Large denominations of United States currency

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The base currency of the United States is the U.S. dollar, and it is printed on bills in seven denominations of $1, $2, $5, $10, $20, $50, and $100. U.S. currency previously included five larger denominations. Notes in the denominations of $500, $1,000, $5,000, and $10,000 were printed for general use; a $100,000 note was printed for certain internal transactions.

Overview and history[edit]

High-denomination currency was prevalent from the very beginning of U.S. Government issue (1860). Interest-bearing notes of $500, $1,000, $5,000, and $10,000 were issued in 1861, and $5,000 and $10,000 United States Notes were released in 1878. There are many different designs and types of high-denomination notes.

The high-denomination bills (together with the $1 through $100 denominations) were issued in 1929 in the smaller size that remains the format to this day. The designs were as follows:

The reverse designs are abstract scroll-work with ornate denomination identifiers. All were printed in green, except for the Series of 1934 gold certificate, which were printed in orange on the reverse. These Series 1934 gold certificates (of denominations $100, $1,000, $10,000, and $100,000) were issued after the gold standard was repealed and gold was compulsorily confiscated by order of President Franklin Roosevelt on March 9, 1933 (see United States Executive Order 6102), and thus were used only for intra-government transactions and not issued to the public. Of these, the $100,000 is an odd bill in that it was printed only as this Series 1934 gold certificate. This series was discontinued in 1940. The other bills are printed in black and green. See History of the United States dollar.

Although they are still technically legal tender in the United States, high-denomination bills were last printed on December 27, 1945, and officially discontinued on July 14, 1969, by the Federal Reserve System.[1] The $5,000 and $10,000 effectively disappeared well before then. Of the $10,000 bills, 100 were preserved for many years by Benny Binion, the owner of Binion's Horseshoe casino in Las Vegas, Nevada, where they were displayed encased in acrylic. The display has since been dismantled and the bills sold to private collectors. Also, there is one large-size, 1800s-era $1,000 bill in the Bird Cage Theatre in Tombstone, Arizona, underneath the glass counter top.

The Federal Reserve began taking high-denomination bills out of circulation in 1969, after an executive order by President Nixon (rather than actual legislation passed by Congress). As of May 30, 2009, only 336 $10,000 bills were known to exist; 342 remaining $5,000 bills; and 165,372 remaining $1,000 bills.[2] Due to their rarity, collectors will pay considerably more than the face value of the bills to acquire them. Some are even in other parts of the world in museums.

For the most part, these bills were used by banks and the Federal Government for large financial transactions. This was especially true for gold certificates from 1865 to 1934. However, the introduction of the electronic money system has made large-scale cash transactions obsolete. When combined with concerns about counterfeiting and the use of cash in unlawful activities such as the illegal drug trade and money laundering, it is unlikely that the U.S. government will re-issue large denomination currency in the near future, despite the amount of inflation that has occurred since 1969 (A $500 bill is now worth less, in real terms, than a $100 bill was worth in 1969). According to the US Department of Treasury website, "The present denominations of our currency in production are $1, $2, $5, $10, $20, $50, and $100. Neither the Department of the Treasury nor the Federal Reserve System has any plans to change the denominations in use today."[3]

$500 bill[edit]

The $500 bill featured William McKinley on the obverse and the words "Five Hundred Dollars" on the reverse. It was released as a small-size Federal Reserve Note (sometimes nicknamed "watermelon notes" due to the design on the reverse) in 1918 and 1934, and a small-size Gold Certificate in 1928.

1879 $500 bill

Series 1869 $500 Legal tender note
Series 1869 $500 Legal tender note with a vignette of Justice and John Quincy Adams

1882 $500 gold certificate

1882 Lincoln $500 gold certificate
1882 Lincoln $500 gold certificate

1918 $500 bill

Series 1918 $500 bill, Obverse, with Chief Justice John Marshall
Series 1918 $500 bill, Obverse, with Chief Justice John Marshall
Series 1918 $500 bill, Reverse, depicting Hernando de Soto discovering the Mississippi River
Series 1918 $500 bill, Reverse, depicting Hernando de Soto discovering the Mississippi River

1928/1934 $500 bill

A small-size $500 gold certificate, Series 1928.
A small-size $500 gold certificate, Series 1928.
Series 1934 $500 bill, Obverse, with President William McKinley
Series 1934 $500 bill, Obverse, with President William McKinley
Series 1928 and 1934 $500 bill, Reverse
Series 1928 and 1934 $500 bill, Reverse

$1,000 bill[edit]

The $1,000 bill featured Grover Cleveland on the obverse and the words "One Thousand Dollars" on the reverse. It was printed as a small-size Federal Reserve Note in 1918, 1934 and 1934A, and a small-size Gold Certificate in 1928 and 1934. As of May 30, 2009, 165,372 $1,000 bills were known to exist.[2] Let's Make a Deal game-show host Monty Hall occasionally gave $500 and $1,000 bills away as prizes, until they were discontinued.

