8 Fascinating Facts About Our Nation’s Currency!

Hey guys! My wife is tired of me telling her about all these facts I keep coming across, so now you get to hear them all and be entertained today ;)

But you know what they say – the more you know about our country’s currency, the cooler you get! So be prepared to be the KING of Coolsville today – woot woot!

******

#1. U.S. paper money is not paper at all! — It’s made out of 75% cotton and 25% linen :) And apparently in Benjamin Franklin’s day, people would repair torn bills with needles and thread – hah!

#2. The dollar bill is the oldest design of any U.S. bill in circulation — Why? It’s not worth counterfeiting! So no need to spend the resources on changing/upgrading.

#3. The pyramid on our dollar bills have 13 steps, one for each of the 13 original colonies – and is unfinished — “This was to show our country can constantly be improved, and to make room for the “Eye of Providence,” which represents an all-seeing god.” – Money Magazine

pyramid eye dollar bill

#4. All U.S. currency remains legal tender, regardless of when it was issued — So technically you could still use $500 or $1,000 bills – or even large $1.00 bills from the early 1900’s when they were double in size! But of course you’d be an idiot since you could fetch way more in value selling to collectors. (Though I’d happily take them off your hands if you’re looking to donate any ;))

#5. The Bureau of Engraving and Printing uses 9.7 tons of ink each day — This is from the combined use of its two facilities – one in Washington, D.C. and the other in Fort Worth, Texas.

#6. The dollar sign originated from the Spanish Peso — The Spanish Peso (otherwise known as “Pieces of Eight”) was commonly abbreviated to “PS” in colonial times, and because of how often the “S” would be written over the “P”, it eventually morphed to “$” – and then took off in popularity once our first paper dollars came into existence in 1875.

evolution dollar sign symbol

No one knows this 100% for certain, but it’s the most widely accepted explanation according to the Bureau of Engraving and Printing. Unless, apparently, you’re Ayn Rand who in her popular novel “Atlas Shrugged” dedicated a whole chapter to the dollar sign, and claimed it was an American thing which stood for our nation’s economic freedom:

“According to Rand, the dollar sign (written with two downward slashes instead of one) came from the initials of the United States: A capital U superimposed over a capital S, minus the lower part of the U. [But] no documentary evidence exists to support this theory, however, and it seems clear the dollar sign was already in use by the time the United States was formed.” – History.com

(Great illustrations above from Wikipedia/JesperZedlitz)

#7. The largest bill ever printed was the $100,000 gold certificate! — And was used only for official transactions between Federal Reserve Banks (i.e. not for regular circulation as other bills were… Nor can they legally be held by any currency collectors!). The largest bills in circulation today are $100 bills – mainly due to counterfeiting, as well as probably the trend of going digital (no need to transfer large amounts of physical cash anymore!).

#8. In 1776, The Continental Congress authorized the issuance of $2.00 “bills of credit” for the defense of America — It wasn’t until 1862 when the first $2.00 Legal Tender note came about, but pretty cool it was one of our first denominations :) (Which would later go on to be the note of choice for all tippers, as well as the Tooth Fairy! See my movement to bring back $2.00 bills in everyday use!!)

two dollar baller

*BONUS FACT (Which is probably not fact) –> #9. More Monopoly money is printed than real money! — Both CNBC and USA Today point to this being true, but I’ll hedge my bets with the random blog, BrokenSecrets.com, who seems to have spent quite the effort tracking down these #’s to disprove it ;) But it IS a fun fact to spread around, so feel free to share it at your next cocktail party! Who researches things these days anyways? (And do cocktail parties still exist?? Where did those originate from??)

That’s all I got for ya today, friends…

Help me spread the good word! It’s your duty as a citizen of this great nation!!

