A $100,000 Bill? The Story Behind Large-Denomination Currency

George Marks/Getty Images
George Marks/Getty Images

Your local convenience store may not accept bills larger than $20, but once upon a time you could have paid for your gum with a nice fresh $10,000 bill. What's the story behind the large-denomination bills that the government used to issue?

What big bills has the U.S. issued?

In 1928, the federal government overhauled its system of printing banknotes. It shaved about an inch of length and just under a half of an inch in width off the bills and issued the new smaller bills in the $1 to $100 denominations with which we're familiar. However, the Treasury also issued larger denominations. They featured William McKinley ($500), Grover Cleveland ($1,000), James Madison ($5,000), and Salmon P. Chase ($10,000).

Who the heck was Salmon P. Chase?

chase-10000

His name might not be as familiar as those of the presidents featured on the other big bills, but once upon a time Chase was a big wheel in American politics. Chase, a mid-19th century politician, served as Chief Justice of the United States, spent stints as Ohio's governor and senator, and was Lincoln's first Secretary of the Treasury.

Nice resume, but how did Chase end up on the $10,000 bill?

He was in the right place at the right time. When the federal government started issuing greenback notes in 1861, Chase, as Secretary of the Treasury, was in charge of designing and popularizing the new currency. The politically ambitious Chase had to pick a portrait subject for the first $1 bill, and he chose"¦Salmon P. Chase.

Although putting his face in everyone's pocketbooks never propelled Chase to the presidency, when the Treasury started issuing the new $10,000 bills in 1928 they put Chase's portrait on the obverse to honor the man who helped introduce modern banknotes.

Even if you don't have a $10,000 bill Chase's name might still be in your wallet. Chase National Bank, the forerunner to Chase Manhattan Bank, was named in his honor.

Why on earth was the government printing such giant bills in the first place?

Believe it or not, it wasn't just to save space in fatcats' wallets. When the Treasury started printing these giant bills, their main purpose was making transfer payments between banks and other financial institutions. Before sophisticated wire transfer systems were fully developed, it was apparently easier and safer just to fork over a $5,000 bill to settle up with a fellow bank. Once transfer technology became safer and more secure, there really wasn't much need for the big bills anymore.

What's the largest denomination of currency the U.S. has printed?

wilson-100-grand

That would be the Series 1934 $100,000 gold certificate. The Bureau of Engraving and Printing only made these notes during a three-week stretch during December 1934 and January 1935. Even the few plutocrats who had that much cash during the Depression couldn't carry one of the $100K bills, though. They were only used for official transactions between Federal Reserve Banks, and the Treasurer of the United States only issued them to Fed banks that had an equal amount of gold in the Treasury. The note featured a picture of Woodrow Wilson.

Are any of these bills left in circulation?

There sure are, but don't expect to find a $500 bill the next time you make an ATM withdrawal. The Treasury announced on July 14, 1969, that it would quit issuing the $500, $1,000, $5,000, and $10,000 notes immediately, since the bills were so sparsely circulated. It's not like the Bureau of Engraving and Printing had to stop the presses, either; the bills hadn't seen an actual print run since 1945.

When the Treasury discontinued the bills, they rapidly fell out of circulation. However, a few are still lingering; as of May 2009, there were still 336 $10,000 bills at large. At the same time, Slate reported that there were also 342 $5,000 bills and 165,732 $1,000 bills still floating around.

If they're out of circulation, can you still spend them?

Although the Treasury is no longer issuing these bills, according to the Fed they're still legal tender. So yes, although it would probably raise some eyebrows, you could walk into Best Buy and plunk down a $1,000 bill to pay for a new plasma TV.

That wouldn't be the smartest move, though. Most of the high-denomination bills that are left in circulation are in collectors' safes, and at auction the bills tend to fetch prices that far exceed their face values. For instance, a pristine $10,000 bill can command a price as high as $140,000 on the open market.

What happens if you bring one of these big bills to a bank?

If you put it in your safety deposit box, your bill will be safe. Chase Bank actually acquired one of the $10,000 bills in its currency collection when a deceased customer's family found the bill in her deposit box and traded it for $10,000 in cash. Deposit the historical loot into your checking account, though, and it's bad news for the bill. You'll get the cash deposited in your account, but since the 1969 order to stop distributing these bills, Fed banks have been pulling the notes from circulation and destroying them whenever they are received.

Of course, there are other potential pitfalls to depositing a big bill, like blowing your cover when you're on the lam. Last February, three teenagers in Texas Township, Michigan, swiped one of their parents' safes and drove to Birmingham, Alabama, with their booty. Their downfall came when they tried to change an antique $1,000 bill from the safe at a bank. The police nabbed the thieves after a call from a suspicious teller.

So there was never a real $1 million bill?

Nope, but that doesn't mean that people haven't tried to make one. In 2004, a woman in Covington, Georgia, tried to pick up a $1,675 tab at a local Wal-Mart with a forged $1 million bill featuring a picture of the Statue of Liberty. Police quickly arrested her. It's hard to say what's more ludicrous: trying to pass off a million-dollar bill or thinking that Wal-Mart would just fork over $998,325 in change.

