Money, that’s what I want (to collect): A brief introduction to notaphily

World bank notes World bank notes (Image via Wikimedia Commons)

Money makes the world go around. It’s the reason we go to work, it helps us go on vacation, and can afford us the nicer material things in life that we might crave. For some people this is new clothes, a smart watch, a car. For notaphiles, it’s the money itself.

Money has value depending on its denomination, but money is also highly collectible. And there’s a great deal more to notaphily (the study and collection of paper currency and banknotes) than merely chasing the largest numbers. Often notes become desirable because of the topic featured, the time period, country of origin, material, currency, and sometimes because they are just plain beautiful.

And while the internet is filled with lists of the highest prices reached at auction for individual rare banknotes, in this article we are going to discuss the factors that influence notaphily enthusiasts. 

This is certainly the case with the striking and beautiful 1948 5 livres bank note from Syria. Hole punched to denote its current cancellation, this rare note is printed in beautiful and vivid colors in an ornate design that’s surely deserving of a higher denomination.

5 Livres Syriennes note circa 1948.

5 Livres Syriennes note circa 1948. Sold for £550 via London Coin Auction (June 2017).

In Syria, treating the humble bank note as a canvas isn’t exclusive to the 5 Livres though. Nine years earlier, in 1939 the 1 Livre Syrienne note was given a similar vibrancy thanks to ornate yellow and blue columns and archways that beautifully frame a countryside scene, which has remained vibrant through over 80 years of foxing and use. If that’s a little reserved in its design, then perhaps a short hop across the border to Lebanon is in order, as the 1939 10 Livres Syriennes note has all the elegance and attention to detail of a quality Persian rug.

Delicate design

Scarcity is another collectible factor for notaphiles, which has in part added to value of the 1988 $1,000 Bank of Canada note, which was recalled by banks, and features a portrait of Queen Elizabeth II and a stylised bold purple design. A low serial number and a short print run would see the value of this and similarly recalled notes sky rocket.

Bank of Canada $1,000 note circa 1988.

Bank of Canada $1,000 note circa 1988. Sold for CAD1,200 via Auction Network (August 2016)

A focus on ornate design isn’t exclusive to Syria though, and extends to many currencies. The American dollar is not known in its present guise for its delicacy of design (apart from detailing around the border), but the rare 1875 $5 note from the Merchants National Bank Series includes a scene that could have been transported from a renaissance fresco. 

Merchants National Bank $5 note circa 1875

Merchants National Bank $5 note circa 1875. Sold for $750 via James Peterson Co. LLC (May 2017)

Pioneering paper

Despite its age though, the 1875 $5 note wasn’t the first instance of paper money entering circulation in the US. One of its predecessors was the 1863 fractional 5 cent note. Available in 3 cents, 5 cents, 10 cents, 25 cents, and 50 cents denominations, fractional currency is physically smaller than other United States money and was first issued on August 21, 1862 and last issued on February 15, 1876. 

This came about because at the beginning of the Civil War people starting hoarding coins for their precious metal content. They became increasingly rare and in their absence stamps were used instead of coins, before the government intervened by issuing paper coins, also known as postage currency or fractional currency.

These notes did not feature serial numbers, but in an attempt to thwart potential counterfeiters the designs became increasingly more and more complex and intricate, much to the benefit and delight of collectors. 

For a real slice of history though how about a bank note drenched in history from the year that Founding Fathers signed the Declaration of Independence and was designed by the one and only Benjamin Franklin? 

Historical artefact

Printed in 1776 on authority of the Continental Congress, fractional notes like the two thirds of a dollar denomination are historic pieces of America’s Revolutionary War era. Resembling a certificate more than a bank note, these portrait-shaped notes were personally hand-signed by an authorized official and the back of the notes displayed 13 interlinked rings, which each featured the name of one of the colonies, along with the words ‘We Are One’ and ‘American Congress’.

For any notaphile or patriot this is a national treasure to own, and even includes the signature of someone involved in the country’s independence from Great Britain. A real piece of history in the making.