******
PS: I’m serious about $2.00 bills…. There are SO MANY GOOD USES for them!! :)

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66 Comments

  1. [HCF] April 27, 2018 at 5:57 AM

    I have a one dollar bill fro my teenage years which was the first dollar banknote I have ever seen. Also, that is the exact dollar amount I have these days :) However, I have plans on getting a two
    and a five dollar bill too in the future. Money history lessons are always welcome.
    Interesting facts, thanks for sharing.

    Reply
    1. J. Money April 27, 2018 at 6:33 AM

      Very cool! Email me your address and will be more than happy to ship you some notes to help fulfill your collection :)

      Reply
  2. Olivia April 27, 2018 at 6:08 AM

    Interesting facts about currency! Did you know there are people who collect the special serial numbers of of one dollar bills? http://coolserialnumbers.com/ForSale.aspx

    Check your $1 bills! Imagine the ROI if you get good numbers!

    Reply
    1. J. Money April 27, 2018 at 6:37 AM

      I did!! And now look at EVERY SINGLE bill I ever get just because of it, haha… There’s a guy in our coin club who collects them and has all kinds of varying #’s :) There’s also a guy at our yearly coin show who continually tries to sell his $500 bill but no one will take it because it contains #666 a couple of times in it – hah!

      Reply
  3. Jody April 27, 2018 at 7:34 AM

    I have, somewhere lost in “The Chaos” of my packed belongings, a silver certificate (??) or something like that. It looks very similar to a dollar bill but IIRC the ink is a different color? I wish I had it handy so I could look at it. Can you speak to these at all?

    Reply
    1. J. Money April 27, 2018 at 7:42 AM

      I can!! You used to be able to turn them in for a SILVER DOLLAR if you wanted! For all those people who didn’t like how the government was changing how our money was being backed (or not backed) years ago…

      You can’t exchange them anymore, but they’re still worth a dollar :) (Or more, if you happen to have a rarity in super good condition).

      One of my very first blog posts was actually on these notes! Check it out!

      https://budgetsaresexy.com/i-just-found-strange-yet-oddly-alluring/

      Reply
  4. FullTimeFinance April 27, 2018 at 7:41 AM

    Interesting. That reminds me another year and my son will probably enjoy a tour of the nearby Franklin Mint! This week he was learning about coin denominations in kindergarten.

    Reply
    1. J. Money April 27, 2018 at 7:43 AM

      COOL!!!! DO IT!!!! We need more people getting into this stuff so our hobby doesn’t go the way of Stamps!!

      Reply
  5. Kate@OnOurWayWorld April 27, 2018 at 7:42 AM

    Also – Business Insider says bills only last for 18 months before wearing out. I bet if the bill got circulated only among members of the FIRE community it’d take a lot longer! Other fun facts – the $20 bill is the most counterfeited bill, and more people have fantasies about money than they do about sex ;)

    Reply
    1. J. Money April 27, 2018 at 7:43 AM

      Haha… I believe all those statements :)

      Reply
  6. Leo T. Ly April 27, 2018 at 7:48 AM

    Argg, I thought I that you would have a story about the half dollar coins. I have a couple of those lying around and was hoping to add a couple of zeros after it if I can sell it to a collector based on this post.

    Reply
    1. J. Money April 27, 2018 at 10:04 AM

      Haha – unless they’re super old or made pre-1964, they’re probably only worth face value :) The ones made on or before1964 are mostly of silver though and could fetch you $5-$6 depending on what silver is going for that day:

      http://cointrackers.com/coins/74/1964-kennedy-half-dollar/

      (Kennedy halves from 1965-1970 also contain silver (40%) and worth roughly $2.50 each – but most times you find 1971+ halves in circulation…)

      Reply
  7. Martinus April 27, 2018 at 8:01 AM

    What about REPUDIATION of the currency? There seems to be quite a debate about it. It appears that the US repudiated their currency after the Revolutionary War and around the time of the Civil War. Others say that the US did not actually repudiate it in those times.

    Currency is only as good as your faith in the government. It seems unlikely the US will repudiate its currency, but you don’t have to look hard to find shameless manipulation.

