The Most Valuable Canadian Bills: A Collector‘s Guide

Canadian paper money, affectionately known as "Monopoly money" for its striking colors, offers collectors a wealth of history, artistry, and potential investment value. In this definitive guide, we‘ll take a deep dive into the world of Canadian currency, exploring its rich past, uncovering the most sought-after bills, and sharing expert tips on how to build and maintain a valuable collection.

The Evolution of Canadian Currency: A Detailed History

The story of Canadian paper money is a fascinating tale of economic necessity, cultural identity, and technological innovation. Prior to the establishment of the Canadian dollar in 1841, a hodgepodge of British, American, and even Spanish currencies circulated throughout the colonies. It wasn‘t until the Dominion of Canada was formed in 1867 that the groundwork for a unified national currency was laid.

In 1870, the Dominion of Canada began issuing its own banknotes, starting with the $1, $2, $4, $50, $100, and $500 denominations. These early notes featured intricate designs and were printed by the British American Bank Note Company in Montreal. As the country grew and the economy expanded, new denominations were added, including the iconic $25 note in 1935 to commemorate the silver jubilee of King George V.

Over the next century, Canadian currency underwent numerous design changes, often reflecting the nation‘s evolving identity and values. In 1935, the newly formed Bank of Canada took over the issuance of paper money, introducing a new series of bills featuring prominent Canadian figures like Sir John A. Macdonald and Sir Wilfrid Laurier. The post-World War II era saw the introduction of the "Devil‘s Face" series, named for the eerie visage that appeared in Queen Elizabeth II‘s hair due to a printing anomaly.

The early 21st century brought a significant technological advancement with the replacement of traditional paper bills with polymer notes, starting with the $100 bill in 2011. Polymer notes, made from a durable plastic material, offered enhanced security features and longer lifespans compared to their paper predecessors. By 2013, all Canadian denominations had transitioned to polymer.

Today, the Bank of Canada issues five denominations: $5, $10, $20, $50, and $100, each featuring iconic Canadian figures and symbols. While the $1 and $2 bills were replaced by coins in 1987 and 1996, respectively, they remain popular among collectors, as do the discontinued $25, $500, and $1,000 notes.

Grading and Authentication: The Keys to Value

For collectors, determining the value of a Canadian bill involves a nuanced assessment of its rarity, condition, and authenticity. Professional grading services like PCGS (Professional Coin Grading Service) and PMG (Paper Money Guaranty) use a standardized scale to evaluate a note‘s condition, ranging from "Poor" (heavily worn and damaged) to "Gem Uncirculated" (pristine, as if fresh off the printing press).

Here‘s a breakdown of the grading scale:

  • Poor (P): Heavily worn, with significant damage or missing pieces.
  • Fair (F): Heavily worn, but complete and readable.
  • About Good (AG): Worn, with some folds and creases, but design details are clear.
  • Good (G): Moderate wear, with folds and creases, but no significant damage.
  • Very Good (VG): Minor wear, with some folds and creases, but design details are clear.
  • Fine (F): Minimal wear, with a few light folds or creases.
  • Very Fine (VF): Crisp paper with original sharpness, minor handling.
  • Extremely Fine (EF): Crisp paper with original sharpness, very minor handling.
  • About Uncirculated (AU): Slight evidence of handling, no folds or creases.
  • Uncirculated (UNC): No evidence of circulation, may have minor handling marks.
  • Choice Uncirculated (CH UNC): Exceptional eye appeal, with no defects or handling marks.
  • Gem Uncirculated (GEM UNC): Perfect in every aspect, as if directly from the printing press.

In addition to grading, authentication is crucial for valuable Canadian bills. Reputable grading services employ expert authenticators who can identify even the most sophisticated counterfeits. They examine a note‘s paper, printing, serial numbers, and security features to ensure its legitimacy. For high-value notes, collectors should always seek a certified holder from a trusted grading service to guarantee authenticity and protect their investment.

The Holy Grails: Canada‘s Most Valuable Bills

While condition and rarity are the primary drivers of a Canadian bill‘s value, certain notes stand out for their historical significance, unique features, or sheer scarcity. Here are some of the most valuable and sought-after Canadian bills:

1911 $500 Dominion of Canada Bill

  1. 1911 $500 Dominion of Canada Bill (DC-19c): Dubbed the "Queen Mary" note for its portrait of the consort of King George V, this extremely rare bill is a crown jewel for Canadian collectors. In 2021, a DC-19c graded Very Fine 20 by PMG sold for a staggering $322,000 at a Heritage Auction.

1935 $25 Commemorative Bill

  1. 1935 $25 Commemorative Bill (BC-12): Issued to celebrate the silver jubilee of King George V, this distinctive purple note features the king and Queen Mary on the front and Windsor Castle on the back. Only 160,000 were printed, making it a coveted piece for collectors. In a 2020 Heritage Auction, a Gem Uncirculated 65 example sold for $22,200.

