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The Art of Money

Updated: Sep 7, 2021

You’ll come to find how much of an enthusiast I am for antique paper currency. Not the green on dark green Federal Reserve notes we all remember from the 1950s-2000s. I’m referring to the turn of the century and prior. If you think we have “Monopoly money” now with all the colors and designs incorporated, take a brief peek at the colorful and artistic paper currency of the past.

This particular run of silver certificates, series 1896, is referred to as the “Educational Series”. Each note shows a metaphorical scene. The $1 note depicts “History instructing Youth”. The $2 note depicts “Science (center) presenting Steam and Electricity to Commerce and Manufacture”. Finally, and widely agreed upon as THE most beautiful note ever created, is the 1896 $5 note depicting “Electricity presenting Light to the World.” Truly works of art, these pieces.

About as striking as they come is this series 1905 $20 gold certificate nicknamed the “Technicolor Note” for obvious reasons. George could’ve pulled off the Dream Coat in this one. The bright yellow and red serial/seal contrast strongly against the grey-green border.

Another wonderful arrangement of design and color can be seen here in this Treasury Note, series 1869, called the “Rainbow Note” with the continued “Woodchopper” depiction. These were a full run for the entire series 1869 in denominations of 1, 2, 5, 10, 20, 50, 100 and 500. Notice the vibrant green at left contrasting with the red seal at the right. Identical imaging/vignettes were continued on these notes for series 1875 and 1907 but without the party lights.

In the infancy of paper currency there existed a number of reasons for these vibrant and unique designs. Thankfully, we’re allowed this beautiful glimpse of the past.

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