As the world adapts to converting money into bits and bytes that fly across the internet, about the only time I handle cash these days is when doing business. Yesterday we paid cash to a walk-in selling a Tupperware bin full of costume jewelry at the antique mall, two weeks ago we were sellers at Elkhorn, and all summer we visited rummage sales. As you may have noticed, I’m a fan of real money, specie and fiat alike, so I keep my eye out for interesting things. A wheatstraw penny here, a 1950s nickel there, but interesting paper money is rare. This summer, however, two passed through my wallet.
The first is a bill that’s absurdly unknown to most people even though they’re still printing new ones every couple years. The ubiquitous $2 bill has confused Taco Bell cashiers for years, and rich people make them into notepads, but cash register drawers these days don’t even have room for them. When I was younger I coached chess for a gradeschool and the local chess association charged $3 entry for tournaments — thus, since everything higher than a dollar is multiples of fives, the chessmasters just got $2 bills for change and no singles at all. The kids always looked at the bill in wonder, and a few parents wondered if they were even legal. Or extraordinary valuable, since they seem so rare. One rummage sale this summer gave me this, working on the same principle:
About the most unique thing about this bill is that it’s a Series 1976, the first year the modern $2 bill was issued, but half a billion of them were printed at that time. The proprietor of the rummage sale came up with the idea to give $2s as change was because it reduced the amount of bills to have to count out if she had fewer ones and a bunch of twos. Makes sense to me! I should have thought of that when I got change for Elkhorn; the wad of $1 bills gets ungainly by the end of the day. Which brings me to the other neat bill I received.
I had sold a nice old lady something for $9, and she handed me a well-worn $10 bill. I made change, but as I began to shove the $10 in with the others, something didn’t seem quite right about it:
At first glance, it could pass for any $10 bill up through the 1990s, but the “Will Pay To The Bearer On Demand” was a clue that I wasn’t looking at your everyday sawbuck. On closer inspection:
Yup, that says 1934, almost eighty years young and it probably paid for something just about as old from our flea market antique booth. In this condition, it’s really not worth much more than $10, which is fine by me. I’d like to think that this old lady had a big roll of threadbare antique money in her purse, paying everybody with bills more than 50 years old.
My guess is that the 1934 bill didn’t actually start out in her pocket — a flea market the size of Elkhorn is a place where lots of money passes hands. She probably had a stack of $20s from the ATM in her wallet, and she got the 1934 $10 bill in change from one dealer, who received it in a transaction from somebody who got it in change from another booth, and so on, all the way back to the one guy who didn’t notice it in a stack of $10 bills he got from his bank. When cash starts passing between hands, it moves fast, so be sure to keep an eye on the money in your pockets: you might just find something cool one day.