The basic strategies for investing in rare paper money is no different than for investing in coins. In both fields, it is important to think like a collector when building a portfolio and is often financially rewarding to build sets of related items.


Investing in rare paper money can be as profitable an enterprise as investing in rare coins for the well-informed investor. Indeed, most of the basic principles of investing in coins also applies to paper money, so we will not belabor them in the subsequent sections. After reading the section on paper money, you should be able to start investing in rare banknotes immediately, with the help of Olevian Numismatic Rarities. As with coins, the more careful you are in selecting a qualified dealer and making an educated evaluation of the coins you purchase, the greater will be your chance for a profitable investment. You have already made an important step in the right direction by choosing Olevian Numismatic Rarities as your supplier of paper money investment products. ONR is committed to helping you make educated decisions when building, maintaining, and liquidating your numismatic portfolio. The following section outlines the specific reasons why rare paper money is a great investment.

Reasons to Invest in Rare Paper Money

1. Rare Paper Money Demonstrates Top Investment Performance

Over the past 30 years, paper money collections have produced substantial long-term profits for their owners, often as good or better than coin investments.  In part this is due to the scarcity of many paper money issues and increasing interest amongst numismatic collectors. Now may be an excellent time to diversify into rare paper money (and coins) to potentially tap in to the remarkable gains enjoyed by investors in this area for decades.  Selected segments of the rare paper money market have performed better than others, and Olevian Numismatic Rarities will help you select these top performing paper money investments for your portfolio.

2. The Demand for Rare Paper Money Exceeds the Supply

If old coins are rare, old paper money is even rarer. There are several factors that account for this disparity.  Since the U.S. generally issued fewer banknotes than coins in a given year, the production of many types of paper money was dwarfed by the production of coins during the same period.  In addition, the lifespan of circulating paper money is measured in months, whereas the lifespan of circulating coins can be measured in decades.  Even though vast amounts of paper money have been produced, an overwhelming majority of it has been destroyed.  Finally, paper money did not attract the same interest from numismatic collectors as coins did until almost 100 years after coin collecting became popular.  Therefore, very few notes were ever removed from circulation and placed aside, leaving present day investors with a paucity of old notes in pristine uncirculated condition.  Indeed, the best examples of many 19th century issues of paper money are graded Fine-12 or lower. Since the U.S. treasury no longer produces these historic banknotes, there is a finite supply that must be distributed amongst collectors and investors wishing to acquire a specimen.  As with coins, some paper money specimens are unique, with only 1 example known to exist.  Notes like these have realized six and seven figure prices at auction in recent years.  As collectors and investors come to appreciate the true rarity of old banknotes, the trend of increasing demand against a fixed supply will cause prices for all forms of paper money to rise considerably.  In summary, the demand for quality examples of rare banknotes is only expected to increase, leaving investors with a wide selection of potentially lucrative paper money investment options.

3. Rare Paper Money has Great Liquidity

With the advent of the independent paper money grading services like PCGS Currency and PMG, rare U.S. banknotes have become as liquid as rare coins.  As with coins, thousands of certified notes are bought and sold electronically "sight-unseen," and thousands more are sold directly to collectors and investors at shops and public auctions. Therefore, the typical numismatic portfolio consisting of coins or paper money can be reasonably converted to cash when needed.

4. Rare Paper Money is Affordable to all Investors

Compared to other collectibles such as rare oil paintings, or investments like real estate, many rare U.S. banknotes are very affordable.  Despite their record of consistent price gains and the multi-million dollar collections often sold at auctions, rare banknote portfolios with outstanding track records and promising futures are available in a wide range of investment levels.  Olevian Numismatic Rarities will tailor your portfolio to your individual financial situation.

5. Rare Paper Money is a Private Investment

Again, like rare coins, paper money investments can be accumulated privately.  Since banknotes are easily transported and because investors can take physical possession of their holdings, paper money is attractive to investors who wish to keep their investments confidential.  No one will know what your numismatic portfolio is worth, or that it even exists in the first place.  Furthermore, sale of rare United States paper money is not reportable to the Internal Revenue Service.  Olevian Numismatic Rarities maintains strict confidentially with all clients and our team is always available to meet privately to discuss your investments.

6. Rare paper money is a Great Portfolio Diversifier

All investment professionals agree that an investment portfolio should be diversified if stability is your goal. Many financial advisors recommend that investors place 20-30% of their discretionary funds in tangible assets to achieve a properly diversified portfolio.  Rare U.S. paper money is a great adjunct to coins and bullion in every numismatic portfolio.  Like coins, paper money can be very useful in reducing the overall volatility of your investments because banknotes also tend to perform well when more traditional investment vehicles are performing poorly. Thus, the diversity afforded by adding paper money to any preexisting investment portfolio can provide investors with added security and peace of mind.

