Why collect currency?
One of the more interesting things about human beings, is that they collect stuff. They collect all KINDS of stuff. The old saying "one man's trash is another man's treasure", really IS true. There are lots of reasons why people collect things. And I think one of the most fundamental reasons goes something like "I like this stuff, so I want to HAVE as much of this stuff as I can possibly get, and maybe someday, I'll have ALL of the stuff." That's probably a pretty accurate assessment of why people collect anything in general. But there are as many reasons why people collect a particular thing as there are particular things.
So why collect United States Currency? I don't know, you tell me. You can't make yourself be interested in collecting anything. When you see a bunch of old banknotes for the first time, if something doesn't go off in your head that says something like "Hey, this is really neat!" (or a similar thing), then you probably will never be interested in collecting it, and you probably shouldn't. Go try something else.
I say this because there are always people who make the TERRIBLE mistake of collecting numismatic material (particularly coins & currency) not because they have any interest in the material or its beauty or history or whatever, but AS AN INVESTMENT. I will tell you right now, in all honesty, that if you buy rare coins or currency for the primary reason of selling it later at a nice fat profit, you will most likely lose your shirt. These things make LOUSY investments. And if anyone tries to get you to invest in things like gold coins, banknotes, etc, grab your wallet and run.
The vast majority of currency collectors are history freaks to at least some degree. An 1899 silver certificate is actually a tangible piece of history you can hold in your hands, and even own for relatively modest sum. Someone may have used that very note in your hands, to buy a bag of groceries at the turn of the century. Its fascinating to just think about who had it, and when. What did they do with it? Where has it been? Wouldn't it be fascinating if you could trace the path it took from the printing press to your house, and to think that it took nearly 100 years to complete its journey?
Then there's the beauty of it all. Older US currency is extremely ornate and incredibly detailed. They are works of art, little masterpieces all by themselves. The 1901 $10 Bison note, the 1899 $5 Indian Chief silver certificate, the $1, $2, and $5 1896 Silver Certificates, and many others are breathtaking in bright uncirculated condition.
Well, enough of that. If you've read this far, we already know you have some interest in the subject, and maybe you want to know how to get started!
A lot of the fun of this hobby is in the hunt. Finding the stuff is fun all by itself. You might want
to start out with small size notes. Oh, what's a small size note you say? Its paper money of the same physical dimensions as the bills in your wallet right now. Prior to 1929, paper money was much larger in size than it is today. So start small. Small size notes are more readily available, and for the most part, are less costly. I like to tell newbies to the hobby to start with small size $1 silver certificates from the 1957 series.
There are three types of those notes. 1957, 1957-A, and 1957-B. None of them are rare, and you should be able to obtain all three in circulated grades for less than ten dollars. You'll be able to get all three in uncirculated grades for less than $20. Once you have all three, you now have a COMPLETE SET! You can take that to extremes though, you could collect the entire series by block letter or something, in which case you'll be hunting down dozens of notes and running into a few bucks.
Go to coin shows. More and more coin dealers are offering currency these days, and you'll almost always find one or more currency-exclusive dealers at any decent sized coin show. Look over the material, just about any dealer worth his salt will be happy to show you anything you want to see, and answer your questions. If you run into an obnoxious dealer, just walk away and take your business somewhere else.
Get a book. A great book for starters and seasoned collectors alike is the Standard Catalog of US Paper Money published by Krause Publications. Its a hardcover book and it costs $24.95 (as of March 1997). Go check them out at www.krause.com.
Buying on the Internet.
Tremendous bargains are available on the Internet and the Web. As a dealer, 90% of my sales have been generated online since 1995. But there are sharks in these waters too, my friend. When you're ready to buy your first bank note, DON'T buy it online. Go to a coin or currency show. And before you buy a THING from a dealer on the Internet, get references. A good place to ask questions is in the newsgroup rec.collecting.paper-money. There are loads of seasoned vets in there, an extremely friendly bunch, and all you have to do it pop in there and say "Can anyone recommend a good, reputable dealer online?". You'll get lots of answers, I guarantee it.
This is a fun hobby. But remember, this IS a hobby, its not investment banking. And while it IS possible that your collection will appreciate over time, don't expect it to. Buy notes because you like them. That way, if the value of your collection plunges 5 years from now, it won't matter to you because YOU ENJOY THE NOTES. And if it quadruples in value, you'll be that much more thrilled.
I hope you enjoy collecting currency and participating in our sales and online auctions and stuff. If you have any questions, don't hesitate to write me at firstname.lastname@example.org.