    Reply
    1. J. Money April 27, 2018 at 10:08 AM

      I don’t know much about repudiation, but I know over the centuries the public definitely had to produce its own substitute currencies and tokens to keep trade and shops open back in the day when fear was rampant and people were hoarding cash… It’s no longer legal to do now, but you’re right that our money isn’t backed by anything tangible anymore like silver or gold… (though even then it’s still just rocks in the earth, right? ;) Though at least rocks that have been loved – and used – for thousands of years!)

      Reply
  8. Ms. Frugal Asian Finance April 27, 2018 at 8:03 AM

    Wow these are really cool facts! I didn’t know we could fix the dollar bills with needles and thread haha.

    In Vietnam, the currency is made from polyester for durability. It just feels. like plastic.

    Reply
    1. J. Money April 27, 2018 at 10:10 AM

      Haha yup – lots of countries going that way :) Def. feels weird to me too, though I suppose it’ll last 100x longer (and maybe you can even CLEAN THEM better?? That was a fact I left out, mainly because it’s just too disgusting to think about – that 90%+ of bills have dirty nasty bacteria on it :( )

      Reply
  9. Sean @ Frugal Money Man April 27, 2018 at 8:07 AM

    Never thought about #2, but makes total sense!

    Although…Aren’t we supposed to treasure the value of a dollar!? Or is that just a thing of the past that were taught as kids…?

    Cool list J!

    Reply
    1. J. Money April 27, 2018 at 10:10 AM

      The *value* of a dollar, yes haha… not THE dollar specifically :)

      Reply
  10. BusyMom April 27, 2018 at 8:18 AM

    That was interesting. I am originally from India, and have seen govt coming up with larger denominations. I have seen several cycles of disbelief about who would need that, becoming available, becoming common, and then becoming too small for buying anything. We still have some money in old coins/notes that won’t be taken anymore. I don’t think they are valuable, though. Everyone i know has some.

    It was nice reading about the US Dollars

    Reply
  11. Erik @ The Mastermind Within April 27, 2018 at 8:49 AM

    I picked up some Silver 17 and 18 Panda coins the other week as I’m getting into that… I love the history behind money and dollars, great post :)

    Reply
      1. Erik @ The Mastermind Within April 27, 2018 at 2:28 PM

        I don’t have that big of a collection… I’ll send you an email :)

        I think the panda collection in general is going to be a great thing choice long term!

        Reply
        1. J. Money April 27, 2018 at 5:25 PM

          I think it’ll be the *silver* vs the panda, but yeah man – whatever gets you excited!! :) Please do email me!

          Reply
  12. Brian April 27, 2018 at 8:53 AM

    I keep a few crisp two dollar bills on hand, I’ve had them for over 19 years, they were given to me when my son and daughter were born. (twins)

    Reply
    1. J. Money April 27, 2018 at 10:15 AM

      Awwww… it’s stories like these that make it fun for us collectors :) The notes/coins are cool, but it’s the history (and hands!!!) that they’ve passed through that really make it interesting!

      Reply
  13. Fritz @ TheRetirementManifesto April 27, 2018 at 9:36 AM

    Cool beans. I carry $2 bills in my wallet all the time, use them for tips. Usually gets a cool reaction. If I’m ever in a bank (seldom), I try to get more. They usually don’t have any. :(

    #BringBack2Bucks

    Reply
    1. J. Money April 27, 2018 at 10:16 AM

      haha YES!!!! The best for tips!!

      Reply
    2. Dana April 27, 2018 at 3:22 PM

      Really? I’ve worked in banking for over 20 years and all the branches have always had $2 not only in the teller drawers but also in the vault. At Christmas, they usually special order “crisp” $2 because customers want then for gifts!

      Reply
  14. Lisa O April 27, 2018 at 9:41 AM

    Wow you can learn something new everyday. I never knew what the eye on the bill represented.

