What Is a C-Note?

C-note is a slang term for a $100 banknote in U.S. currency. The "C" in C-note refers to the Roman numeral for 100, which was printed on $100 bills, and it can also refer to a century. The term came to prominence in the 1920s and 1930s, and it was popularized in a number of gangster films.

Key Takeaways

  • C-note is slang for $100 bill.
  • The term was derived from the Roman numeral "C" for 100.
  • The $100 bill once had a capital "C" in its upper-left corner.

How a C-Note Works

C-note is used less frequently in contemporary slang, and it has been replaced by "Benjamin." This term comes from Benjamin Franklin, one of the founding fathers of the U.S., whose portrait is on the front of the $100 banknote. Other popular slang terms are "Franklins" and "Bens."

The Evolution of C-Notes

The $100 bill had a capital "C" in its upper-left corner from 1869 to 1914. In 1914, the U.S. government introduced Federal Reserve notes to replace older Treasury notes. The 1878 and 1880 editions featured a portrait of Abraham Lincoln on the left. The 1890 version of the C-note featured Adm. David Farragut to the right side. On the backs of the Farragut banknotes were two zeros that looked like watermelons, hence the nickname "watermelon notes."

Contemporary $100 Bills

Contemporary $100 bills show an enlarged portrait of Franklin on the front and a "100" in each corner. The "100" in the bottom right corner changes color depending on what angle the light hits it. A blue 3-D motion strip runs down the middle to try to prevent counterfeiting, and a watermarked portrait of Franklin appears on the right side when the banknote is held up to the light. The $100 bill has been the largest printed demonstration since 1969. Larger bills, such as the $500, $1,000, $5,000, and $10,000 bills were previously retired.

Special Considerations

The estimated lifespan of a $100 bill is around 15 years—if it stays in circulation for that long. The average lifespan of a $1 banknote is 5.8 years. It's estimated that roughly 80% of the $100 bills in circulation circulate outside the U.S.

There are over 12 billion $100 bills in circulation, valued at about $1.2 trillion. Around 11.4 billion $1 bills are in circulation, which is below the number of $100 bills. The number of C-notes in circulation has more than quintupled since 1995. It's said that the rise in the use of $100 bills is a result of the rising mistrust of the financial system, with more individuals choosing to keep their assets outside the system.

The Federal Reserve System distributes $100 bills as the need for this value of currency runs in cycles. Demand peaks around the winter holidays and Lunar, or Chinese, New Year because crisp C-notes serve as good gifts inside of greeting cards. When the redesigned $100 bills came out in 2013, 28 reserve bank cash offices stockpiled 3.5 billion of the banknotes. Those bills went to some 9,000 banks as the revamped C-notes entered circulation for the first time.