Someone gave me a fake $1 million bill as a joke. Was that illegal?

As long as you don't try to spend it or deposit it, you're in the clear. Gag makers and some religious and political groups have printed novelty $1 million bills for decades. In 1982, these novelty bills came to the attention of the Secret Service, which ruled that since there wasn't a real $1 million bill, these joke versions weren't technically forgeries or violations of any laws.

What about the opposite of these bills: the elusive $2 bill?

Although you don't see the $2 bill all that often, it's still a circulating denomination of American currency. According the U.S. Treasury, there are over $1.5 billion worth of $2 bills currently circulating around the world. However, since the bill changes hands less frequently than other denominations, it's not printed as often, either.

Game of Thrones Star Emilia Clarke's Impressive Net Worth Revealed

Matt Winkelmeyer, Getty Images
Matt Winkelmeyer, Getty Images

Most people know Emilia Clarke as Daenerys Targaryen, the badass Mother of Dragons on Game of Thrones. Although her role on the HBO hit, which kicked off in 2011, is inarguably what made her a star, she originally made her screen debut back in 2009.

Since then, Clarke has acted in various TV shows and movies (not to mention one memorable commercial for the Samaritans charity), signed endorsement deals, and more. So how much is she actually worth?

According to CheatSheet, the 32-year-old actress has an impressive net worth of $13 million.

Her biggest payday, of course, comes from Game of Thrones, for which she'll earn a salary of $500,000 per episode for the upcoming final season. Although there are only six episodes in the season, she's still making off with a pretty $3 million. Clarke and fellow GOT star Lena Headey (who plays Cersei Lannister) reportedly make the same amount as their male co-stars: Kit Harington, Peter Dinklage, and Nikolaj Coster-Waldau—making them HBO's highest-paid actors.

Clarke's acting career began in the theater during school, and she landed her first TV role in 2009 with one episode of the British series Doctors. She also starred in the 2009 SYFY film Triassic Attack. By 2010, she was cast as Daenerys Targaryen, a role that would eventually earn her three Emmy nominations (and counting).

During her time on Game of Thrones, Clarke has also built up an exciting resume with other projects. In 2015, she played Sarah Connor in Terminator Genisys, and in 2016, she starred in the film Me Before You. Most impressively, she joined the Star Wars franchise, playing Qi'ra in 2018’s Solo: A Star Wars Story. In 2019, she'll team up with Crazy Rich Asians star Henry Golding for Paul Feig's upcoming comedy, Last Christmas.

In addition to leading roles, Clarke has also voiced characters on Futurama and Robot Chicken. She is also currently the face of Dolce & Gabbana's "The One" fragrance.

Here's How Retailers Are Manipulating You on Black Friday

iStock.com/andesr
iStock.com/andesr

For many people, one of the best parts of Thanksgiving is grabbing a newspaper to check out the retail circulars for Black Friday deals. The internet has influenced this tradition to an extent—many of the Black Friday ads are leaked online days or weeks in advance—but there’s still an undeniable psychological pull behind this national shopping day. For some retailers, the holidays can make up roughly a third of their annual revenue, with consumers spending $720 billion on Black Friday. Clearly, they have mastered the art of prying open our wallets.

How do they do it? According to a recent piece by Chavie Lieber at Vox, Black Friday is an exercise in shopper manipulation. Retailers typically begin by blanketing their email lists with notices of early sales beginning in late October and November, squeezing in valuable extra weeks out of the shopping season. Known as “Christmas creep,” it promotes Black Friday less as a single day and more of a month-long atmosphere.

Retailers also depend on promoting a level of anxiety among shoppers by depicting deals as being singular or exclusive. Insisting a deal is only good on a certain day or window of time creates a sense of urgency—even if that deal might crop up elsewhere during the year. Special “deals” might actually be just a method of creative pricing. Buy One, Get One, or BOGO, infers two items for the price of one, for example, but buying one item at regular price might not be much different than buying two on sale another time. Still, consumers are primed to respond to “free” without stopping to think if they’d consider the list price for the single item a good deal without the bonus.

A 2017 Money.com report made mention of the fact that many BOGO deals and other promotions aren’t exactly novel. Stores often repeat the same deals from one year to the next, making sure the economics of their promotions are in line with their financial goals.

Despite the hyperbole and convenience of online shopping, consumers still seem to make a ritual out of going out on Black Friday. (A 2017 survey estimated 25 percent of shoppers will head out to fight the crowds.) It’s less about the desire for deals than the competitive nature of the day. Snagging a deal with perceived exclusivity is satisfying. So is heading back to your car with bags of stuff you may never have bought otherwise.

Shoppers that are task-oriented feel a sense of fulfillment when they get rung up for an advertised deal. Social shoppers actually enjoy the crowds and feel a sense of camaraderie with bargain-hunters.

How you feel about Black Friday depends on what you’re looking to get out of it. If you’re after once-in-a-lifetime deals, you might be disappointed to find that you can save money during other times of the year. But if you treat the phenomenon as a challenge or a social gathering, then you’re likely to walk out of a store happy. If you're upbeat about having overspent, then retailers—and all of their subtle psychological tricks—have done their job.

[h/t Vox]

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