US Currency — Paper Types

Posted by Chad Hawk, PMG Grader on 11/30/2010

Paper type is one contributing factor in the grading process.

As many of you know, there are different types of paper used to produce currency. Last month I discussed polymer notes, which is a fairly new type of paper used in several countries for counterfeit prevention and durability. This month I’ll touch on some of the paper types used for US currency and how we account for them in the grading process.

The first form of US currency was used during the American Revolution and Colonial era. Continental and Colonial currency were printed on rag paper. Rag paper consisted of linen and cotton and came in two varieties, thick and thin. Most colonies used the thicker variety, but some used very thin rag paper. When grading Continental and Colonial currency, we take the paper thickness into account. The thicker paper takes circulation much better. The thinner paper will reveal more handling and folds. Therefore, a VF 35 note on thick paper may not look exactly like a VF 35 note on thin paper.

Obsolete notes are another type of US currency with thin paper varieties. Obsolete notes or “broken bank notes” were printed in the 1800s prior to the Civil War. Due to their restricted budgets, many of the banks used a thinner paper. Another important characteristic of obsolete notes is that they were printed with very little spacing between each note on the sheet. A narrow margin will not restrict a note from receiving a superb gem grade. In some cases, the cutting may slightly touch the design, but that will not always prevent the note from receiving a choice uncirculated grade. In addition, we are more forgiving on centering with uncirculated notes. There are many different types of obsolete notes and not all possess the same characteristics. However, the majority of them are graded with these considerations.

Other types of US currency printed on thinner paper are early demand notes, early legal tender, fractionals and Confederate currency. Some forms of early legal tender are on a fibrous paper that is slightly thicker and more durable, which is also taken into account during the grading process.

The most common paper used for US large size currency consists mostly of cotton and linen. Designs for these notes were most commonly printed by National Bank Note Company and American Bank Note Company. It is stronger and more durable than the earlier thin types mentioned. US currency is currently printed by the BEP and is produced by Crane in Dalton, Massachusetts. Many of today's familiar grading techniques and standards apply to this paper. It is important to understand that paper type is one contributing factor in the grading process. As graders, it is important for us to be consistent with each paper type. We concentrate on knowing the characteristics of each paper type and we urge all collectors to educate themselves by handling as many different notes as possible.

If you have a question, go to Ask PMG, a moderated forum where PMG Customer Service and graders respond to your questions.




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