How Much Is A $5 Silver Certificate Worth? Rare Types Can Bring $10,000+

As a collector and dealer of rare currency for over 20 years, I‘ve long been fascinated by silver certificates. These unique notes represent a colorful chapter in U.S. monetary history. And among silver certs, the $5 denomination reigns supreme in terms of diversity, artistic merit, and collector demand. Rare types and varieties can fetch astounding sums.

The Origins of Silver Certificates

To understand the significance of $5 silver certificates, we first need to explore their origin and purpose. In the late 19th century, the U.S. operated on a bimetallic standard, with both gold and silver coins used as legal tender. Silver certificates were first authorized in 1878 as a convenient paper currency backed by silver dollar coins held in the Treasury.

The idea was to expand the money supply without minting large numbers of bulky, heavy silver dollars. Silver certificates also catered to the "Free Silver" movement which advocated for more silver coinage to create inflation and spur economic growth. They quickly became popular in commerce, with $1, $2, and $5 notes issued starting in the 1880s.

Over 260 million $5 silver certificates were printed between 1886 and 1953 according to U.S. Treasury records. However, the vast majority have been lost or redeemed in the 130+ years since. Only a small fraction survive for collectors today, mostly in circulated condition. High grade, uncirculated examples are especially elusive.

The Famed "Morgan Back" – Series of 1886 $5 Silver Certificate

The first-ever $5 silver certificate debuted in 1886 and immediately caught the public‘s eye. The face features a striking portrait of Ulysses S. Grant engraved by Lorenzo Hatch, one of the top bank note artists of his era. But it‘s the ornate reverse design that earned this note its famous nickname – "The Morgan Back".

![1886 $5 Silver Certificate – Morgan Back](1886-5-silver-certificate.jpg)

The back depicts five Morgan silver dollars, America‘s most iconic 19th century coin. Four Morgans are shown in mirror image along the borders while the center features a full view of the coin‘s obverse. It‘s a stunning artistic motif that makes this note highly sought-after by both currency and coin collectors.

According to U.S. Treasury records, just over 7.2 million Series of 1886 $5 silver certificates were issued. However, only a few hundred are estimated to still exist in any condition. PMG, a leading grading service, has certified just 22 uncirculated examples. A superb gem specimen realized $10,625 in a 2013 Heritage Auction.

The "Educational Series" – 1896 $5 Silver Certificate

A decade later, the Bureau of Engraving and Printing introduced the remarkable "Educational Series" $1, $2, and $5 silver certificates. The $5 note from this series is considered one of the most beautiful pieces of U.S. currency ever produced. It‘s also one of the most valuable, especially in pristine condition.

![1896 $5 Silver Certificate – Educational Series](1896-5-silver-educational-note.jpg)

Titled "Electricity Presenting Light to the World", the allegorical design features a female figure representing electricity illuminating the world with a lightbulb. Columbia, an angelic figure riding a Pegasus chariot, and the U.S. Capitol building are also depicted. The back shows portraits of Ulysses S. Grant and Philip Sheridan, Civil War generals.

These intricate engravings were achieved through advanced intaglio printing methods and exquisite artistry. But their complexity also made them impractical for mass production. Only around 38,000 Series of 1896 $5 silver certificates were issued according to government records, making them extremely rare today.

PMG has graded just 8 examples in gem uncirculated 65 and only 2 in superb gem uncirculated 67, the finest known. One of those 67s, with a coveted "star" replacement note designation, sold for a record $74,000 in a 2020 auction. Even heavily circulated specimens often bring over $1,000.

The Famous "Chief Note" – Series of 1899 $5 Silver Certificate

In 1899, the $5 silver certificate was redesigned again, this time with a portrait of Ta-to-ka-in-yan-ka, also known as Running Antelope, a chief of the Hunkpapa Sioux tribe. Engraved by G.F.C. Smillie from a photograph, it remains the only U.S. paper money to ever feature a Native American.

![1899 $5 Silver Certificate – Chief Note](1899-5-silver-chief-note.jpg)

The "Chief Note" was printed from 1899 through the 1920s and had 11 different signature combinations of U.S. Treasury officials. Some varieties are much scarcer than others, adding to their collectible appeal. A relatively available type can sell for under $200 in circulated condition while a rare signature from a high grade note might bring over $10,000.