Think Like a Collector

At the very least, an investor must learn to think like a collector when choosing pieces for their portfolio. This is because collectors represent the most knowledgeable clients acquiring paper money. They frequently acquire specimens in a highly systematic fashion, selecting historically important notes that are in great demand and of the highest possible conditions they can afford.  Like coin collecting, paper money collecting is as much of an investment strategy as it is a hobby, and for this reason collectors enjoy the greatest investment returns.  As a lifelong collector himself, Dane C. Olevian can offer this important perspective when assisting you in the selection of banknotes for your investment portfolio.  One great approach is to build specific "sets" of bank notes, which is described in more detail the next section.


There are many fun and profitable ways to collect banknotes, but one particularly rewarding strategy is set building. Banknote sets contain specimens that are related to one another in at least one way. There is virtually an endless variety of interesting and investment-worthy sets available to collectors and investors of all personal tastes and price levels. Some sets, however, tend to be more appropriate for investors than others, and Olevian Numismatic Rarities can make specific recommendations in this area. Examples of sets that make excellent investment ideas include series sets, signature sets, and origin sets.

Unlike coins, the date printed on a banknote does not necessarily reflect the year it was printed and issued. This is because paper money is issued in series rather than by date like coins are.  Since series often span a period of many years, it is often not possible to determine the exact year a note was printed.  However, the year a note was printed can be narrowed down by considering the two signatures of government officials which appear on the note.  These two signatures are usually either of the Register of the Treasury and the Treasurer, or the Secretary of the Treasury and the Treasurer.  For example, a note which bears the designation "series of 1899" and has the signatures of Elliot and Burke must have been produced between November 21st, 1919 and January 5th, 1921—the period in which these two signers held office concurrently.  

A series set, therefore, will contain one of each note type, denomination, seal design, signature, etc. that appeared during a particular series. The popular 1896 "Educational Series" silver certificates mentioned above contains 3 denominations of notes, including a 1, 2, and 5 dollar silver certificate.  The one and two dollar notes each have two different signature combinations, whereas the 5 dollar note has 3 signature combinations.  Thus, a full 1896 Educational Series Set requires a total of 7 notes for completion.  Series sets are a great way to start assembling a small paper money portfolio that can easily be expanded later.  Once you finish one series, you can move on to a different series until you have completed all series of United States Paper Money—a formidable endeavor indeed!

Signature sets attempt to collect all the notes which bear a particular set of signatures. There have been about 80 different signature combinations on U.S. paper money since 1861. For instance, one signature set might contain an example of every note type signed by both Register of the Treasury John Allison and Treasurer F. E. Spinner, who held office concurrently from April 3rd, 1869 to June 30th, 1875.

Origin sets are composed of notes bearing the name of a particular city or bank, such as that of a National Bank Note. National Bank Notes form the most plentiful and extensive series of American paper money. Passage of the National Banking Act of 1863 enabled the government to grant charters to private banks that allowed them to print and circulate their own paper money. These National Bank Notes were issued by thousands of banks in the United States from 1863-1929. An origin set of National Bank Notes will contain one example of all the notes issued by a particular National Bank, such as the Mellon National Bank of Pittsburgh, PA.

From 1861-1929, most issues of U.S. paper money measured 3.125 by 7.5 inches in dimension. These notes are referred to as "large-size" currency and are more colloquially known as "horse blankets." As the demand for paper money exploded in the 20th century, the United States government realized that millions of dollars could be saved if paper money was reduced in size. In 1929, banknotes were reduced to a dimension of 2.6 by 6.15 inches—the familiar size we know today. These notes are now referred to as "small-size" currency. An example of each size is shown below for comparison. Otherwise, all other banknotes featured in this guidebook are shown at reduced sizes.


We have briefly examined the history of paper money and reviewed the most important principles of notaphily. We have also looked more closely at why rare banknotes make exceptional investments and at some of the preferred ways to invest in paper money. investors turn to rare coins and paper money when building a tangible asset investment portfolio. For the ultimate in numismatic portfolio diversification, however, many investors add bullion products to their rare coin and paper money assets. Given that the most popular bullion products are coins, there is considerable overlap between coin and bullion investments. However, the emphasis on the latter is not investing in the collector value of bullion coins, but instead on their intrinsic metal value. Indeed, most bullion pieces are only worth a marginal premium above their melt value. Please read our coin and precious metals educational pages to learn why they too have a place in every investor's portfolio.