Check Your Wallet! How to Find Bills Worth More Than Face Value

A few years ago, while walking through a field, I noticed a quarter lying on the ground. When I picked it up, I noticed it looked unusually gray. It was a 1957 quarter, which happens to be worth more than a regular quarter because of it's higher silver content. In fact, I found out that it's worth about $3.

That’s kind of cool. But there’s a guy in Royersford, Pennsylvania whose story tops mine. He’s got a 1933 $10 silver certificate bill that auctioneers say may be worth as much as half a million dollars.

In our post about large denomination bills, I realized two things:

  • People love looking at and collecting old bills
  • They love $2 bills, even though they're not rare
  • Sometimes money in your pocket is worth more than face value

In fact, if you can get your hands on an 1800s $10,000 bill featuring Andrew Jackson, you too could be sitting on hundreds of thousands of dollars.

But not all older or rare currency bills are worth more than face value. How can you know if the bills you have are worth more than the number on the bill? Many of the collectible bills are regular notes that have something special about them and it usually pertains to the serial number.

What Constitutes Valuable Currency in the Eyes of Collectors?

A lot of people collect cash bills and coins. For instance, $2 bills are still incredibly popular and people collect them a lot, even though they don’t hold any real value over their $2 face value.

When it comes to bills, the serial number is a big part of what determines its value. People love interesting serial numbers and are willing to pay more than face value for a cool one. Printing errors are another feature that makes currency worth more. 

Star Notes

The printing presses at the Bureau of Engraving and Printing aren't perfect. They're nearly perfect, but they're not perfect.

Sometimes a bill is damaged during the printing process and will be replaced. The Bureau of Engraving and Printing can’t use the same serial number again. So, the replacement bill shares the same serial number but it includes a star. That's a star note! The star note helps maintain a correct count of notes in a serial run when there’s an error.

Star notes can have a value of more than face value depending on a number of factors. For instance, if there was a small quantity of the bills printed they might be of higher value. Or, the value can fluctuate depending on the type of error.

Errors

Star notes show that there was an error in the printing process – but that error was caught. Sometimes the errors aren't caught and bills with mistakes actually go out into circulation. Those bills can be quite valuable. 

In 2005, some quarters were printed that say “In God We Rust”. The “T” in Trust didn't print because it was filled with lubricant from the machine. One of these quarters is said to be worth between $2 and $5. 

Any misprints can cause the coin or bill to be worth more than face value – some more than others. 

Low and High Serial Numbers

There's something fancy about seeing a lot of zeroes and then a single digit afterward, it's like you waited in line to get one of the first! (except you didn't, it's just dumb luck). Nines are sexy too. Like all of them being nine. For some reason, bills with a lot of zeros or a lot of nines in a row tend to sell for more. Go figure.

If you find a bill with a lower number like 00000012, you might want to keep it in your bill collection stash too. The same goes if you find a bill with a higher number, like 99999912. There was a bill on eBay as of this writing with a low number, specifically four zeros and four digits.

The asking price? $39.

Repeaters, Ladders and Other Patterns

As it turns out, any repeating digits or series of digits is popular too. All of the same digit, almost all of a digit, some repeating patterns, etc. For instance, 12341234. Or 34534534.

A ladder is any sequential ascending or descending sequence in the serial number – 12345678, 23456789, etc.

There are other patterns that may be valuable as well, depending on the collector. If it catches your eye, chances are it catches someone else's.

Bills with double and triple digits in a row can sell for a lot as well. I found a bill on eBay with two sets of triple digits selling for $7.

Flippers and Radars

Flippers and Radars are bills that read the same way right side up and upside down. For instance, a serial number that read 09600960. These types of bills are popular as well.

Binary Numbers

Bills that have binary numbers within the serial number can be popular too. As an example, 23232323. And it doesn’t even have to be binary the whole way through. Even bills with partial binary inclusions can sometimes sell for more.

