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Welcome to our glossary of some commonly-used terms you'll come across as you discover the world of paper money. You'll pick up others from reading and talking with other collectors and dealers.  Feel free to e-mail us any appropriate terms you don't find here.  Also, if you can explain a term better or more correctly than here, please also feel free to send it along to:

Allied Military Currency (AMC) - notes used in WWII by Allied military forces. These were issued for use in such places as France, Germany, Italy and Japan. 

Altered Note - this is a piece of paper money which has had one or more of its prominent features changed in order to make it worth more.  This could also apply to a previously devalued note which has had a fake overprint applied in an effort to make it acceptable in a country where the old notes have been officially overprinted. 

Assignat - this is a note of the French Revolution from the 1790's.  This money was not backed by gold or silver but by seized Church property. 

Back - the side opposite the face of a note, basically the paper money equivalent of the reverse of a coin. 

Banknote (Bank Note) - this can be spelled as one word or two.  If you're a dealer and you run classified ads, it's definitely one word!  This term has come to indicate any paper money, whether or not it was issued by a bank. 

Broken Banknote - this is a note of the 19th century which became non negotiable or worthless as money due to the issuing bank going out of business.  Sometimes a bank was never really in business but issued notes as a money-making scheme. This type of bank was called a wildcat bank. 

Cancelled Note - one which has had its legal tender status removed and been declared worthless. Cancellation may be performed by punch or pin perforation, cut cancellation or an overprint. 

Cartones - basically these are cardboard issues from the Mexican Revolution years which were presumably issued to help with the shortage of coins during the war. 

Check - These have been around for quite a while and are essentially paper instruments ordering a bank to pay out a sum of money to a specified individual or organization, usually after being signed or stamped. Often old checks are collected along with paper currency.  Many are very ornate. 

College Currency - In the course of teaching business practices and the handling of currency, some business schools in the late 1800's produced their own fake 'banknotes' for use by students in the classroom. These are highly collectible today. 

Colonial Currency - Specifically the paper money issues in North America while under the rule of Great Britain prior to the Revolution, from about 1690 to 1774. 

Commemorative Note - Similar to a commemorative coin, such a note is made to commemorate a specific person, persons, or event.  It should be noted that there are far fewer different commemorative notes than there are coins. 

Contemporary Counterfeit - A counterfeit note which was made during the time the genuine notes were circulating. Generally this term refers to an old counterfeit of an old note, as opposed to a modern reproduction or counterfeit of an old note.  Many old contemporary counterfeits today are worth as much or more than the notes that they were supposed to be imitating. 

Continental Currency - These were banknotes issued during the American Revolution from 1775 to 1779 by the Continental Congress.  The expression "Not worth a Continental" comes from the fact that the currency rapidly lost its value during the war. Today, of course, these notes are highly valued by collectors. 

Counterfeit Currency - Paper money forgeries created to pass as the genuine item. 

Counterfoil - Certain old notes had basically a detachable stub which would be kept by the issuer as a record of the note having been issued. 

Currency - Any form of money in use as a medium of exchange or value. 

Demonitized Note - Similar to a cancelled note in that the legal tender status and redemption value of the note has been removed.  A demonetized note has not necessary been cancelled, however. 

Devil's Head - This describes an early Canadian note vignette of Queen Elizabeth II which, it was said, contained a likeness of the devil in her hair. There was a hue and cry raised over this and the Queen's hairdo was modified as in this vignette.  It could be said a "Devil's Head" note is one that has been demonitized (oohhh!!). 

Educational Note - This refers to any of three issued U. S. large size silver certificates from the 1896 series. They are in $1, $2 and $5 denominations and are considered by many to be the ultimate in beauty as far as U. S. paper currency is concerned. 

Error Note - Any banknote which after printing is not of the quality intended for release, for whatever reason. It may be smudged, be lacking some part of the printing, the serial numbers might not match up, etc. 

Essay Note - This is a design of a trial note which may have subsequently been authorized or rejected by the issuing authority. It may be used to test the viability of the design or to check the difficulties of manufacture. 

Face - The front of a piece of paper money, basically the paper money equivalent of the obverse of a coin. 

Fantasy Note - This is a fake note of a design or denomination that may not even exist. Some of these can look quite real to the casual observer. 

Federal Reserve Bank Note - This is a special type of U. S. currency issued sporadically from 1915 to 1933 by the country's Federal Reserve banks. 

