Here Are The Most Beautiful Banknotes The U.S. Mint Ever Printed

Just about everyone in America is acutely familiar with the nation’s currency. Adorned with patriotic symbols and depictions of long-dead historical figures, there’s not much variety when it comes to our money.

If the designs were more attractive, though, perhaps we’d be more inclined to pay attention to them! Plenty of other countries have uniquely appealing banknotes, and America used to one of them! Not too long ago, dollar bills looked a heck of a lot cooler.

You’re definitely going to want to see the beautiful banknotes that used to be printed right here in the United States. These bad boys must have really burned a hole in people’s pockets!

Most Americans are pretty familiar with the country’s bills. There’s usually a portrait of one of the nation’s most influential founding fathers or presidents on the front, a series of numbers on the back, and all sorts of visual tricks to make them difficult to forge.

Hohum / Wikimedia Commons

However, there was a time in history when the U.S. Mint was actively trying to turn banknotes into bona fide works of art. The best evidence of this comes in the form of a series of silver certificates known as the Educational Series. They’re a far cry from the boring bills that we’re used to!

Silver certificates were issued between 1878 and 1964, and they usually featured a president on the front printed in black ink. The reverse, as you can see with the 1886 $5 silver certificate pictured below, was green and included ornate designs to prevent counterfeiting.

National Numismatic Collection at the Smithsonian Institution / Wikimedia Commons

By the 1890s, the Industrial Revolution was well underway, and the Bureau of Engraving and Printing wanted to reflect these exciting times. They did so by hiring three acclaimed artists to celebrate the country’s advances through banknotes: Edwin Blashfield, Will H. Low, and Walter Shirlaw.

Mike Hayes / Wikimedia Commons

The artists painted their work on large canvases before teams of 15 to 20 engravers would recreate the pieces on banknotes. One example is this $1 bill, which gave the Educational Series its name. The woman here represents “history,” while the boy represents “youth.”

National Numismatic Collection at the Smithsonian Institution / Wikimedia Commons

This $2 bill is entitled “Science Presenting Steam and Electricity to Commerce and Manufacturing.” In 1896, The New York Times described it thusly: “The centre figure is Science, a woman in Greek garb. To her right stands an infant grasping a small throttle, and to her left another bearing a galvanic coil. Commerce and Manufacture, two graceful women, stand ready to receive Steam and Electricity, respectively.”

National Numismatic Collection at the Smithsonian Institution / Wikimedia Commons

“The winged figure of a woman, ‘America,’ stands upon a globe, her feet touching the map of North America,” explained the Times. “In one hand she holds aloft an electric lamp, fed by a ribbon floating in graceful curves to a bursting thundercloud. Additional allegoric figures are ‘Jupiter,’ representing force, standing upon the backs of a span of spirited steeds, ‘Fame,’ proclaiming the nation’s progress through a long trumpet, and ‘Peace,’ with her dove.”

The $5 banknote is particularly admired by collectors. “It is still the single most popular set of U.S. currency,” said Manifest Auctions Director of Banknote Auctions, Manning Garrett. “Many notes are rarer and many notes are more valuable, but the educational set is always the most popular.”

Godot13 / Wikimedia Commons

The Educational Series was also notable for featuring women, such as Martha Washington on the $1 bill below. This was notable at such a relatively early time in American history when women weren’t exactly seen as equals to their male counterparts.

Godot13 / Wikimedia Commons

That wasn’t the first time that Martha Washington was featured on a banknote, either. She can be found on the front of both the 1886 and 1891 silver certificates, too. It only makes it more crucial that the country feature a woman of color on a bill. (That would be Harriet Tubman, who’s set to finally make her long-awaited cameo on the $20 bill in 2020.)

National Numismatic Collection at the Smithsonian Institution / Wikimedia Commons

In 1899, three years after its debut, the Educational Series issued a new series of silver certificates, including this stunning $1 bill below. It featured Abraham Lincoln and Ulysses S. Grant and kicked off a new era of American banknotes.

National Numismatic Collection at the Smithsonian Institution / Wikimedia Commons

It’s unfortunate that our current banknotes are so dull. However, the beauty of the Educational Series will live on in our hearts—and history books!

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