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Strange Money That’s Totally Real

By Mark Harvey - January 18, 2024

I distinctly remember the first time I ever encountered a $2 bill. My dad had driven me to our local library, presumably to research something for a school project, and as soon as I stepped out of his truck I saw a single note on the ground. I went to pick it up with some sense of excitement wondering how much it could be worth.

To my surprise I saw a scene of the drafting of the Declaration of Independence surrounded by 2s. I then proceeded to explain to my dad that I had found some fake money in the parking lot. After a quick inspection he informed me that the bill I found was indeed real and, as he still does some 25 to 30 years after that moment, gave me background information on it and why this seldom-seen note is considered lucky. Though I think today I do a little bit more of the numismatic heavy lifting in our conversations!

Could this be the highest denomination you’ve ever seen? Courtesy of PCGS. Click image to enlarge.

During my time at PCGS, I’ve come across a lot of things that people, myself included up until the moment of discovery in some cases, haven’t seen or wouldn’t believe was real until they saw it, or held it for themselves. Not too long ago I had the opportunity to hold $50 trillion dollars… 50 trillion Zimbabwe dollars that is! And as astronomically high of a number as that is, a $100 trillion note also exists, with a number of them graded by PCGS Banknote. For reference, since it’s probably a question you’ve got ready to go, 1 ZWD = 0.00276319 USD as of the day this was written. A PCGS Gem Uncirculated 66 PPQ with a minor cutting error can be seen below.

Courtesy of PCGS TrueView. Click image to enlarge.

There are plenty of other notes and coins with astronomically high denominations, but let’s go the complete opposite direction. For seasoned numismatists, the half cent, two cent, and three cent pieces might seem common, but I would venture to guess that many folks out there did not know the United States ever had coins with these denominations – and definitely have never held one.

The two and three cent coins are a little easier to understand, especially when given the context of postal rates being three cents in 1851, but a half cent? That can be a little bit tougher to explain... You’ve probably found yourself a couple cents short from time to time, but have you ever been half a cent short? Of course, we have to consider buying power during the 1700s and 1800s. Even at the end of the half cent’s run in 1857, $1 equated to about $35 or so today.

If there’s a weird denomination you can think of, there’s a chance it has been produced as either a coin or banknote somewhere along the way. And then there’s the litany of off-metal and even non-metal coins that were produced with materials you may never have associated with any kind of money. The 1942 Bakelite Cent is one that comes to mind, but those are topics for another day!

Article provided by PCGS at
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