You may think that $50 bills are extinct, considering how rare you’ll come across them when getting your change back, or withdrawing cash from the bank. But, these bills are still in circulation and down for printing when needed. In fact, 5% of all banknotes printed nowadays are $50 bills.
Since many people don’t know a lot about $50 bills we decided to write an informative article about this currency denomination. In this guide, you’ll learn many interesting facts such as:
- Why are these bills considered an omen of bad luck?
- Why are they so rarely printed nowadays?
- How to recognize real from fake $50 bills?
- Who is on the 50 dollar bill?
If you always wanted to learn more about the mysterious $50 bill this is the perfect chance to do so.
Different Design Of The $50 Bill Throughout The History
Throughout history, different leaders and governments change, and with that, the national currency was changed or evolved. In this particular part of the article, we will mention different types of $50 bills that were printed from 1778 until today and the portraits of people they carried.
Continental 1778 $50 bills
The first United States $50 bill was printed on September 26, 1778, during the Colonial Period. These first Continental bills don’t look anything like the typical Federal Reserve note that we are all used to seeing. The bill was printed in the middle of the American Revolutionary War (1775-1783) so taking that into account the bill was printed with a simple design.
On the front side, you can see a pyramid with 13 steps. Every step represents one state. The motto PERENNIS above the pyramid means “everlasting” and it symbolizes their strength, brotherhood, and unity. The back side of the bill feature s big image of arrows.
Confederate 1861 $50 bills
After the Confederacy and their paper money bills, the first confederate $50 bill was printed in 1861 in Richmond, Virginia. When the Civil War finished most of the Confederate Currency was destroyed because it didn’t have any value. Luckily some examples were saved, which is why these bills are so scarce today. However, the ability to fake one of these bills was easy so be careful, since a lot of bills we see today are replica money.
Their design depended on in which country the bill was printed. Most Confederate $50 bills featured an image of Jefferson Davis the first and only president of the Confederate States Of America.
The Federal Reserve 1861-1863 $50 bills
After the fall of the Confederate States Of America, the printing of Federal Reserve banknotes began in late 1861. There were two types of $50 national bank notes printed in 1861. These were called the original series and they were delivered to individual national banks around the US. Also, there were additional 1862 and 1863 $50 Legal Tender Notes available.
The original series of $50 national bank notes are quite rare and valuable so the price can range significantly depending on which national bank issued them, condition, serial number, and type. This bill in poor condition will bring you at least $10,000.
On the other hand, $50 legal tender bills were printed on thin paper and the security features were limited since they used green ink and a red seal. However, these bills were a bit harder to counterfeit than Confederate bills.
Legal Tender 1869 $50 bills – Rainbow notes
Legal tender $50 bills from 1869, featured a very attractive design. At that period, the Federal Reserve was focused on increasing security and preventing counterfeiting by changing the colors they used in the design. They added multiple colors, fibers, and partially blue paper.
The main reason why these Rainbow notes are popular among collectors is their specific design and colors like red, green, and blue which make the whole design unique. If you look it better you’ll find the portrait of statesman Henry Clay. On the back, you’ll see anti-counterfeiting ornately engraving, and Legal Tender clauses at left and right. The price for these bills can vary significantly but you can expect to at least get $10,000 for it.
Silver Certificate $50 bills
In the period from 1869 to 1880, there were multiple different types of $50 bills printed. The silver certificate $50 bills have a large brown seal at the center, these bills were printed between 1869 and 1880. The 1880 series was the final year for this design.
Beside the brown seal, you’ll find the portrait of Edward Everett, governor of Massachusetts, on the front side. All silver certificate notes from this period feature a black back design with the large SILVER written across the whole length of the back.
1891 $50 Treasury “Seward” Note
Did you know that a lot of large-size banknotes from the 1800s have a nickname given by collectors? For instance, this bill is called “Seward” because it features William Seward, a former United States Secretary. Also, what is characteristic of this bill is that it only comes with a small thin red seal.