1954 $1,000 Devil's Face Bill

  1. 1954 $1,000 "Devil‘s Face" Bill (BC-37a): The most famous Canadian printing error, this note earned its moniker from the sinister-looking visage that appeared in Queen Elizabeth II‘s hair due to a misaligned printing plate. A Choice Uncirculated 64 specimen fetched $20,400 at a 2019 Stack‘s Bowers auction.

1937 $1,000 Bank of Canada Bill

  1. 1937 $1,000 Bank of Canada Bill (BC-28): This striking purple note, featuring Sir Wilfrid Laurier on the front and an elk herd on the back, is one of the most desirable high-denomination Canadian bills. In 2018, a Superb Gem Uncirculated 67 example graded by PMG realized $20,520 at a Heritage Auction.

1935 $500 Bank of Canada Bill

  1. 1935 $500 Bank of Canada Bill (BC-16): The first $500 note issued by the Bank of Canada, this sepia-toned beauty portrays Sir John A. Macdonald on the front and an allegorical female figure representing fertility on the back. An Uncirculated example sold for $31,200 at a Stack‘s Bowers auction in 2015.

Building Your Canadian Bill Collection: Expert Tips

Whether you‘re a seasoned collector or just starting your journey into Canadian paper money, these expert tips will help you build a meaningful and valuable collection:

  1. Define your focus: Decide on a specific area of interest, such as a particular series, denomination, or time period. This will help you set goals and make informed purchasing decisions.

  2. Set a budget: Determine how much you can comfortably invest in your collection and stick to your budget. Don‘t overspend on a single note at the expense of building a well-rounded collection.

  3. Educate yourself: Learn as much as you can about Canadian currency history, grading standards, and market trends. Attend paper money shows, join collector clubs, and consult reputable resources like the Charlton Standard Catalogue of Canadian Government Paper Money.

  4. Buy from trustworthy sources: Purchase notes from reputable dealers, auction houses, or fellow collectors with strong reputations. Be wary of deals that seem too good to be true, as counterfeits and misrepresented items are common in the market.

  5. Prioritize quality over quantity: It‘s better to have a smaller collection of high-grade, authenticated notes than a large collection of low-grade or questionable pieces. Quality will always be more valuable in the long run.

  6. Store your collection properly: Protect your notes from environmental damage by storing them in archival-quality holders or albums, away from direct sunlight, moisture, and extreme temperatures. Consider investing in a fireproof safe or safety deposit box for your most valuable pieces.

  7. Keep detailed records: Maintain a comprehensive inventory of your collection, including each note‘s grade, purchase price, and provenance. This will help you track your investment and make informed decisions about buying, selling, or trading.

  8. Network with other collectors: Join online forums, attend local collector club meetings, and participate in paper money shows to connect with fellow enthusiasts. Building relationships within the collecting community can lead to valuable knowledge, opportunities, and friendships.

Frequently Asked Questions

  1. Can I still redeem discontinued Canadian bills at face value?
    Yes, even though $1, $2, $25, $500, and $1,000 bills are no longer legal tender, they can be redeemed for their face value at the Bank of Canada. However, collectors should be aware that their numismatic value may far exceed their face value.

  2. Are there any tax implications for buying or selling valuable Canadian bills?
    In Canada, profits from the sale of collectible paper money are generally considered capital gains and may be subject to taxation. Collectors should consult with a tax professional to understand their specific obligations and potential deductions.

  3. Should I insure my Canadian bill collection?
    If your collection includes high-value notes, it‘s wise to insure them against theft, loss, or damage. Many homeowners or renters insurance policies offer limited coverage for collectibles, but you may need to purchase a separate rider or specialized policy for adequate protection. Be sure to keep your collection‘s inventory and valuation up to date for insurance purposes.

  4. What should I consider when estate planning for my Canadian bill collection?
    When planning for the future of your collection, consider working with an estate attorney who has experience with collectibles. They can help you explore options like setting up a trust, donating to a museum, or creating a detailed plan for distributing your notes among heirs. It‘s also crucial to ensure your collection is properly documented and valued for estate tax purposes.


Collecting Canadian paper money is a fascinating pursuit that combines history, artistry, and financial savvy. By understanding the factors that influence a bill‘s value, staying informed about market trends, and following expert guidance, you can build a collection that is both personally meaningful and potentially lucrative. Whether you‘re drawn to the classic beauty of the 1935 series, the quirky appeal of the "Devil‘s Face" notes, or the modern sophistication of polymer bills, Canadian currency offers endless opportunities for discovery and appreciation. With dedication, knowledge, and a passion for preserving these tangible pieces of history, you can create a legacy that will be treasured by generations to come.

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