1918 $1,000 bill

Series 1918 $1,000 bill, Obverse, with Alexander Hamilton
Series 1918 $1,000 bill, Obverse, with Alexander Hamilton
Series 1918 $1,000 bill, Reverse
Series 1918 $1,000 bill, Reverse

1934 $1,000 bill

Series 1934 $1,000 bill, Obverse, with Grover Cleveland
Series 1934 $1,000 bill, Obverse, with Grover Cleveland
Series 1928 or 1934 $1,000 bill, Reverse
Series 1928 or 1934 $1,000 bill, Reverse
Series 1934 $1,000 Gold Certificate depicting Grover Cleveland.

$5,000 bill[edit]

The $5,000 bill featured James Madison on the obverse. There is a large-sized $5,000 Federal Reserve Note on display at the Smithsonian Museum of American History. The $5,000 bill was printed as a gold certificate in 1928, and a federal reserve note in 1928, 1934, and 1934A. As of May 30, 2009, 342 $5,000 bills were known to exist.[2] Currently, there are no known 1928 $5,000 Gold Certificates in existence except the unique specimen (# A00000001A) in the Smithsonian Institution.


A proof of a Series 1878 $5,000 United States Note depicting James Madison. All examples of this series have been redeemed.

1918 $5,000 bill

Series 1918 $5,000 Federal Reserve Note, Obverse
Series 1918 $5,000 Federal Reserve Note, Obverse
Series 1918 $5,000 Federal Reserve Note, Reverse, featuring the resignation of General George Washington
Series 1918 $5,000 Federal Reserve Note, Reverse, featuring the resignation of General George Washington

1934 $5,000 bill

Series 1934 $5,000 Federal Reserve Note, Obverse
Series 1934 $5,000 Federal Reserve Note, Obverse
Series 1934 $5,000 Federal Reserve Note, Reverse
Series 1928 or 1935 $5,000 Federal Reserve Note, Reverse

$10,000 bill[edit]

Salmon P. Chase appears on the $10,000 bill. It is the largest denomination of U.S. currency ever in public circulation, and was issued until 1946.[4] As of May 30, 2009, only 336 $10,000 bills were known to have survived.[2] Currently, there are no known 1928 $10,000 Gold Certificates in existence except the unique specimen (# A00000001A) in the Smithsonian Institution. Photographic records show that at least three 1934 $10,000 Gold Certificates are still in existence (#s A00000001A, A00000537A, A00000540A) within government archives.

A proof of a Series 1878 $10,000 United States Note depicting Andrew Jackson. All examples of this series have been redeemed.

$10,000 bill

Series 1918 $10,000 bill, Obverse
Series 1918 $10,000 bill, Obverse
Series 1918 $10,000 bill, Reverse, depicting the Pilgrims
Series 1918 $10,000 bill, Reverse, depicting the Pilgrims
Series 1934 $10,000 Federal Reserve Note depicting Salmon P. Chase.

$100,000 bill[edit]

The $100,000 Series 1934 Gold Certificate feature a portrait of Woodrow Wilson. These notes were printed from December 18, 1934, through January 9, 1935, and were issued by the Treasurer of the United States to Federal Reserve Banks only against an equal amount of gold bullion held by the Treasury Department. The notes were used only for official transactions between Federal Reserve Banks and were not circulated among the general public.[5] Photographic records show that at least seven 1934 $100,000 Gold Certificates are still in existence (#s A00000001A, A00020102A, A00020106A, A00020108A, A00020109A, A00020110A, A00020113A) as well as a number of specimen notes, including an uncut sheet of 12 specimen notes.

Adjusted for inflation, $100,000 at the time of these notes' printing was, as of 2013, approximately equivalent to $1,720,000.[6][7]

$100,000 bill

Series 1934 $100,000 bill, obverse
Series 1934 $100,000 bill, obverse
Series 1934 $100,000 bill, reverse
Series 1934 $100,000 bill, reverse

See also[edit]

  • Fake denominations: Numerous fake large denominations of US currency have been created by various individuals and organizations.

References[edit]

  1. ^ US BEP large banknote images, The Bureau of Engraving and Printing.
  2. ^ a b c d Palmer, Brian (July 24, 2009). "Somebody Call Officer Crumb!:How much cash can a corrupt politician cram into a cereal box?". Slate.com. Retrieved July 24, 2012.  As to "cereal boxes" as a repository for ill-gotten bribes compare "Little Tin Box" in the musical Fiorello!.
  3. ^ U.S. Treasury - FAQs: Denominations of Currency.
  4. ^ Jordan Kellogg (April 18, 2012). "Paper money introduced to fund Civil War". Cincinnati.com. Retrieved November 21, 2012. 
  5. ^ "Denominations". U.S. Treasury Department. Retrieved December 5, 2011. 
  6. ^ "CPI Inflation Calculator: $100,000 in 1934 = the same buying power as $1,739,320.90 in 2013". United States Department of Labor | Bureau of Labor Statistics. Retrieved 10 January 2014. 
  7. ^ "CPI Inflation Calculator: $100,000 in 1935 = the same buying power as $1,701,233.58 in 2013". United States Department of Labor | Bureau of Labor Statistics. Retrieved 10 January 2014. 

External links[edit]