A silver certificate dollar bill is representative of a unique piece of history. It no longer carries any monetary value as an exchange for silver, yet collectors still seek out the print. Its history dates back to the 1860s, and the certificate is a unique historical artifact representing a time period when the monetary structure of the United States was changing.
Overview of Silver-Certificate Dollar Bill
A silver certificate dollar bill is a former circulation of paper currency that allowed for the direct exchange of silver. This representative money allowed for the redemption of silver coins or raw bullion equal to the certificate’s face value. The certificate was used to back U.S. paper currency systems during the 1800s and 1900s. Other countries to have issued silver certificates include Cuba and the Netherlands.
Historical Significance of Old Silver Dollar Certificates
The U.S. government began issuing silver certificate dollars in 1878. The certificates were initially issued in response to the Fourth Coinage Act of 1873. Enacted by the 42nd United States Congress, the act abolished the rights of holders of silver bullion to have their holdings converted into legal-tender dollars, ending bimetallism and effectively placing the United States on the gold standard. In 1874, the legal-tender status for silver certificates was removed for debts exceeding $5.
Investors of silver were naturally upset at the passing of this law, which rendered their holdings worthless. Therefore, for a brief period of time, the United States Treasury permitted the exchange of silver for legal tender. The Bland-Allison Act was passed to require the government to buy up to $4 million of silver from mining companies to be minted into silver dollars. Certificates were issued in place of the silver dollars because of the weight of the coins. Although the certificates no longer can be exchanged for silver, the historical significance in the printings resides in the economic impact that the certificates temporarily held, as well as the certificate’s short-term status as valid legal tender.
In 1963, the House of Representatives passed PL88-36, repealing the Silver Purchase Act and instructing on the retirement of $1 silver certificates. The act was predicated by a prospective shortage of silver bullion. Certificate holders could exchange the print for silver dollar coins for approximately 10 months. In March 1964, Secretary of the Treasury C. Douglas Dillon stopped the issuance of coins, and, for the next four years, certificates were redeemable for silver granules. The redemption period for silver certificates ended in June 1968.
Sizes and Denominations of Silver Certificates
Silver certificates are often referred to as large certificates and small certificates. Certificates issued from 1878 to 1923 were larger in size, often measuring more than seven inches long and three inches wide. Large-sized silver certificates issued through 1923 were issued for between $1 and $1,000. The designs varied and depicted former presidents, first ladies, vice presidents, founding fathers and other notable figures. The U.S. bank notes were redesigned in 1928, and, until the ceased issuance in 1964, the silver certificates issued measured the same size as modern-day U.S. currency (6.4 inches long and 2.6 inches wide). All small-sized silver certificates depict the portraits of George Washington, Abraham Lincoln or Alexander Hamilton. In general, the value of a silver certificate is not directly correlated to its size or denomination.
True Value of Silver Certificate Today
The value of a silver dollar certificate is contingent on the condition and year issued. Although it is no longer possible to redeem a silver dollar certificate for silver, certificates are still technically legal tender, as they can be exchanged for a Federal Reserve note. Still, the actual value of a silver certificate is in its collectability. The certificates have become a collectors' item, and collectors of the certificates pay greater-than-face value, depending on the rarity of the print.
General Features Adding Value
The value of each silver certificate is based on numerous variables. One of the largest determinants of the value of the bill is the grading of the certificate. Most silver certificates receive a grade on the Sheldon numerical scale, ranging from one to 70, with 70 being a perfect mint condition. The numerical grade corresponds with an adjectival letter that indicates the condition is one of the following: good, very good, fine, very fine, extremely fine, almost uncirculated or crisp uncirculated.
In addition to the grade, there are various features found on certain silver certificates that increase their worth to a collector. In general, a silver certificate with a star in the serial number or error on the face of the bill is worth more than a silver certificate of the same year, grade and denomination without these features. The errors may include folding, cutting or inking mistakes. In addition, unique and interesting serial numbers are more valuable to investors. For example, a serial number with each digit as the numeral two holds more value than a random combination of numbers.
Specific Valuation of Certain Silver Dollar Certificates
The most common silver certificates were issued between 1935 and 1957. The appearance of the silver certificates is nearly identical to a standard U.S. dollar bill featuring George Washington. The key variance is text that appears below Washington’s portrait stating that the tender is valued at one dollar in silver payable to the bearer on demand. These common certificates can be sold just slightly over face value, as uncirculated silver certificates from this time period typically sell for $2 to $4.
In 1896, the silver dollar certificate contained a unique design that is known as the educational series. The face of the certificate contains a woman instructing a young man. These silver certificates can be valued up to $1,000 if they are in perfect condition. However, most issuances of this print typically trade for $100 to $500. The 1899 print is another popular certificate for collectors. Often referred to as the black eagle note, because of the large eagle on the face of the certificate, certificates from this year typically sell for around $50. Certificates with high grades, low serial numbers or serial numbers beginning with a star are valued higher.
In 1928, six different types of silver certificates were issued. The 1928, 1928A and 1928B issuances are fairly generic, while the 1928C, 1928D and 1928E issuances are considered rare. Certificates from 1928 with a star symbol in the serial number are priced as extremely valuable. Alternatively, the 1934 silver certificate is considered common, even though it is the only year to have a blue “one” printed on its face. Most issuances of the 1934 certificate are priced at less than $12.
Other Ways of Investing in Silver
Investors looking to hold an ownership share in silver should purchase the metal elsewhere. Silver certificates no longer represent an ownership stake in the commodity, and their value is mainly derived as collectors' items. However, there are numerous alternatives for investors wanting to own silver. First, an investor can purchase the physical product through silver coins, bullion, jewelry or silverware. Alternatively, an investor can purchase an exchange-traded fund (ETF) backed by physical silver stored in a secure location. In some situations, investors may redeem the ETF for physical silver bullion.
In addition, a speculator can invest in numerous mining or precious metal streaming companies. Silver Wheaton Corporation (SLW) provides cash to mining companies up front, in return for the right to purchase the precious metals in the future. Silvercorp Metals Inc. (SVM) has multiple mines in China and Canada. First Majestic Silver Corporation (AG) owns mines in Mexico, while Silver Standard Resources Inc. (SSRI) and Hecla Mining Company (HL) both mine silver within the United States. Although owning stock in these companies does not result in the ownership of silver, the financial success of these companies is directly tied to the price of the precious metal.