Gold Certificates are considered by many collectors to be the MVP (Most Valuable Paper) of banknote collecting. Especially since the gold recall of 1933, most notes were taken out of circulation and destroyed, making the notes highly valuable, especially if found in uncirculated condition. But, we’ll get to that in a minute, first we need to introduce the notes and when they first began.

A Hazy Beginning

The early history of US gold certificates is particularly unclear. They were first authorized for production and circulation with the Currency Act of 1863, but unlike the United States Notes (which were representations of the national debt, which we talked about in an earlier blog post), gold certificates weren’t printed until 1865. The first notes had a very small amount of information on them. They weren’t issued with series dates, and were hand-dated upon issue. At that time, issue meant that the government had the equivalent value in gold that they were issuing the note on. Additionally, they were basically promissory notes to pay the amount in gold only to the depositor, who was identified in great detail on the actual certificate itself. The only art featured on these first notes was an eagle vignette which was used across all denominations.

$500 USD Gold Certificate 1865
A Hazy Beginning

Gold Certificates Become Legal Tender

From 1862 to 1879, US notes were considered legal tender but were not convertible to their value in gold due to being direct representations of the national debt at the time. However, some transactions, such as dealing with interest on the national debt had to be made in gold, which meant that the early gold certificates were usable in transactions that US notes were not. However, they still were not used in general circulation due to the extremely high value of the notes at the time. In 1879, the government became willing to redeem US notes at face value in gold, making gold certificates able to be used in general circulation. However, it wasn’t until the 1882 series of notes that made them payable to bearer and not just depositor.

$1000 Gold Certificate 1882
Gold Certificates Become Legal Tender

Gold Certificates Large and Small

Gold certificates, like all US banknotes were made in two different sizes. From 1865 to 1928, the notes were a larger size and a smaller size from 1928 to their end in 1934. These notes eventually became known as “goldbacks” like their “greenback” cousins due to the reverse of the gold certificates being orange. Also, it was during this time that gold certificates began having identical denominations to the other banknotes in circulation.

$20 Gold Certificat 1922 Series
Gold Certificates Large and Small

The Gold Recall of 1933 and Gold Certificates Today

In 1933, to keep the public from hoarding precious metals, FDR and Congress instituted the Gold Recall of 1933, making it illegal for the public to own or trade in gold coins or certificates. Most of the currency from this period was returned to US banks and was redeemed and destroyed. However, in 1934, the US issued a new series of gold certificates to be used in intrabank transactions. Today, the US Treasury has issued gold certificates to the Federal Reserve Banks. However, these are merely to denote the collateral for any issue of Federal Reserve notes (our currency today).

Curious about adding a piece of our currency’s history to your collection? Great American Coin is proud to offer $20 gold certificates from the 1922 series.

Gary Dyner is the owner of Great American Coin Company. Connect with him on Google+.

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Great American Coin Company