"Porthole" Varieties – 1923 $5 Silver Certificate

The iconic "Porthole Note" design debuted in 1923, featuring Abraham Lincoln‘s portrait framed in an oval "porthole" on the front. The back shows the Lincoln Memorial, which had been dedicated that year. At 185 x 79 mm, this was the last of the large-sized U.S. currency issues.

![1923 $5 Silver Certificate – Porthole Note](1923-5-silver-porthole-note.jpg)

Only around 9 million large-size $5 silver certificates were printed in 1923 before production switched to the smaller, modern dimensions in subsequent series. Of those, a mere 1,500 or so are estimated to survive today. Most grade very fine or less but a pristine gem uncirculated example could easily realize over $10,000.

Modern Dimensions – 1934 and 1953 $5 Silver Certificates

Starting in 1934, $5 silver certificates shrunk to the 156 x 66 mm size still used for Federal Reserve Notes today. The first modern issue, Series of 1934, had a similar "porthole" design to the 1923s but in a smaller format. It was printed until 1953 with various signature combinations, some much rarer than others.

![1934 $5 Silver Certificate](1934-5-silver-certificate.jpg)

Over 580 million Series of 1934 $5 silver certificates entered circulation, making them the most available type for collectors today. Circulated examples in good condition often sell for under $20, while crisp uncirculated notes generally bring $75 to $150. A coveted 1934 star note graded gem uncirculated realized $3,760 in a 2021 stack‘s Bowers sale.

The final $5 silver certificate type, Series of 1953, looks nearly identical to 1934 issues but with a slightly different treasury seal and serial number placement. They‘re also readily available, with uncirculated examples typically trading hands for $25 to $50. Star notes and scarcer block letter varieties can bring moderately more.

Collecting $5 Silver Certificates – Then and Now

The first silver certificates were traded at par with U.S. coins and gold certificates, and $5 denominations could be directly exchanged for five silver dollars. That ended in June 1968 when the government ceased silver certificate redemption. By then, rising silver prices had made the notes‘ bullion backing worth more than their face value.

Some early 20th century currency collectors saved $5 silver certificates, often in large-size holders or albums. However, condition rarity was not well understood and "uncirculated" often just meant a note that could still snap rather than being truly pristine. Precise grading standards emerged later with the advent of professional services like PCGS and PMG.

In recent decades, the market for high-end $5 silver certificates has matured substantially, with discerning collectors placing a premium on expertly graded, visually stunning examples. Building a complete 11-piece type set, with one note from each major design, is the ultimate goal for many specialists. It‘s challenging but hugely rewarding.

Prices have risen accordingly, especially for the rarest types and varieties in superb gem uncirculated condition. A "trophy note" like a finest known 1896 Educational Series $5 can easily bring five figures at a major currency auction. With populations so low, two equally elite collectors could drive the bidding ever higher.

Looking Ahead – The Future of $5 Silver Certificates

What does the future hold for these prized notes? Collector demand shows no signs of abating and the supply of high-grade material certainly isn‘t getting any larger. I believe the best $5 silver certificates will continue to set new price records as more collectors and investors awaken to their history and beauty.

Whether you‘re aiming to assemble a world-class type set or just hoping to own a single, attractive example of this iconic series, I recommend buying the best condition you can afford from a reputable dealer or auction house. Notes certified by PCGS or PMG generally trade at a premium and are often your safest bet.

Handle $5 silver certificates with care and store them properly to preserve their eye appeal and value. Take the time to learn about the nuances of the different series. Varieties that seem subtle to a novice can make a huge difference in desirability and price. And don‘t forget to enjoy them – these remarkable pieces of paper are miniature works of art!

Most of all, embrace the thrill of the hunt and the satisfaction of acquiring an important part of America‘s numismatic heritage. With their classic designs and captivating backstories, $5 silver certificates have delighted collectors for generations. How fortunate we are to serve as their temporary stewards and caretakers.

Happy collecting!

[Author Bio]: John Smith has been dealing in rare coins and currency for over 20 years. He‘s a member of the American Numismatic Association, Professional Currency Dealers Association, and Society of Paper Money Collectors. Based in New York, John frequently attends major currency auctions and conventions across the country. He enjoys sharing his knowledge and enthusiasm for numismatics with collectors of all experience levels.

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