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Dr. Don Taylor, CFA, Bankrate.com advice columnistGot change for a $100,000 bill?

Dear Dr. Don,
My friend showed me a $100,000 U.S. bill. Is it still legal tender? How do I check its authenticity? Thank you,
-- Mario Moola

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Dear Mario,
According to the "fun facts" on the Bureau of Engraving's Web site:

"The largest note ever printed by the Bureau of Engraving and Printing was the $100,000 Gold Certificate, Series 1934. These notes were printed from Dec. 18, 1934 through Jan. 9, 1935 and were issued by the Treasurer of the United States to Federal Reserve Banks only against an equal amount of gold bullion held by the Treasury. These notes were used for transactions between Federal Reserve Banks and were not circulated among the general public."

A link on the Federal Reserve Bank of San Francisco Web site shows the front and reverse of the $100,000 note.  

The $100,000 note  
Source: Bankrate.com

Here's what Claudia Dickens, a media representative at the Bureau of Engraving and Printing, told me about the note:

"The Bureau of Engraving and Printing does not, nor has it ever, put these $100,000 notes into circulation. To my knowledge all 42,000 of these notes are accounted for. There are $100,000 notes in numismatic collections and Federal Reserve Bank Museums around the country for display purposes; the Bureau of Engraving and Printing has a Billion Dollar Display that we carry to some numismatic shows and conferences and that, too, has some $100,000 notes in it, all of which have been canceled and are labeled 'specimens.'  If your reader's friend possesses one I can only advise that he or she should have it authenticated by either the Federal Reserve System or he or she can send it to this agency for review.

The Bureau's address is: 

Bureau of Engraving and Printing
Attn:  Office of Currency Standards
P.O. Box 37048
Washington, DC  20013

"If sent to the bureau, it should be sent by 'Registered Mail, Return Receipt Requested.'

"Until the bill is submitted for authentication, that is all of the information this agency can provide. We are not a law enforcement agency; however, the bills were printed exclusively for use by the Federal Reserve System."

You can read into that what you wish. An independent numismatist, Tom Chao, has posted on his Web site: "It's illegal for a private person to own one of these notes, and none has ever been in private hands. All 42,000 were accounted for. However, I have come across several poor quality counterfeits. They seem to be originated from Asia. So if you happen to have one in your possession, I can assure you that it's a fake."

As a point of interest, the $100 bill is the highest denomination currently printed. Production of $500, $1,000, $5,000 and $10,000 bills stopped during World War II, although they were still issued until 1969. The Department of the Treasury and Federal Reserve system announced July 14, 1969, that bills larger than $100 would be "discontnued immediately due to lack of use."

These notes, however, are legal tender and may still be found in circulation today. Any coming into the banking system would be removed from circulation but are freely held and traded by numismatists.

To ask a question of Dr. Don, go to the "Ask the Experts" page, and select one of these topics: "financing a home," "saving & investing" or "money."

Bankrate.com's corrections policy-- Posted: March 22, 2007
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