    I found a sack of wheat pennies in my cellar while cleaning out. I have had them since I was a young girl. My grandfather was a coin collector and he told me they would be worth a lot of money some day. Well some day came and I had them appraised and they were worth .03 each! I could have sold them of $2,73 but I have chosen to keep them for the story :)

    Reply
    1. J. Money April 27, 2018 at 10:23 AM

      HAH!

      I’m pouring over hundreds of them myself right now for a couple collections I’m helping to liquidate :) You’re right that on average they only go for $0.03/piece, however if you pay close attention to the *date* and *mint mark* you may have a rarity on your hands! I found a $150 penny in one of the collections so far…

      These are three coins to look for – all worth THOUSANDS of dollars:

      1909-S “VDB” wheat penny): http://cointrackers.com/coins/13495/1909-s-vdb-wheat-penny/

      1955 Doubled Die error penny: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/1955_doubled_die_cent

      1944 Steel Wheat Penny: http://cointrackers.com/coins/13593/1944-steel-wheat-penny/ (the DATE being the important part there – there are gobs of steel pennies in the world mostly worth just 50 cents, but it’s the 1944 date that’s rare because it was a mistake!)

      Reply
      1. Lisa O April 27, 2018 at 1:15 PM

        Thanks for the info…I will keep my eyes open!

        Reply
  15. Kathy Kristof April 27, 2018 at 10:34 AM

    Another fun fact: The government makes money by making money. Why? Collectors take a certain amount out of circulation, among other things. Unfortunately, that’s not true for small change, where a rise in the price of zinc (they stopped making copper pennies years ago) was creating a loss. This is one of the many reasons that the govt. would like to do away with small change.

    Reply
    1. J. Money April 27, 2018 at 10:58 AM

      They also make a TON off us collectors too with their fancy packaging that jacks up the costs of these collectible coins they make ;) Not that I’m one of the ones they target, as I prefer my coins 100+ years old (hubba hubba).

      Reply
  16. JoeHx April 27, 2018 at 10:37 AM

    I’ve kept a few old bills I’ve found over the years – I think I have a 1930 bill and a 1950 bill, although I can’t remember the denomination of the top of my head. I mostly got these while running the cash register at my high school job. I wouldn’t steal them, of course, just exchange them for a newer bill I already had in my possession.

    Oh, and this is kind of embarrassing, but I cut up the first bill I ever received. I think it was a five dollar bill. I was going to do a magic trick and have it magically come back together. It didn’t magically come back together. I think this was before I was in kindergarten, so I was probably around 4 years old.

    Reply
    1. J. Money April 27, 2018 at 11:00 AM

      Hahahahah.. all you had to do was tape it back and bring it to a bank!! (or spend it – $5.00 was like $500 at that age!)

      (Also – shoot me the denominations and/or pics of your bills if you remember later…. Would love to research them for you and see what you’re holding over there :) It’s one of the many reasons I’d love to work at a bank one day – to see all the coins/currency going through it daily!)

      Reply
  17. Primal Prosperity April 27, 2018 at 10:49 AM

    I love the $2 bill also. Giving these out is a cheap and easy way to put a smile on someone’s face. :)

    Reply
    1. J. Money April 27, 2018 at 11:02 AM

      Exactly :) I gave one to a homeless guy yesterday and he was thrilled! Probably due to just acknowledging him and giving him something, but I’d like to think it was a double surprise when he found out what I handed him, haha…

      Reply
  18. Stevo April 27, 2018 at 11:14 AM

    Another fact that my wife told me the other day is that as long as you have more than 50% of a bill intact, it is still considered to hold its value! so if you tear a bill and lose less than half, you’re still good (can exchange it at the bank for a full bill). I though that was pretty cool

    Reply
  19. Lily | The Frugal Gene April 27, 2018 at 11:34 AM

    I haven’t seen a $2 bill in ages. The next time one comes my way, I’m hoarding…oh that’s why I haven’t seen any.. people probably hold onto them because they’re cool.

