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Glossary of Currency Terms

Fractional Currency
During the Civil War, the public feared the worst for their loved ones and for the economy. As a result, coins were plucked from circulation because of their intrinsic value. The lack of change in circulation was taking a toll on the economy. The Treasury began printing fractional currency (denominations of less than $1). Many different designs were used and millions were printed. Most fractional currency pieces retail for between $8 and $30+, depending on condition. There are a few very scarce types that are worth much more.
Mule Notes

Mule notes occur on both Large- and small-size notes. On Large-size notes beginning in 1921 when Frank White took office, new back plates were also created for notes being printed, however, the location of the plate number was changed! Detailed information can be found in "The Comprehensive Catalog of United States Large Size Star Notes" by Doug Murray.

A small-size mule is a note that has a micro plate number on one side and a macro plate number on the other. Micro numbers measure 0.6mm and macros measure 1mm high.

During the transition to all macro plates, both micro and macro plates were in use. Usually these different plates were side-by-side on the same press. This occurred because the BEP had a standard economic policy of using up obsolete plates rather than scrapping them. Whenever micro faces are paired with macro backs, or macro faces are paired with micro backs, a mule is produced.

Some mule notes are scarce, while some are not. Sometimes the non-mule note is scarcer than the mule note for a given series. Mules are an intriguing part of collecting small size United States paper money.

Obsolete Bank Notes

Obsolete Bank Notes are also called "Broken Bank Notes". In the days prior to the Federal Reserve, any bank could produce currency for use by the clients and members of the community. Unfortunately, not many safeguards were taken to ensure that banks stood behind the currency they were producing and circulating. Banks, more often than not, failed and their currency was rendered worthless. As a result, most bank notes of the period did not trade at their full retail value. Oftentimes notes were worth fifty cents on the dollar because the public expected the banks to fail.

Hundreds of different banks issued notes in all different denominations. Currently most Obsolete Bank Notes are worth between $5 and $20+, depending on the bank, denomination, type, and condition.

Silver Certificates
Silver certificates and Red Seal notes are quite common. In fact, billions were made. Since the notes are so common, only the best quality notes command a numismatic premium. The high quality notes are referred to as crisp uncirculated. In order for a note to be crisp uncirculated, it cannot display any wear, folds, tears, or stains. Most Silver Certificates and Red Seal notes trade for only a small premium over their face value.
Star Notes
The star next to the serial number on currency is there for a very specific reason. Whenever a sheet of currency is misprinted and destroyed, another sheet with a star near the serial number is printed to replace it. Fewer than 1% of notes printed are star notes.
Web Notes

The Bureau of Engraving and Printing (BEP) began testing a new web intaglio press in May 1992. Only $1 Federal Reserve Notes were used in this experiment that was performed only at the BEP facility in Washington, DC. This press would use a large roll of paper instead of sheets of paper and would also print both sides of the paper money at once, leaving the green Treasury seal and serial numbers for a later printing on a different press.

Due to a different configuration of 96 subjects to a web-printing cylinder as compared to 32 subjects for printing a regular sheet of currency, changes were made to the format for front and back plate numbers. The front plate number remained in the lower right-hand corner, but the preceding letter was dropped. The position of the back plate number was moved from below the "E" in "ONE" to above the "E" in "ONE" and to the right of "Trust."

The series involved in the web experiment were 1988-A, 1993, and 1995. These operations ended in December 1995 due to the BEP being unable to resolve several issues with production. Eventually, the government sold the press.

Most all circulated webs carry little or no premium; however, the 1988-A web Atlanta star is a note to be on the lookout for. 1988-A uncirculated web notes are also in demand.