It is good to know that Treasury notes were only printed in 1890 and 1891. The “Seward” bills were only printed in 1891 which makes them very valuable and attractive. Also, a great thing is that these bills are hard to forge. Their price is determined by the condition, the minimal price for this bill is around $1,500 and it can go up to a few thousand, and even a hundred thousand dollars.
1882 $50 Blue Seal National Bank Notes
1882 $50 blue seal bills are rare regardless of which city bank they were issued. Also, there are two different types of this bill – one with the date on the back side and the other with the value written on the backside.
This bill will come with a blue seal, blue charter number, and blue serial number. On the front side of the banknote, you will find an image of G. Washington crossing the Delaware on the left side while, on the right, G. Washington at Prayer.
1913 $50 Gold Certificates
The 1913 $50 Gold Certificate is a scarce banknote and very attractive among collectors. The large-size banknotes like this one lasted until the early 1900s. These banknotes are also known as “horse blanket” notes among collectors since they are large.
The print design of the 1913 $50 Gold Certificate is identical to the 1922 $50 Gold Certificate. This is among the first series of bills that feature a portrait of Ulysses S. Grant. You’ll also notice that all details on the front side are printed in orange/gold color. Also, the complete back side of the bill is printed in the same orange/gold color.
1913 $50 Federal Reserve Notes
All current $50 dollar bills originate from the 1913 $50 bill. They all feature a portrait of Ulysses S. Grant. In the past 110 years, the design of this bill was modified three times (1990, 1997, 2004) to enhance security and downsize the chances of counterfeiting.
Nowadays, they feature subtle background colors of blue and red and include an embedded security thread that glows yellow when it is placed under UV light. Also, when held to a light, a portrait watermark is visible from both sides. This note also includes a color-shifting numeral 50 in the lower right corner of the note.
President Ulysses S. Grant wasn’t on the portrait of the $50 until 1913. Before him, George Washington, Benjamin Franklin, Alexander Hamilton, and Henry Clay were also featured on the front side of the bill.
Who Was Ulysses S. Grant?
Ulysses Grant (1822-1885) was best known as a commanding general in the victorious Union army during the American Civil War (1861-1865). He was born and raised in Ohio, where he graduated from West Point. and served as the 18th U.S. president from 1869 to 1877. During the Civil War, he was given command of all the U.S. armies, so he naturally became a national hero after the war ends.
In 1868 Republicans nominated him for president. He won the elections and became the 18th U.S. president. His mandate ended in 1877. During his presidency, his work was mainly focused on reconciling the North and South and protecting the civil rights of newly freed black slaves. He as well stabilized the post-civil war economy and created the Department of Justice.
Unfortunately, his residency and his office were marked by a few scandals and corruption. After retiring, Grant invested in a brokerage company. Unfortunately, that company declared bankruptcy, costing him all his life savings. He soon found out that he was terminally ill and started writing his memoirs. After finishing his book in 1885 he died. Mark Twain published Grant’s book which was a huge success.
How To Determine If $50 Bill Is Real Or Fake?
Thanks to the many security features you can easily determine which banknote is real and which is fake. Here is the list of things you need to look for:
- Color-shifting ink – First thing you want to do is to tilt the bill and see if the number 50 located in the lower right corner on the front side of the bill changes colors. If it is a real bill the color will go from copper to green. The redesigned currency has a more dramatic color change than older versions.
- Watermarks – Place your bill to light and you’ll need to see a watermark, or faint image, identical to the large portrait. The watermark can be seen on both sides of the bill.
- Security thread – Once again you’ll need to place your bill against the bill to light. You will look for the security thread that is embedded in the paper. It runs vertically up only one side of the bill. The words USA 50 and a small flag are visible along the thread. This security thread glows yellow when illuminated by UV light.
