canadas’s monarch was inevitable. This $20 bill is green in color and features a portrait of Queen Elizabeth II on the obverse side. The reverse side features an image of the Canadian National Vimy Memorial. A monument in France was built in honor of 3,000 Canadians who died in the Battle of Vimy Ridge in WWI.
This is not the only Canadian dollar bill that features an image of Queen Elizabeth. You can find her portrait on the $1 and $2 bills that are retired. Considering her recent death, these bills gained collectible value.
$50 Canadian bill
A red-colored $50 bill features the longest-running prime minister of Canada William Lyon Mackenzie King. He was known as the prime minister who led Canada through World War II and presided over the independence from the United Kingdom.
On the reverse side, you can see an image of the CCGS Amundsen, previously known as the CCGS Sir John Franklin. This aging icebreaker was overhauled in 2002 and re-launched as the Amundsen with the capacity to travel 15,000 nautical miles before returning to port. One of several unique features on this ship is the moon pool that lets scientists deploy instruments to explore the depths of the Arctic Ocean.
$100 Canadian bill
Golden Canada’s $100 bill features Robert Borden, Canada’s eighth prime minister who was in charge during World War I. As you all probably know Canadian doctors and scientists have been at the frontiers of medical research for a very long time.
Notable Canadian contributions to medicine were the invention of insulin to treat diabetes. Also, the invention of the pacemaker, DNA and genetic research, and the first hospital-to-hospital robot-assisted surgery. This is the main reason why the Government decided to honor Canadian science research by featuring Frederick Banting on the reverse side of the bill.
The interesting fact is that this bill is largely counterfeit so many stores won’t accept this bill. Also, due to this problem, the $1,000 bill was discontinued as well a few years ago.
What about retired Canadian bills?
As usual, the most valuable banknotes are those that are very old or withdrawn from circulation. Most Canadians remember those light red colored $2 bills that were in use during the 80s and 90s. In fact, many people still have them. These old bills lost their legal tender status and aren’t in production for decades. Alongside the $2 bill, the following denominations are not in use anymore – $1, $25, $500, and $1,000 bills.
The first banknotes that lost their legal tender status were $25 and $500 banknotes. These bills were commemorative banknotes from the early 1930s. Following their example, $1 and $2 banknotes stopped being issued in 1989 and 1996. The last Canadian dollar bill that was withdrawn from production was the $1,000 bill, and it lost its legal tender status in 2000.
While these bills can no longer be used, if you have any you didn’t lose all your money. You can trade them in the Bank of Canada at face value. However, you should first finish reading this article before you decide to cash them up for just the face value.
$1 Canadian bill
The Canadian $1 bill is the oldest one and has been around in some form, since the establishment of the Canadian Dollar as a currency in 1841. Before the Canadian Dollar, the paper currency was a mixed combination of Provincial, Dominion, and Foreign currencies.
Canadian $1 bill featured different images over time, unlike the American $1 bill. The reason is that as a British Colony, Canada was in obligation to change design with the ascension of each new British monarch.
The first printed Canadian $1 bill had a portrait of King George V on the obverse side, while the reverse side featured an allegorical image representing agriculture. However, you have likely seen those mid-80s Canadian $1 bills that feature a familiar portrait of Queen Elizabeth II on the obverse side. When you turn the bill, you can see an image of Parliament Hill and a tug boat in the middle of a broken log boom.
$2 Canadian bill
The Canadian $2 bill was issued from 1935 until 1996, under the regulation of the Bank of Canada. In 1996 it was withdrawn from circulation and replaced by a $2 coin that Canadian call Toonie.
Logically, the Canadian $2 bill features various members of the British Royal family. If you have a first edition of a Canadian $2 bill from 1935, on the obverses side you will find a portrait of Queen Mary, the wife of King George V. Also, this banknote bears the signatures of J.A.C. Osborne as the Deputy Governor and G.F. Towers.
However, in 1986 a Canadian $2 underwent some design changes. This is the year when the Bank Of Canada decided to feature The Birds of Canada images on the reverse side of banknotes. The obverses side of the $2 bill features a portrait of Queen Elizabeth II, while the reverse side features two robins birds.
Also, keep in mind that some $2 bills from 1986 comes with the AUH prefix that had the wrong signature combination, so they are a bit more valuable. The bills had the signatures of the then-incoming Bank of Canada Governor John Crow instead of Governor Gerald Bouey.
$25 Canadian bill
This is a special commemorative banknote, there are around 1,840 specimens of this bill. It is royal purple in color and it was issued on 6 May 1935 to honor the silver jubilee of King George V. On the obverse side, it features portraits of King George V and Queen Mary. While the reverse side features the image of Windsor Castle, one of the royal family’s official residences.
A great thing for collectors is that this is the only $25 banknote ever issued by the Bank of Canada, as well as the only one that features a vignette whose content was not Canadian.
$500 Canadian bill
Just like the $25 Canadian bill, this one is also a commemorative banknote. Also, this was the only series of $500 bills ever issued by the Bank of Canada. On the obverse side, it features an image of Canada’s first prime minister Sir John A. Macdonald, while on the reverse side, you can find an allegorical figure representing fertility.