    “Eye of Providence” scared me as a kid. I was like…why is there an peeking eye on American money??

    Reply
    1. J. Money April 27, 2018 at 2:02 PM

      I’m sure there are conspiracy theorists wondering the same thing ;)

      Reply
  20. Morgan April 27, 2018 at 12:20 PM

    J. Money,

    Just a thought about the $2.00 bill. If they bring that back into recirculation in mass, most companies would just up the price of goods. Returning tender is a cost labor though very small. So for instance, they bring back the $2 now a coke at a vending machine costs $2 as opposed $1.50(using round numbers) because companies are going to capitalize on this endeavor of the upgrade in currency options whilst the cost to produce said 16 oz coke stays the same. I like playing devils advocate. your thoughts?

    Reply
    1. J. Money April 27, 2018 at 1:58 PM

      I think that as much as I hate it, you’d probably be right :) Especially as there really isn’t any other bills in circulation after $1.00 until you get to $5.00 – which is wayyyyy too much a jump for Coke et al.

      Interestingly, the two dollar bill still gets continually printed (why I don’t know since you never see them anywhere?), but with the way we’re going digitally I’d be surprised if any new – or old – currency comes back…. which sucks as a collector/enthusiast!

      Very interesting insight though – wouldn’t have ever thought about the consequence side like that :)

      Reply
  21. Ty Roberts April 27, 2018 at 3:12 PM

    Loves these types of post. I’m going to annoy the hell out of my wife with this newfound knowledge.

    Reply
    1. J. Money April 27, 2018 at 5:26 PM

      YESSS!! Another happy customer!

      Reply
  22. Greenbacks Magnet April 27, 2018 at 5:03 PM

    Thank you J Money for this post! I have always wondered what the symbols on the currency meant, but every time I thought about it I never followed through to look into it. It makes a lot of sense. 13 steps for 13 colonies. And yes, bring back the $2 dollar bill. Then I wouldn’t have to carry so many ones!!!

    Thanks again,
    Miriam

    Reply
    1. J. Money April 27, 2018 at 5:29 PM

      That was the spark that led me to all the other facts – the $ symbol :) Have wondered for years myself!

      Reply
  23. Dr. Cory S. Fawcett April 27, 2018 at 5:07 PM

    When leaving on a trip, it’s fun to get a stack of $2 bills to use for tips. It looks better than giving a $1 (Cheapskates) and much cheaper than a $5

    Dr. Cory S. Fawcett
    Prescription for Financial Success

    Reply
    1. J. Money April 27, 2018 at 5:30 PM

      Haha yup… they FEEL like more than $2.00 too which only adds to your non-cheapness :)

      Reply
  24. PaulM April 27, 2018 at 5:28 PM

    I have a few gold Kruggerands that I bought many years ago. I was thinking of buying some gold coins now. do you have any recommendations as to countries or denominations? Thanks!

    Reply
    1. J. Money April 27, 2018 at 5:41 PM

      Nice!! Just had some in my hands the other day helping out a friend!

      Honestly – it really depends on *why* you’re collecting them. If it’s just to diversify or hedge against the market/economy/etc, then you just want to find the *cheapest* way to pile up the ounces. And your best bet is to IGNORE the mint or any other places that mark them up like crazy with all their fancy packaging and what not. A trusted and legit place to scoop ’em up is Apmex.com.

      If you’re collecting for “collector” value (which is always more than bullion value), then that’s a whole other thing and you want to go for beauty or rarity or both. And usually you’ll have luck just picking up *coins* that contain the metal but that collectors like as well. It’ll cost more in this case than pure bullion like that first option, but has a better chance of going up in value long-term than just purely based on the metal (which also fluctuates). If you go this route, one of the most beautiful and collected coins are our double eagle gold coins made by Saint-Gaudens in the early 1900’s:

      https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Saint-Gaudens_double_eagle

      And then of course if you’re stacking gold coins because you enjoy them and like that they’re also valuable and can be an investment over time, then in that case you just want to keep doing what you’re doing and just buying whatever catches your eye and makes you happy :) I tend to go this route more than all others as I love the history and beauty of them as well as the values, but then again it’s my hobby and I’m a collector-collector.

