Amid the $1 bills in your wallet, you may come across a bill with the heading "Silver Certificate." Between 1878 and 1965 the United States government issued these bills. Unlike previous currencies, which were backed by gold, silver certificates were back by silver. The government maintained deposits of silver equal to the value of the silver certificates it had issued. Though the government no longer issues silver certificates, many are still in circulation today.
Types of Silver Certificates
According to Manning Garrett, an antique money dealer based in New York and South Carolina, the most common silver certificates still in circulation today were printed in 1935 or 1957. They look like the dollar bills currently being printed, except for the words "Silver Certificate" at the top and the legend at the bottom that reads, "One Dollar In Silver Payable to the Bearer on Demand." Other common silver certificates were printed in 1934, with a blue "1" to the left of George Washington’s face, and in 1928, with the bottom legend that reads, "One Silver Dollar." Silver certificates from 1923 feature a blue "1" to the right of George Washington’s face. Older silver certificates no longer in circulation do not feature Washington’s face and look very different from today’s $1 bills.
Even though silver certificates say they may be redeemed for silver upon demand, this is no longer true. In 1967, Congress passed legislation that allowed for silver certificate holders to redeem the bills for silver only until June 24, 1968. If you surrender your silver certificate to a bank teller today, she’ll pay you only the face value, $1, for it. While the value of silver has increased since the bills were issued, their face value remains $1.
Some people collect silver certificates, and to these collectors, certain bills are worth more than their face value. As with any collectible, the rarer an item, the more collectors are willing to pay for it. Items in pristine condition are worth more than those that are worn and dirty. In the case of silver certificates, most of those that are still in circulation today were printed by the millions and remain fairly common. Garrett estimates that certificates dated 1935 or 1957 will bring about $1.50 from collectors, but 1923 bills may sell for about $20. Other dates are fairly common and unlikely to command high prices. Older, antique bills are rarer and can bring $50 to $1,000, depending on their condition.
Uncirculated silver certificates will command higher prices than circulated bills, especially if the certificates are older ones not in circulation today. Certificates with stars in the serial numbers are rarer and may bring a few dollars more than other serial numbers. Beyond their financial worth, silver certificates are a reminder of a time in American history when paper money truly represented the amount of bullion on hand in the U.S. Treasury. That makes them interesting artifacts, regardless of their face value.
Cynthia Myers is the author of numerous novels and her nonfiction work has appeared in publications ranging from "Historic Traveler" to "Texas Highways" to "Medical Practice Management." She has a degree in economics from Sam Houston State University.