THE UNDERCOVER COLLECTIBLE – 50 YEARS OF SMALL-SIZED $1 FEDERAL RESERVE NOTES
by Al Doyle for CoinWeek ………
Why be sneaky and come up with all kinds of tricks to hide an item when the same thing can be achieved in plain sight? That’s the story of the $1 Federal Reserve note. When a piece of money is used on a constant basis by everyone from young children to Depression-era survivors, it’s natural to take such a universal object for granted and overlook the collectible aspects.
First issued in 1963 as a replacement for the small-sized $1 silver certificate, the FRN’s green seal and lack of reference to the precious metal and absence of silver color in the lettering caused it to stand out from its blue-sealed predecessor. There is another feature that makes the now half century-old note a challenging item from a collecting standpoint.
With 12 Federal Reserve districts for almost every signature combination of U.S. treasurer and secretary of the Treasury, the number of different $1s easily exceeds 500 when star notes are included. Obviously, a person isn’t required to obtain every piece to specialize in the series, and there are many ways to collect “singles” without pursuing the equivalent of a complete date and mintmark set of U.S. coins.
Collectors can focus on a favorite Federal Reserve district or two or stick with specific series and signature combinations. Star notes – replacements for damaged or otherwise substandard pieces that are designated with a star in the serial number – are always popular. Whether the whole series or some portion of it is the goal, this is one of the most affordable areas in the paper money field.
When the $1 FRN debuted 50 years ago, the notes carried the signatures of U.S. treasurer Kathryn O’Hay Granahan and Treasury secretary C. Douglas Dillon. None of the 12 Federal Reserve districts are expensive, as even Crisp Uncirculated star notes had be obtained for $10 or less. Granahan-Dillon singles still make an occasional appearance in circulation.
Series 1963-A was issued when Henry H. Fowler replaced Dillon, and the Series 1963-B $1 has been the object of truckloads of hype from promoters and others who sell common goods for inflated prices to the numismatically ignorant.
Joseph W. Barr was a former congressman from Indiana and business executive who served as Treasury secretary from December 21, 1968 to January 20, 1969. By being a placeholder during the last month of Lyndon B. Johnson’s administration, Barr’s signature appeared on more than 471 million $1 FRNs (star notes included) from the New York, Richmond, Chicago, Kansas City and San Francisco Federal Reserve districts.
A number within shouting distance of a half billion means Barr notes are anything but scarce, and they were set aside in higher than average quantities. Despite that, countless promotions touting the “Rare, rare, rare!” Barr $1s have been pitched over the years. Smart collectors can obtain the entire run of Barr notes in Crisp CU for a fraction of the price charged by the hucksters.
The low-cost theme is woven throughout the half-century run of $1 FRNs. Scarcer star notes such as the 1969-B Chicago (480,000 printed), 1969-B Kansas City and San Francisco (640,000 each), 1977-A Minneapolis (256,000) and 1981 St. Louis (628,000) can cost in excess of $100 in Crisp CU, but the vast majority of singles are very easy on the budget.
Errors and “fancy” serial numbers are other popular options. Some collectors gravitate towards low serial numbers, “solids” or nearly identical blocks of numbers such as 33333333 or 55555552 as well as “ladders” (12345678, 09876543) and “repeaters” (71687168).
New currency designs over the past decade haven’t included the humble $1, and the series now serves as a pleasant reminder of “small head” notes and old-style engraving. This essential part of American commerce for the past 50 years is also a logical choice for affordable collecting.