How Much is a Silver Certificate Worth
The value of a banknote or redeemable certificates is generally exactly what is printed on it. However in the case of those that are historical, defunct and collectible, a greater value may be attached. This is just the case when evaluating how much a silver certificate is worth. Silver certificates are banknotes that were backed by silver bullion and their existence is a historical quirk which sought to right a wrong that was deemed to have been dealt by Congress after the ‘Crime of ’73′ in which silver was demonetized.
You’ll know you are holding a silver certificate because even though the notes look similar to the standard everyday bills, the words “Silver Certificate” clearly appear above the presidential portrait. Also, the seal and serial number will be printed in either red, brown, blue or yellow ink rather than the traditional green.
How Much is a Silver Certificate Worth
If you were to look closely at the banknotes of certain currencies, you would find words printed on it ‘promising’ to pay the bearer an amount equal to the face value of the note. Such words are a legacy of bullion-based standards, in which banknotes were paper promises or certificates that entitled the bearer to exchange it with the issuing bank for an equivalent amount of gold or silver coins or bullion.
Redemption of silver certificates for actual silver bullion may have ceased in 1968 but they are still legal tender. This means that a $1 silver certificate is worth $1 if you were to purchase goods from a grocery store and a $5 silver certificate is worth $5.
Since the 18 year old behind the counter is likely never to have seen a silver certificate and unlikely to therefore accept it as payment, your silver certificate can still be redeemed for standard banknotes.
But don’t be too rash. Since they are yet another legacy of the colorful history of the US monetary system, many silver certificates are worth more than their face value and carry collectible premium values.
For example, the 1928 $1 silver certificate is worth about $10 and the 1928C $1 silver certificate is worth around $50. The 1933 $10 silver certificate is worth more than $1500!
(Of course, like any collectibles, prices vary. These prices are estimates as of the time of writing. Source ‘A Guide Book of United States Paper Money’)
History of the Silver Certificate
Starting from 1787, just 11 years after the United States of America gained its independence, up until the Coinage Act of 1873, the US operated a bimetallic currency standard in which both gold and silver were legal tender.
In the bimetallic system, the ratio of exchange between the two precious metals has to be fixed (similar to how there are always 100 cents in a dollar) and this ratio was initially set to 15 to 1 by the then Secretary of the Treasury, Alexander Hamilton. In other words, an ounce of gold coins was deemed to be always worth 15 ounces of silver coins and vice versa (by 1834 this had become sixteen to one).
Unfortunately as is generally the case with price fixing, the system was prone to destabilisation, in this case by the fact that rather than being birds of a feather, gold and silver are two separate birds altogether albeit perhaps of the same family…say the Golden Eagle and the Bald Eagle!
To put it simply, because gold and silver coins were actually bullion, their actual worth would sometimes be out of kilter with their nominal face value thus putting into play other market forces that would result in coins being removed from the market as investors sought to hold on them. Click here to read more about the problems of a gold and silver standard and determining how much gold and silver are worth.
Thus, within one hundred years of its inception, bimetallism was abandoned by the Coinage Act of 1873 in a step that became known as the ‘Crime of ’73′ amidst much political debate and public concern that the demonetization of silver would not only inhibit prosperity but would also effectively short-change those who were invested in silver.
Subsequently, in the face of such outcry, Congress passed the Bland-Allison Act of 1878 that stipulated the US Treasury would have to buy between $2 and $4 billion worth of silver bullion and mint them into coinage that would be legal tender.
However in a manner similar to their gold-standard strategy, silver certificates or simply banknotes redeemable for silver bullion were issued as a more convenient medium of exchange rather than the actual silver dollars which were quite heavy and cumbersome to carry. The first series to be printed was in 1878 and consisted of silver certificates worth between $10 and $1000.
For the most part of the following century, silver certificates circulated throughout the US with people redeeming them for silver dollars or bullion as they pleased. On redemption, the certificates were destroyed as the backing silver was no longer in the government’s hands.
During the 1960′s, with silver prices rising, people were redeeming silver dollars and melting them down as their bullion value was greater than the face value of $1. Thus coined silver dollars were being lost from circulation.
Finally in 1964, then Secretary of the Treasury C. Douglas Dillon, halted redemption of silver certificates for coined silver dollars, with all redemption ceasing in 1968.
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