What is a silver certificate?

Silver certificates were U.S. currencies issued from 1878 to 1964. Prior to 1968, these certificates were redeemable for the face value of the certificate in silver coins or the equivalent in silver bullion. After 1968, the federal government discontinued the practice of redeeming silver and began allowing owners to redeem certificates only for Federal Reserve bills. They are still considered legal tender, but many collectors value silver certificates in uncirculated condition above their face value. 

Initially, the bills served as substitutes for actual silver property, and the certificates could be exchanged for the silver they represented at any time.

Characteristics of the silver certificate

The silver certificate has several features that differentiate it from a Federal Reserve note. The first of these is the small print on the bill stating that there is an "X" amount of silver at the U.S. Treasury to be paid to the owner of the certificate. The "X" amount would be the face value of the silver certificate.

Another unique feature of a silver certificate is that the serial number, numerical value, and seal were originally printed in blue, brown, and red. This color variety was changed in 1899 to blue, except for the 1935 series of certificates that were printed during World War II. During this period, certificates sent to Hawaii had brown seals and those sent to North Africa had yellow seals. These printing differences were intended to prevent losses that might occur if the enemies were able to acquire those areas during the war-the U.S. government could erase those two color schemes, thus making the money worthless to the enemy.

The end of silver certificates

In 1964, the U.S. government stopped exchanging silver certificates for silver dollars, but redemption for bullion continued for another four years. On June 24, 1968, the government ended the silver exchange completely, and holders of silver certificates could only exchange them for Federal Reserve bills. In the 1970s, most of the remaining silver dollars in the U.S. Treasury were sold to the public at collectible values

Key points

  • A silver certificate is a type of former legal tender in the form of paper currency that was issued by the U.S. government beginning in 1878.
  • It represented a stated quantity of silver bullion, allowing people to purchase the commodity without taking physical possession of it.
  • In March 1964, the U.S. Secretary of the Treasury announced that silver certificates would no longer be redeemable for silver dollars.
  • Today, silver certificates can only be redeemed for their face value in cash.