In response to the nation’s silver-mining interests, the U.S. government began printing silver certificate bank notes in 1878 in addition to the gold certificate notes that were already being produced. The first of these certificates entitled the bearer to $1 in silver, and it was backed by the inventories in U.S. vaults. Later, the Treasury added $5 and $10 denominations. The government issued these notes sporadically between their appearance in the 1800s and the 1950s, when most of the last of the bills were pulled from circulation and destroyed. There was a brief reappearance of the $1 silver certificate in 1957, but since the end of the gold standard in the 1960s, none of the remaining bills are actually backed by the Treasury’s silver stores. The value of the bills varies by year, series and condition, but there are a few key standouts to note due to their high or virtually nonexistent premium value to collectors.
1935 and 1957 $1
You would think that at least the 1957 note would be worth a little something since it was the last ever silver certificate issued, but it was also the largest run, so unless you have an uncirculated bill, it’s worth just about face value. The 1935 is similarly valueless over its denomination.
These are the first small-size silver certificates, and as such they can be worth up to about $12. Different series can be worth more, however, including the 1928E, which can fetch up to $150.
After 1923, the U.S. Treasury reduced the size of the printed money it issued, so the bills printed from 1860 to 1923, including silver certificates, are highly collectible. The large-format notes were called house blankets, or horse blankets, and the last $1 silver certificate issued in that format can garner $20 to $40 depending upon the condition.
These large-format bills featured a bold design with a bald eagle where modern consumers would expect to see George Washington. These are a favorite of collectors, and that can drive their value as high as $250.
1934 and 1953 $5
Like the $1s of ’35 and ’57, these are not worth much more than face value.
Of course, anything that makes a bill unique among the throngs of others increases its value. Star notes replace the series letter after the serial number with a star, and they can fetch more than standard notes. Educational notes were issued periodically in the large-format years, and they featured portraits of inventors or educational messages. Collectors prize those issues. There are also rare blocks and serial-number ranges that carry a greater value than other notes of the same year, so with all the intricacies of collecting, it’s wise to invest in a trade magazine subscription or a good book on the subject.