The $500 note was last printed in 1938.
$1,000 Canadian bill
Did you know that the Canadian $1,000 bill was the first banknote that was printed in red-purple color before it became synonymous with the Canadian $50 bill? This is the main reason why the $1,000 bill was nicknamed “pinkie”. The first specimen was printed in 1935 and on the obverse side, it had a portrait of Queen Elizabeth, while the reverse side featured an image of pine grosbeaks.
By the time it got discontinued, there was around $735 million worth of $1,000 bills in circulation. A decision to remove the legal tender status from these bills was part of a plan to prevent and slow down counterfeiting, money laundering, and tax evasion.
Table of the most valuable Canadian bills
How To Determine The Real Value Of Old Canadian Paper Bills
How much can you actually get for that old Canadian paper money you have? As you already know by now, the value of any collectible item is directly linked to its condition. The better-looking example will cost a lot more.
When we talk about paper money value it depends on a few factors. Specifically, Old Canadian paper money value is dependent on the following factors:
When it comes to collectibles such as stamps and banknotes that are made from paper condition is extremely important. The problem is that these collectibles are made from paper which deteriorates with time no matter how well you protect them. That means there are some small changes in the grading system, but we will talk about that in shortly.
Rare is valuable. What you need to know is how many of these banknotes were produced. Make sure you do your research. If there are thousands of other people who have the same old Canadian dollar bill as you that bill won’t be much valuable.
Look for old Canadian paper bills that only had a handful of printings. Also, banknotes that carry unique serial numbers will add a lot of value since they are very rare and special. Naturally, the money makers will always be the first bill produced in the series, as well as the last one.
A rare and old Canadian paper bill may be worth a lot of money in theory, but if it’s damaged and ripped its value is ripped as well. That means it’s important to protect it, you can keep it in a binder, in a plastic sleeve, etc, and prevent wear and tear.
The grade of old Canadian dollar bills is usually rated according to the current condition. Here is the list of grades:
- Fair or poor – Those are bills from circulation. In most cases, they show lots of signs of wear and tear, folds, rips, and large pieces missing, usually corners. They do not worth much more than face value, and sometimes not even that.
- Good – These are also bills from circulation. The difference is that they come with fewer damages, folds, smaller tears, and pieces missing. They can earn you a bit more money than their face value.
- Very good – Used in circulation, but remained in very good condition. They can have small tears and will appear very worn but with no significant damage.
- Fine – Bills from circulation without any tears? Yes, it is possible. These bills only have some small and fine folds, while the color is usually faded from usage.
- Very fine – These banknotes are whole with small wrinkling and folds. The coloring is bright. There are minor signs of usage.
- Extremely fine – These bills are sturdy and crisp with minor signs of handling. Those signs include pinches, folds, and smudges. Overall, these can achieve great prices.
- About uncirculated – Almost uncirculated. These will have no signs of handling and no more than 2 folds and corner folds. Bills can’t show any signs of discoloration.
- Choice uncirculated – These notes show no folds, the only acceptable are minor corner folds.
- Gem uncirculated – Logically, these bills are fresh from the mint, without any flaws or folds.
Where Can You Buy Or Sell Canadian Bills?
Finding a rare and valuable banknote can be a time-consuming and hard task. In fact, it can be pretty tricky, considering the amount of counterfeited Canadian bills, especially those with higher denominations. These bills can’t be found in pocket change since the majority of them are not in circulation anymore. So you must look for them in other places such as stores, shows, and online platforms.
The best places for notaphilists are specialized shops and expos that are related to coins and antique collections. These events are crowded with people that have similar interests as you so you can be sure that most banknotes here can be seen in person and estimate if it’s real or fake.
If you want to trade online then your safest bet is Heritage Auction. For those brave enough to take risks, auction sites like eBay, Etsy, and LiveAuctioneers are an option too. However, it is very important to find a trusted dealer you can work with.
Why are the 1954 Canadian bills controversial?
This is one of the most famous series of Canadian bills. In 1954, following the death of King George VI in 1952 Canada created a new series of bills in his honor. There were some changes from the previous release, which includes the relocation of an image of Queen Elizabeth on the obverse side.
The queen’s portrait was moved to the right side of the note since this part of the bill is rarely folded. However, there was some unintentional error due to printing so the queen’s hair in the portrait created the illusion of a “devil’s face”.
What can you do with old damaged Canadian bills?
In case you have an old discontinued Candian bill but it is damaged and you can’t trade it as a collectible, there is one thing you can do. Take it to the bank and they will gladly pay you out at its face value. Keep in mind that they did lose their legal tender but you didn’t lose your money.
Don’t Judge The Value Of A Bill By Its Denomination
We can say it freely that currently there are a lot of old banknotes that the Bank of Canada still hasn’t been able to remove from circulation. Even though a lot of those bills are already in collections, unfortunately, a lot of bills were also destroyed, especially those with low denominations.
However, if you run across any of these discontinued bills make sure you check their real value with an expert. Take a look at our price table and you’ll understand why you shouldn’t cash them out in the first place. You never know how valuable a bill can be, the great thing is that either way, you won’t lose.