      Hope this helps some!

      Reply
      1. PaulM April 28, 2018 at 8:56 AM

        Thanks J. Very helpful. I guess I’m looking for both appreciation and beauty. My mother has a couple of St Gaudens $5 pieces that she inherited from her mother. When they’re eventually passed down to my sister and myself, we both agreed that they would be the last thing we would sell.

        Heading over to Apmex now. Paul

        Reply
        1. J. Money April 30, 2018 at 7:14 AM

          As a collector I’m very glad to hear that :) The beauty/values of coins are nice, but it’s the *history* behind them that really makes our hobby fun! So I’m glad y’all are holding onto those!!

          Reply
  25. Tonya April 27, 2018 at 7:04 PM

    Fun fact: Cocktail parties originated during prohibition.

    Reply
    1. J. Money April 30, 2018 at 7:15 AM

      That is a fun one, thank you! :)

      Reply
  26. Allan April 28, 2018 at 1:18 AM

    I’m amazed that the US still has paper notes. Here in Australia we have polymer bank notes – much harder to forge and they last a lot longer. And our $1 and $2 units are coins, not notes.
    Do you know why the US hasn’t switched to polymer bank notes?

    Reply
  27. Mrfireby2023 April 28, 2018 at 8:53 AM

    As for Gold, I do use Apmex.com though I recommend one ounce bars versus coins as they are sold for less premium. I have half of my gold in bats and half in coinage, Canadian maple leaf have the least premium the coins.

    Reply
    1. J. Money April 30, 2018 at 7:20 AM

      Thanks for this! Makes sense too as I’m sure it’s cheaper to produce the bars vs fancy looking coins :)

      Reply
  28. Christine @ The Pursuit of Green April 30, 2018 at 1:27 AM

    I don’t use cash anymore, I deal in gold bars only. Hmmm that’s not a bad way to go actually. I’d probably see a lot of people breaking their teeth from biting on it.

    Reply
    1. J. Money April 30, 2018 at 7:23 AM

      Haha…. I always envision people trying to shave little bits off of them to make change in an apocalyptic world :) There’s a ton of people who hoard this stuff waiting for exactly that, so hopefully they’re picking up a variety of different sizes and amounts so they can continue on their trade okay ;)

      Reply
  29. The Poor Swiss April 30, 2018 at 6:48 AM

    Very interesting facts! I didn’t know about most of them. Thanks J. Money.

    Reply
    1. J. Money April 30, 2018 at 7:25 AM

      Probably not, if you hail all the way from Switzerland! ;)

      I’d tell you to do a similar post on your country’s currency for us to guess, but you can already assume we’d all fail haha… (though I’d still very much enjoy reading it!)

      Reply
  30. Chris April 30, 2018 at 12:47 PM

    Hey J! I had no idea that $2s were still being printed, that’s cool! Where can you get them, the bank? Just curious…what’s your thought on pennies? Keep ’em as the lowest currency or ditch ’em and start with the nickel?

    Reply
    1. J. Money April 30, 2018 at 2:57 PM

      Yup – you can pick them up at all banks!

      As a collector I love pennies and never like seeing any denominations go away, but if they really do cost us more to produce than they’re worth, then yeah – I won’t put up too much a fight if and when they do go away (and honestly I think it’s just a matter of time, as much as I like them).

      Reply
  31. Steve April 30, 2018 at 4:15 PM

    It’s cool to learn these. I knew about the monopoly money fact (and it’s funny because we have three different monopoly games at home, so I get why there’s so much floating around). I didn’t know the sign originated from the Peso. That’s a cool fact I’ll have to share when I get the opportunity. Nothing wrong with learning new facts about money and sharing them.

    Reply

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