Today, the base currency of the United States is the U.S. dollar, and is printed on bills in denominations of $1, $2, $5, $10, $20, $50, and $100.
At one time, however, it also included five larger denominations. High-denomination currency was prevalent from the very beginning of U.S. Government issue (1861). $500, $1,000, $5,000, $10,000 and $100,000 interest bearing notes were issued in 1861, and $5,000 and $10,000 United States Notes were released in 1878. There are many different designs and types of high-denomination notes.
The high-denomination bills were issued in a small size in 1929, along with the $1 through $100 denominations. The designs were as follows:
* $500: William McKinley
* $1,000: Grover Cleveland
* $5,000: James Madison
* $10,000: Salmon P. Chase
* $100,000: Woodrow Wilson
The reverse designs are abstract scrollwork with ornate denomination identifiers. All were printed in green, except for the Series of 1934 gold certificate which were printed in orange on the reverse. These Series 1934 gold certificates (of denominations $100, $1,000, $10,000, and $100,000) were issued after the gold standard was repealed and gold was compulsorily purchased by order of President Franklin Roosevelt on March 9, 1933 (see United States Executive Order 6102), and thus were used only for intra-government transactions and not issued to the public. Of these, the $100,000 is an odd bill in that it was printed only as this Series 1934 gold certificate. This series was discontinued in 1940. The other bills are printed in black and green as shown by the $10,000 example (pictured below).
Although they are still technically legal tender in the United States, high-denomination bills were last printed in 1945 and officially discontinued on July 14, 1969, by the Federal Reserve System. The $5,000 and $10,000 effectively disappeared well before then. Of the $10,000 bills, 100 were preserved for many years by Benny Binion, the owner of Binion’s Horseshoe casino in Las Vegas, Nevada, where they were displayed encased in acrylic. The display has since been dismantled and the bills sold to private collectors. Also, there is one large size, 1800’s-era $1,000 bill in the Birdcage Theater in Tombstone, Arizona underneath the glass counter top.
The Federal Reserve began taking high-denomination bills out of circulation in 1969. As of May 30, 2009, there were only 336 known $10,000 bills in circulation; 342 remaining $5,000 bills; and 165,372 remaining $1,000 bills. Due to their rarity, collectors will pay considerably more than the face value of the bills to acquire them.
For the most part, these bills were used by banks and the Federal Government for large financial transactions. This was especially true for gold certificates from 1865 to 1934. However, the introduction of the electronic money system has made large-scale cash transactions obsolete. When combined with concerns about counterfeiting and the use of cash in unlawful activities such as the illegal drug trade, it is unlikely that the U.S. government will re-issue large denomination currency in the near future, despite the amount of inflation that has occurred since 1969. According to the US Department of Treasury website, “The present denominations of our currency in production are $1, $2, $5, $10, $20, $50, and $100. Neither the Department of the Treasury nor the Federal Reserve System has any plans to change the denominations in use today.”