In our previous blogs, we took a look at the major types of U.S. currency, first the large size (1861-1928) followed by the small size types (1929-today). Within each of these two major types, there were five or six series, depending largely on the obligation and backing provided by the note. For example, Silver Certificates were naturally backed by silver, Gold Certificates by gold, Legal Tenders or U.S. notes were simply declared “Legal Tender for all debts, public and private” by law, Treasury Notes were payable in coin, though the metal was unspecified, and Federal Reserve Notes were originally redeemable in gold at the Treasury in Washington D.C. or any Federal Reserve bank, though it’s unlikely many ever were.

What makes currency collecting fascinating and fun though, is not the legal obligations on the notes, but the incredibly beautiful and artistic designs that graced our paper money in the late 19th and early 20th centuries. While the earliest designs were ornate and attractive, it was not until the 1880s and 1890s that the truly great designs were issued. Today’s collectors have even given nicknames to some of these classic works of art, and many of these may be found in the large size Silver Certificates. Today we’ll take a look at some of the most famous and beautiful designs from this important series.

At the top of the list, is the iconic Educational Series of 1896. It comprised three denominations, and if more attractive notes were ever issued, we have yet to see them.

Educational 1
The $1 note was titled History Instructing Youth. Note the Constitution at right, and the Washington Monument and Capitol in the background. The wreaths around the border contained the names of great Americans.
Educational 2
The $2 note showed an allegory of Science presenting Steam and Electricity to Commerce and Manufacture.
Educational 5
The $5 depicted Electricity Presenting Light to the World. Note the very ornate right and left borders.
Black Eagle
While not as ornate as the Educational Series, the “Black Eagle” $1.00 note has a striking simplicity that endears itself to collectors.
1899 Deuce
Always a bit of an orphan denomination, the 1899 Deuce offered an attractive and well-balanced design.
Silver Dollar Back
The “Silver Dollar Back” found on the reverse of the Series 1886 $5 is always popular with numismatists.
Incredibly popular for obvious reasons, the 1899 Series $5 pictured Running Antelope, a member of the Oncpapa tribe of the Sioux Indians. This note is often referred to as the “Chief” by currency collectors.
Another very popular design is the famous “Porthole” $5 of 1923. It bridges the gap between the traditional ornate designs of the 19th century and the more functional look of the 20th century.
The “Tombstone” $10 derived its nickname from the frame surrounding Thomas Hendricks, Vice President of the United States, who died in office in November 1885 after serving just nine months in that capacity.

While there are many other attractive designs to be found among the large size Silver Certificates, we hope you’ve enjoyed a look at some of the more famous ones. In the event you may be considering purchasing any of the above, the following table gives approximate values for each in various grades.

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These notes are no longer inexpensive, but remember they represent the peak of U.S. currency design and are extremely popular with collectors. A number of these can surely be found on   Good luck and happy collecting!

All photographs courtesy of Heritage Galleries.