Serial Numbers that Reflect a Specific Date

Collectors also love serial numbers that reflect a specific date. Let’s say you had a bill with the serial number 07041776. Or 09112001.

If you have a bill that has a serial number reflecting a specific popular date, it might be worth more. Also, sometimes people look for bills that reflect a date that is important to them personally.

Let’s say they want a bill with a serial number that matches their birthday. For instance, a bill with a serial number of 07211970.

Collectors and non-collectors alike sometimes like to have bills like this for fun.

Consecutive Serial Numbers

People often like to collect groups of bills with consecutive serial numbers as well. Uncirculated bills with consecutive serial numbers can fetch an even higher price.

If you have a group of bills that have consecutive numbers, think about keeping them for their value, or selling them for a profit.

Where to Sell Dollar Bills Worth More than Face Value

You might be wondering where to sell your bills with fancy serial numbers. If you do an internet search, you will find collectors that buy bills with certain serial numbers or serial number patterns.

However, you might have better luck selling your bills on eBay. Someone who doesn’t know a lot about currency collecting might pay more for a bill just because they think the serial number is cool.

Not going through a collector can have its downsides though. Imagine if the guy from Pennsylvania with the silver certificate valued at $500,000 had sold the bill on eBay for an auction. I’m guessing he wouldn’t have gotten anywhere near half a million dollars.

Dollar Bill Serial Number Lookup and Star Notes Lookup

Interested in looking up serial numbers for bills you have to see how valuable they are? There are a few sites that will tell you the “cool factor” for serial numbers on bills you have.

And there are a couple of collector sites that you can check to see what types of bills they may be looking for.

Sites like Heritage Auctions might give you some idea of the value if you own bills worth more than face value. Heritage Auctions touts itself as the world’s largest numismatic auctioneer.

Coin World is another website that might be able to give you an idea of what your bills are worth.

There are also several “not secure” websites out there that claim to be able to give you an idea of what your bills are worth. But it’s important to proceed with caution when visiting these sites.

Summary

Collecting currency and coins can be fun and lucrative. The important thing is to know what types of bills tend to hold more value, and where to sell them to get the most cash.

Or, you can just collect them and keep them for fun. So keep an eye on the serial numbers for bills you come across. You never know when you might stumble upon a real treasure.

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What You Should Do With All the Financial Advice on the Internet

The internet is a great place to get new ideas and opinions you hadn't considered you can't blindly follow the advice. Your finances are too important to leave to internet articles written by unknown people. Instead, follow a variety of bloggers, bounce new ideas off a trusted source, and verify your decisions with a fee-only financial planner when you can.

Jim Wang

About Jim Wang

Jim Wang is a thirty-something father of three who is a frequent contributor to Forbes and Vanguard's Blog. He has also been fortunate to have appeared in the New York Times, Baltimore Sun, Entrepreneur, and Marketplace Money.

Jim has a B.S. in Computer Science and Economics from Carnegie Mellon University, an M.S. in Information Technology - Software Engineering from Carnegie Mellon University, as well as a Masters in Business Administration from Johns Hopkins University. His approach to personal finance is that of an engineer, breaking down complex subjects into bite-sized easily understood concepts that you can use in your daily life.

One of his favorite tools (here's my treasure chest of tools,, everything I use) is Personal Capital, which enables him to manage his finances in just 15-minutes each month. They also offer financial planning, such as a Retirement Planning Tool that can tell you if you're on track to retire when you want. It's free.

He is also diversifying his investment portfolio by adding a little bit of real estate. But not rental homes, because he doesn't want a second job, it's diversified small investments in a few commercial properties and a farm in Illinois via AcreTrader.

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  1. Lazy Man and Money says

    I had a $10 Silver Certificate from the 1930s. I think it’s in my mother’s attic. Maybe when COVID is over, I’ll be a half million richer.

    Does Google Search… oh…. maybe not.

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