Learn Grading: What are Catalog Numbers?

Posted on 1/31/2020

The PMG certification label typically includes Friedberg numbers for US notes and Pick numbers for world notes.

PMG’s Learn Grading column illuminates the techniques, grades and terminology that are used by PMG’s graders. This methodology provides an accurate and succinct description of a note’s condition and appearance.

This month’s topic is the catalog numbers that are used as a universally-accepted shorthand to identify banknotes according to classifications that are important to collectors.

The primary resource for identifying federal paper money issued by the United States is the 21st edition of "Paper Money of the United States" by Arthur L. and Ira S. Friedberg. The PMG certification label shows this catalog abbreviated as Fr#.

For example, the 1861 $5 Demand Notes are classified as Fr# 1 through Fr# 5, depending on the city that the note is payable at: New York, Philadelphia, Boston, Cincinnati or St. Louis. While the designs of both Fr# 1 and Fr# 1a show the note is payable in New York, the Fr# 1a differs slightly in design because its signature lines required clerks to hand-write "for the" above the words "Register of the Treasury" and "Treasurer of the United States." Later, "for the" was incorporated into the design of the note.

The PMG certification label makes it easy to identify otherwise-subtle differences like these.

While all Demand Notes are rare, Fr# 1a is much rarer than Fr# 1, with a single example in the PMG Population Report compared to several dozen. As a result, collectors are willing to pay a premium for an Fr# 1a example.

In a similar fashion, world notes are attributed by Pick Numbers from the "Standard Catalog of World Paper Money" books that are based on a system originally developed by Albert Pick. There are various iterations of the "Standard Catalog of World Paper Money," and PMG currently uses the 25th edition of the Modern version, the 16th edition of the General version and the 12th edition of the Specialized version.

Sometimes, PMG will also attribute notes by a well-respected secondary reference. For instance, for Singapore notes, PMG includes the KNB catalog number from "Singapore Banknotes & Coins (1786-2010)," edited by K.N. Boon.

So PMG attributes the Singapore Board of Commissioners of Currency ND (1988) 500 Dollars both as Pick# 24 and KNB32a-b.

Other resources PMG uses to attribute notes include:

  • Standard Catalog of United States Obsolete Bank Notes 1782-1866 by James A. Haxby
  • Southern States Currency by Hugh Shull
  • Comprehensive Catalog of Confederate Paper Money by Grover C. Criswell
  • Comprehensive Catalog of Military Payment Certificates (4th edition) by Fred Schwan

Previous Learn Grading columns:

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