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A Closer Look: Series of 1896 $2 Silver Certificate

By Cory Williams - September 2, 2020

The Series of 1896 Silver Certificates are referred to as the "Educational Series" in the hobby due to the design on the $1 "History Instructing Youth" issue.  All three denominations in this series consist of elaborate allegorical artwork on the face of the note that makes one forget for a moment that they are looking at a banknote instead of a mural.

Face of Series of 1896 $2 Silver Certificate graded GEM UNC 66 PPQ by PCGS Banknote, Image courtesy of Stack’s Bowers Galleries ( Click image to enlarge.

At the center of the $2 denomination is seen a group of five allegorical figures, and at the bottom we can see the title of the scene is "Science Presenting Steam and Electricity to Commerce and Manufacture."  As the title suggests, the top female figure symbolizes science. She is presenting the two youths, the one at left holding a galvanic coil representing electricity and the one toward the right grasping a throttle depicting steam, to the two ladies at the bottom representing at left (with a money bag) commerce and at right (with machine and goods) manufacture.

This design was painted by Edwin Howland Blashfield, a well-known muralist at the time, with works spanning from the dome of the Manufacturer's and Liberal Arts Building at the World's Columbian Exposition of 1893 to several state capitols, including the central dome of the Library of Congress.  He had originally intended the design to be used on a $50 denomination that never came to be.  Instead, this design was used in place of another already created for the $2 note that the Bureau of Engraving and Printing (BEP) officials simply did not care for.  The background and frame were designed by Thomas F. Morris, chief of the BEP's Engraving division, with Charles Schlecht and G.F.C. Smillie responsible for the engraving work.

Seen at the bottom right is "ACT OF AUG. 4, 1886," referring to an appropriations act that allowed Silver Certificates to be printed in denominations of $1, $2, and $5.

Back of Series of 1896 $2 Silver Certificate graded GEM UNC 66 PPQ by PCGS Banknote, Image courtesy of Stack’s Bowers Galleries, ( Click image to enlarge.

The back features the portraits of two notable American inventors.  On the left is Robert Fulton, known for inventing the first commercially successful steamboat and the first submarine (for Napoleon Bonaparte), as well as some of the earliest torpedoes.  At the right is Samuel Finley Breese Morse, well known as the co-developer of Morse code and an accomplished painter.  Thomas F. Morris designed the entire back and Lorenzo James Hatch was the engraver.


This particular banknote is cataloged as a Fr. 248 due to the signature combination of Blanche K. Bruce as Register of the Treasury and Ellis H. Roberts as Treasurer of the United States, and these "248s" were printed from 1897 to 1898, with an estimated total printing of 11,252,000 and an approximate survival of around 1,000 pieces.

The example banknote pictured here was graded as GEM UNC 66 PPQ by PCGS Banknote, an impressively high grade owing to the originality of the note along with a lack of any folds or wear and excellent centering.  It is truly a work of art in monetary form.


  • Bowers, Q. David, Whitman Encyclopedia of U.S. Paper Money. Whitman Publishing, LLC, 2009.
  • Bowers, Q. David and Sundman David M., 100 Greatest American Currency Notes. Whitman Publishing, LLC, 2006.
  • Friedberg, Arthur L. and Ira S. Paper Money of the United States. The Coin & Currency Institute, Inc., 2010.

Article provided by PCGS at

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