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The History of the $1,000 Bill

There has been a lot of press lately, even outside of currency dealer circles, about a man who brought a $1,000 bill from 1918 into the Gold & Silver Pawnshop featured on the hit History Channel TV series Pawn Stars. The customer said he had been given the bill by his grandmother.

“Very few people were walking around with these, so there’s not a lot in circulation,” said the pawn shop co-owner Rick Harrison. I’ve seen lots of old, high-dollar bills like this go for tens of thousands of dollars.” Harrison paid $2,500 for the note and sent it to the Federal Reserve to get graded. After the bill was graded at “25/very fine,” Harrison estimated its value at approximately $7,000. It is believed to be one of only 150 $1,000 bills in circulation. Despite the potential for a hefty profit, Harrison’s father, Richard “Old Man” Harrison decided to keep it for himself.

Early Era $1,000 Bills

The first $1,000 bill was issued by the U.S. in 1861. That year, the Confederate States of America also included a $1,000 note among its first bank notes. These 1861 Montgomery issues (from Montgomery, AL, the original capital of the confederacy) can be very valuable, particularly if they are uncirculated.  As the war wore on, Confederate money became increasingly worthless. Many people destroyed the notes after the Civil War, since they no longer had value. Some people saved them, and though rare, they can still be found today.

The 1918 blue seal $1,000 bill features a portrait of Alexander Hamilton, the first Secretary of the Treasury, on the front, and the profile of a bald eagle, holding arrows and an olive branch, on the back. In today’s economy, $1,000 is roughly equivalent to over $15,000. Hamilton is one of the few people who were not a U.S. President to appear on U.S. currency, along with John Marshall and Benjamin Franklin.

“Modern Era” $1,000 Bills

When paper money was changed to its current size in 1928, the production of $1,000 bills increased significantly. Millions of them were printed, and thousands are still available and held by the general public as well as old money collectors.

The 1928 green seal bill has a portrait of Grover Cleveland. They are worth slightly more than the later issues in 1934.  A 1928 $1,000 bill with a low digit serial number (two numbers or fewer at the end) is worth more, as are those with a star following the serial number. A 1928 $1,000 bill with a serial number that ends with a star symbol will be very valuable to rare currency collectors and dealers.

Fun fact: Grover Cleveland has been the only U.S. President to serve two non-consecutive terms. He was first elected in 1884. He won the popular vote in 1888, but lost the electoral vote. He was eventually re-elected in 1892.

The 1934 and 1934A issues are the most common $1,000 bills featuring Grover Cleveland. Both notes carry the same premium, and they generally trade in the rare currency market for about the same amount as the 1928 green seals.  As with other antique currency, value is based on issuing district, star note designation, condition, serial number, and seal color.

The End of the $1,000 Bill

As with other notes above $100, no $1,000 bills were printed after 1945. Later in the 20th century, advances in secure money transfer made large bills unnecessary for legitimate purposes. As these and other large bills increasingly became used for organized crime and drug trafficking, President Richard Nixon put a halt to the distribution of any bills over $100 in July 1969 to make it more difficult to hide movements of large amounts of currency.

The bills are still legal tender, but it is certainly best to hold on to one if you find it, and have a professional who deals in antique bank notes evaluate it to determine its value. You can find a photo of a 1934A bill on the Antique Money Buyers website at http://www.antiquemoney.com/value-of-1000-federal-reserve-note/.