- Symbols of freedom – Symbols like traditional stars and stripes in blue and red have been added to the design on the front of this bill to represent images of the American flag. They are located behind the portrait of President Grant, the field of blue stars is on the left side of the portrait, while three red stripes are on the right side. On the lower right side of the portrait, you’ll find a small metallic silver-blue star.
- Portrait and vignette – There were some small changes to the portrait image. It has been moved up and shoulders have been extended into the border. The oval vignette on the front side has been replaced with engraving details into the vignette background.
- Microprinting – Microprinted words are hard to replicate so the redesigned $50 bill features microprinting on the front of the note in three areas. The words FIFTY, USA, and the number 50 should be found in two of the blue stars to the left. Also, the word FIFTY should be found repeated within both side borders of the bill. Keep in mind that THE UNITED STATES OF AMERICA must be located on President Grant’s collar, just under his beard.
- Federal Reserve indicators – The universal seal which you can see on the left side of the portrait represents the entire Federal Reserve System. You should know that the letter and number underneath the left serial number will show you which Federal Reserve bank issued this banknote. There are 12 regional Federal Reserve Banks with 24 branches located in major cities.
- Serial numbers – This unique combination of eleven numbers and letters appears twice on the front of the note. Since they are unique identifiers, they help law enforcement identifies fake notes.
Why $50 Bills Are Rarely Seen In Circulation?
Undoubtedly, the truth is that these bills are not so common in circulation and there are a few theories why is it like that. The first theory is that this bill is disliked among people because it relates to the Civil War and the nation’s antipathy for Ulysses S. Grant.
On the other hand, the second theory claimed that this bill is unlucky. While researching we found several intriguing origin stories of how this bill became a symbol of bad luck. The first reason is the already mentioned former president Ulysses S. Grant, who declared bankruptcy before he died. Since people don’t like to be broke, they avoid keeping this banknote in their wallets.
Now the second reason is related to the mob. It is believed that mobsters would place this bill in the pockets of murder victims as their trademark to say so. That sounds scary and we do get why people don’t like to keep something that is related to bad luck and crime.
The third theory, and the most logical one, is counterfeiting. Even though the $20 bill is the most counterfeited banknote, the $50 bill is slightly behind it. Most casinos, gamblers, shops, and common people refused to receive this bill because they do not want to have any problems with handling potentially fake bills.
Why are these bills so rarely printed nowadays?
There is one more valid reason why this bill is printed only when necessary – the cost of printing. The US $50 wins the most expensive currency to create. It costs 19.4 cents per note to have it made.
Now you must think that ain’t expensive! But did you know that the $100 only costs 15.5 cents per note? Multiply that price by the amount of $50 banknotes printed per series, and you’ll figure out that it is way more affordable to simply print $100.
How long is a life cycle of a $50 bill in circulation?
Currently, there are 1.7 billion $50 bills in circulation, the only denomination that has fewer numbers in circulation are $2 bills. However, not all denominations have the same lifespan in circulation.
Did you know that more than 70% of newly printed bills are delivered each year to replace the old banknotes that are going out of circulation? Only 30% of all printed banknotes are to say fresh and new.
For instance, $1 bills are replaced every 5.5 years, since they are very common in use they tend to damage very easily. On the other hand, $50 bills are replaced every 8.5 years, while $100 bills are replaced every 11 years. The interesting fact is that the lifespan of circulation for coins is at least 30 years.
The Peoples Verdict – Fifty Ain’t Nifty
There is no doubt that people dislike this bill so hard. They dislike it so much that some people even don’t come across one for months or years, and that is not because we mainly use cards instead of cash.
However, money is money, right? In the end, it still has monetary value and it pays your bills so like it or not these bills will stay in circulation for years to come. Especially pay attention to your old $50 bills since some might carry some rare error or interesting serial number combination that can fetch you a great amount of money. It does not sound like an unlucky bill now, right?
If you possess some interesting $50 bill in your collection we would like to hear more about it. Please, make sure you leave a comment or ask us a question in the comment section below.