What is the Most Valuable Piece of Currency?

I’m willing to bet that many of you have held a $50 bill in your hands. Maybe even a $100 bill. But have you ever held a $500 bill? Or something even larger? What is the most valuable legal tender bill in existence today? And what about the fabled 100,000 dollar bill? Does it exist?

The $10,000 dollar bill – The Second Largest Denomination Bill behind the 100,000 Dollar Bill (Portrait: Salmon P. Chase, Secretary of the Treasury, 1861-1864)
Source: Wikimedia Commons

The Most Valuable Piece of Legal Tender = 10,000 Dollar Bill

According to Life’s Little Mysteries, the most valuable piece of legal tender in existence is the $10,000 bill. It was printed from 1928 to 1946 and featured Salmon Chase. Chase was chosen for creating the modern system of banknotes by introducing the greenback, which was the first U.S. federal currency. Interestingly enough, he later expressed regret for this after becoming Chief Justice of the Supreme Court.

After World War II, the Treasury stopped printing any bill with a denomination over $100. Thus, the $500, $1,000, $5,000, and $10,000 bills were consigned to the dustbin of history. The Federal Reserve made the discontinuation official on July 14, 1969. While the Fed destroys these bills when they see them, “they remain legal tender while in circulation.”

Thus, you could technically waltz into your favorite store, fill up your cart, and whip out a $10,000 bill to pay for everything. But you’d be foolish to do so (and it’s doubtful that the store would take you seriously anyways).¬†According to the most recent figures I could find, there were just 336 $10,000 bills known to exist as of May 30, 2009. There are 342 $5,000 bills, 165,372 $1,000 bills, and an unknown number of $500 bills. Due to their scarcity, these denominations command large prices among collectors. I found one site that’s asking $98,500 for a fine example of a $10,000 bill.

100,000 Dollar Bill

$100,000 Dollar Bill (1934) – Portrait: Woodrow Wilson
Source: Wikimedia Commons

The Fabled 100,000 Dollar Bill?

However, there’s one bill that boasts a larger denomination than the Chase bill. That is the fabled 100,000 dollar bill (actually a gold certificate) featuring President Woodrow Wilson. For those of you who know about the Federal Reserve and Wilson’s role in creating that institution, this should come as no surprise.

Guerrilla Explorer’s Analysis

The Treasury printed 42,000 of these 100,000 dollar bills between December 18, 1934 and January 9, 1935. They were never released into general circulation and instead, were used by Federal Reserve Banks to facilitate transactions with each other. This form of business changed during the 1960s and most of the 100,000 dollar bills were destroyed. There are a few surviving copies, one of which currently resides at the Smithsonian Museum of American History.

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