In 1953, the United States Bureau of Printing and Engraving (BEP) printed only two United States note denominations: $2 and $5. These notes feature an unusual set of serial numbers and Treasury seals in red ink, reflected in their colloquial name of “Red Seal” notes. Even though the use of red ink actually started in 1928, the seal was moved from its original position on the notes’ left side to the right side in 1953. Interestingly, while the BEP issued these two denominations only as Federal Reserve notes, a number of Silver Certificates printed in 1953 also circulated.
Both of these denominations were issued in four series: 1953, 1953-A, 1953-B, and 1953-C. A series designation represents either a change in design or a change in signature on the bill. For these notes, Series 1953 was signed by U.S. treasurer Ivy Baker Priest and Secretary of the Treasury George M. Humphrey. Series 1953-A notes have signatures by Priest and Robert B. Anderson. Series 1953-B feature the signatures of Elizabeth Rudel Smith and C. Douglas Dillon, and finally, Series 1953-C has signatures from Kathryn O’Hay Granahan and Dillon.
Each series was printed in batches of varying size, as can be seen in the chart below:
Most paper money collectors will be satisfied with one example from each series, but those interested in a more complete collection will need to seek out star notes as well. Due to the comparably small size of these printing runs, star notes can be extremely difficult to acquire and by necessity have a premium over regular examples. For example, of the over 83 million $2 notes printed in 1953 (of all series), roughly 4.6% bear a star. After accounting for the average lifespan of a paper note–less than five years for both the $2 and the $5–very few examples survive to this day.
The star described above was first used by the BEP in 1935 to designate notes that were created to replace any misprinted or damaged pieces not released into circulation. Prior to this, the Bureau use a small asterisk. While it was moved on later notes to the right of each serial number, the star can be found to the left of the serial number on these early notes.
The last of these notes, the United States $2 and $5 bills, were actually delivered to the Federal Reserve as late as 1957 (Reed, 289)! Furthermore, when the notes were placed into circulation, a number of retail employees found that the new anti-counterfeit pens often condemned real notes and acquitted some fake notes (Coyne, 12). The way these pens work is by reacting, and thus changing color, to the amount of starch in the paper. As the composition of United States bank notes changed slightly over the 20th century, this led to a number of false positives.
The 1953 Notes in Today’s Market
While an interesting piece of modern American paper money history, these notes are quite affordable and easily accessible to the average collector.
$2 notes, regardless of series, are worth roughly face value in Poor condition and upwards of $10 in Very Fine (VF) condition. Star notes carry a premium of roughly one-and-a-half to two times face and can sell for between $15 and $20 in VF. In Uncirculated grades, these notes become more valuable, with standard notes worth between $20 and $30 and star notes valued between $75 and $100.
Similarly, in circulated condition, $5 bills of all series are worth between face value and $10. If preserved in truly Uncirculated condition, a $5 note can sell for between $40 and $50. Star note examples of the $5 sell for similar amounts to their $2 counterparts and are worth upwards of $100. As can be seen with the prices, the real difference in value comes not from the series designation, but rather from the note’s condition and presence of a star after the serial number.
Full, uncut sheets of these notes are quite rare. In 1997, there were only 26 sheets of the Series 1953 $2 known.
The face of both denominations are extremely similar. In the center of the $2 note is a portrait of President and Founding Father Thomas Jefferson, and on the $5 note is Civil War president Abraham Lincoln. To the right of each portrait is the distinctive red treasury seal superimposed over the long form denomination. The red serial number is above this image and the signature of the Secretary of the Treasury below. To the left of this signature is the series designation. To the left of the portrait is the second serial number and the signature of the Treasurer of the United States.
Both notes prominently display numerical denominations in each corner and the legend UNITED STATES NOTE at the top. Unlike contemporary silver certificates notes that state “This Certifies That There is on Deposit in the Treasury of the United States of America ____ Dollars in Silver Payable to the Bearer on Demand”, these Federal Reserve notes state “The United States of America Will Pay to the Bearer on Demand ___ Dollars”.
And while the second legend is split by the portrait of Lincoln on the $5 bill, with a portion above and the remainder below, on the $2 note, it is all located beneath the portrait of Jefferson.
The reverse of the $2 note displays a tableau of Thomas Jefferson’s Charlottesville, Virginia estate, Monticello. The reverse of the $5 bill features the Lincoln Memorial.
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Coyne, 2012 – https://nnp.wustl.edu/library/book/518411?page=13
Reed, 2007 – https://nnp.wustl.edu/library/book/533249?page=5
There seems to be some confusion about the definition of a United States Note.
Various sources that I’ve looked at – including money.org as cited in this article and investopedia.com – state that U.S. Notes were non-interest-bearing bills of credit issued directly by the U.S. Treasury, which is part of the federal government. By contrast FRNs are of course issued by the Federal Reserve System which, while associated with the government, is _not_ part of it [federalreserve.gov/faqs/about_14986.htm] and has issued its own banknotes since 1914.
Based on those distinctions it would seem that the author(s) of this article erred in referring to U.S. Notes as Federal Reserve Notes.