Portrait Gallery – The Ukiah Daily Journal
Although it will probably never go away, people are using cash less and less every year. Although some people still use checks, nowadays you can pay for a cup of coffee or a bagel with a debit or credit card, which was unthinkable 40 or 50 years ago.
And most people probably don’t pay much attention to what physical silver is going through their hands. Which is a shame, because like all currencies, these notes contain historical information.
The most common, of course, is the $1.00 bill, featuring a portrait of George Washington – fitting, considering he was the first president. Washington has received government-issued one-dollar bills intermittently since 1869.
Today, there are six common and one less common denominations of banknotes in circulation:
$1.00 bill – portrait of George Washington
$2.00 bill – portrait of Thomas Jefferson
$5.00 bill – portrait of Abraham Lincoln
$10.00 bill – portrait of Alexander Hamilton
$20.00 note — portrait of Andrew Jackson
$50.00 bill – portrait of Ulysses S. Grant
$100.00 bill — portrait of Benjamin Franklin
Except for Hamilton (the first Secretary of the Treasury) and Franklin (scientist and statesman, contributor to both the Declaration of Independence and the Constitution), all were presidents.
But there are also five major denominations, none of which have been issued since 1945, and were withdrawn from circulation from 1969, allegedly to combat money laundering. (It seems ironic, because thanks to inflation, a purchase of $100 in 1969 would require more than $750 today – so having $500 bills in circulation today would be less impactful than having $500 bills in circulation today. having $100 bills in 1969.)
And speaking of $500 bills, this is the first of the last five denominations. Although they are no longer issued by the Treasury, four of them have not been “demonetized”, which means that they are still legal tender for the payment of bills, taxes and any other debt.
But no one ever uses them for that, because their rarity makes them far more valuable to collectors. On eBay, for example, higher value grades in average condition fetch at least 50% above face value, and slightly better grades earn double face value. And the values go up from there.
These denominations, incidentally, are:
$500.00 note – portrait of William McKinley
$1,000.00 bill – portrait of Grover Cleveland
$5,000.00 bill — portrait of James Madison
$10,000.00 bill – portrait of Salmon P. Chase
$100,000.00 bill — portrait of Woodrow Wilson
The $100,000 note was never distributed. It was used only briefly in the 1930s for transactions between Federal Reserve Banks, before electronic funds transfers, although some specimens are displayed in museums. The other four, however, can be bought and sold by individuals.
All of these higher value notes feature presidents – except for the curious choice of Salmon P. Chase on the $10,000 note. (There are so few of them – estimated at 336 – that they cost at least $150,000 when they hit the market.)
But Salmon P. Chase?
Chase, it turns out, had a stellar career. Born in 1808, he served during the 1840s as a United States Senator from Ohio. He was then elected Governor of Ohio, a position he held until Lincoln appointed him Secretary of the Treasury in 1861. In 1864, Lincoln then appointed him the sixth Chief Justice of the United States, a position he held. until his death in 1873. He thus became the first chief justice to preside over a presidential impeachment trial, that of Lincoln’s successor, Andrew Johnson, in 1868.
But stay. . . since these bills were printed in 1928 . . . Salmon P. Chase? With Republicans holding both Congress and the White House, was that the best they could come up with? If you had to choose a judge, why not John Marshall, the most important Supreme Court justice of all time?
Most of the other presidents on higher-value currency, with the exception of James Madison (“Father of the Constitution”), weren’t exactly worthy of Mount Rushmore either. But ironically, there was one who was: Theodore Roosevelt, one of the great presidents of the 20th century, who actually ended up on Mount Rushmore, right between Jefferson and Lincoln.
But somehow, instead of putting TR on one of those bills, they instead picked two of his contemporaries (Cleveland and McKinley) and rounded out the group with the obscure Chase, the only judge honored with portrait on US currency.
And given that the trend is to put the likes of Harriet Tubman on the $20 bill (either joining or replacing Jackson), it’s unlikely we’ll see a second judge on the currency anytime soon.
Frank Zotter, Jr. is an attorney from Ukiah.