Martha Washington’s 1886 Silver Certificate
This Famous Antique Game - June 2016
By Mike McLeod
With the news that Harriet Tubman will replace Andrew Jackson on the $20 bill, it is important to note that she will not be the first woman on U.S. currency. Martha Washington was the first; it is her famous face on the first $1 silver certificate issued and put into circulation in 1886. Antiquemoney.com reports there can be seven different varieties of this note, with a red or brown seal and different signatures. It also values the note at $100-$600 for circulated notes and $1,000 and up for uncirculated.
Martha Washington’s 1886 silver certificate.
Martha also appeared on another bill; this time with husband George. They were featured on the back of an 1896 silver certificate that was part of an “Educational Series” of notes that depicted allegories. On the front of this bill was “History (in the form of a woman) instructing youth.” Other graphics in the series included: “Science presenting steam and electricity to Commerce and Manufacture” on the $2 bill, and “Electricity as the Dominant Force in the World” on the $5 bill.
Also of interest to currency collectors, the first $1 bill ever issued was in 1862, and it featured the image of Salmon P. Chase, President Abraham Lincoln’s Secretary of the Treasury. Antiquemoney.com values this bill at $500-$700 for lightly circulated notes and $1,000 and possibly much more for uncirculated.
The first and only Indian chief to be so honored on U.S. currency was Running Antelope (1821-1896), head chief of the Hunkpapa, part of the Lakota Tribe. He was a great orator and a counselor to Sitting Bull. He was featured on the 1899 $5 silver certificate.
Other Federal Reserve Notes will be getting makeovers n the future. The New York Times reported that Alexander Hamilton will remain on the front of the $10 bill but to the back will be added portraits of suffragists Lucretia Mott, Sojourner Truth, Elizabeth Cady Stanton, Alice Paul and Susan B. Anthony. Also, an image of a 1913 suffrage march to the Treasury building will be represented on the back.1
Lincoln will remain on the front of the $5 bill. To the back will be added Eleanor Roosevelt, Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. and Marian Anderson, an African-American singer who was not allowed to sing at Constitution Hall because of segregation.2
The Grand Watermelon Note, front and back
(Photos, courtesy of Heritage Auctions)
Perhaps the rarest American currency is the 1890 $1,000 Treasury Note, commonly called the "Grand Watermelon note," that sold for nearly $3.3 million in January 2016 at Heritage Auctions. The Grand Watermelon note gets its nickname from the large, melon-shaped zeroes on the back.
Julie Kimbrell of The Old School Antique Mall in Syla, N.C., Ted Carlton of Utah, and Scott and Carolyn Brown of Montgomery, Ala. correctly identified Martha Washington.
All photos not credited are public domain, PD-US.
1, 2 NYT.com, “Harriet Tubman Ousts Andrew Jackson in Change for a $20,” by Jackie Calmes, April 20, 2016.