Federal Reserve Note - Sounds like the above but actually these notes are issued through the Federal Reserve banking system but backed up by the Federal Government and comprise almost all of the notes you'll encounter in circulation today. They've been around in one form or another since 1914. 

Foxing - This may be considered sort of the paper money hobby's equivalent to toning on a coin, except that the yellow-brown stains of varying intensity which are foxing are generally undesireable, whereas toning on a coin may be desireable, depending on who you talk to.  Generally considered a minor defect unless its a really noticeable stain. 

Fractional Currency - In general, banknotes of a value less than one of the issuing authority's standard units.  When talking about U. S. paper money, this term refers to the less than a dollar denominated, government-issued notes from 1862 to 1876. 

Gold Certificate - A note issued by the United States which was at one time redeemable in gold coin for the face value.  Issued between 1863 and 1922, these certificates are all still worth their face value today but can no longer be exchanged for gold.  Other countries have issued notes redeemable in gold from time to time. 

Greenback - This term generally refers to all of the U. S. Federal Government issued notes since 1861, even though some of them don't have green backs. 

Guilloche - This is the technical name for a geometric design found on many banknotes. Generally these guilloches are used not only to make the note look pretty but to make it tough to copy, thus they are a security device. 

Handsigned Note - One which has one or more actual autographed signatures of an authorized person. Signatures may also be engraved or handstamped. 

Hell Banknote - A fantasy note which has been created specifically for use in Chinese funerals, where these notes are burned. 

Hologram - A special type of photographic film used in 3D imaging. These are sometimes used on notes as a security device although their use has been somewhat limited to date. It's a relatively new technology.  You'll see holograms on many credit cards. 

Inflation Note - This type of note has an extremely high denomination and generally is seen in countries where massive inflation rates are occurring due perhaps to war or other severe economic pressures.  Examples in the 20th century include post WWI Germany, post WWII Hungary and present-day Yugoslavia, where multi-billion-dinara notes were issued a few years back. 

Interest-bearing Note - This is a piece of currency upon which is written a promise to pay interest after a specified passage of time. 

Invasion Note - Any note issued by a country's military to troops during the course of an invasion into another country.  This term has also come to represent JIM notes, explained next. 

Japanese Invasion Money (JIM NOTE) - This currency was issued by Japan during the Second World War for use in countries which they had overrun and occupied, including Burma and the Philippines. 

Military Currency - Any note officially issued solely for the use of its armed forces by a country's military. If it's issued in an occupied country by these military forces, it's often called occupation currency. 

Military Payment Certificate (MPC) - These certificates comprise several series of U. S. military notes issued solely for use by its military and only in establishments of the U. S. armed forces. The idea behind these was to prevent or limit activities by military forces with respect to the black market. 

National Currency - U. S. banks with a federal charter issued these notes which are also called national bank notes. They were backed by Treasury bonds and were issued from 1863 to 1935. 

Notgeld - this term means 'emergency money' and is applied to some early 20th century local German issues as well as a number of other countries.  A lot of the later so-called notgeld were actually issued as souvenirs and collectibles and have much less rarity and value, though they are still enthusiastically collected by a number of people today. 

Overprint - This is an extra printing which has been added to a note sometime after the note's original issue and it's been added by the authorized issuer or successor. These overprints may serve as cancellations or as a means of changing the value of a note. 

Paper Money - This is a generalized term that represents all money produced in the form of a paper note.  It also is applied, however, to certain items produced from bark, plastic, cardboard and other materials. 

Pick Number - The catalog number of a note listed in the Standard Catalog of World Paper Money, the hobby's bible. Each number is unique for any one country. You could have a P-1 for Bolivia and a P-1 for Brazil, but they would be totally different notes. 

Plate Number - A small number that sometimes appears on currency showing the number of the plate used to print it. These numbers are especially in use on U. S. paper money.  If you've heard of the term "web note," you use the location and style of plate number to determine whether or not you have a web note, that is, a U. S. Federal Reserve note that has been printed within the last several years on an experimental press known as a "web press." 

Playing Card Money - This was a type of emergency issue produced by the French colonial authorities in Canada sporadically between the late 17th century and mid-18th century due to a major shortage of coinage.  Basically they cut up actual playing cards into pieces and marked them as currency. 

Portrait - This is a person's picture appearing on a piece of currency. 

P.O.W. Note - Currency produced for use in POW camps by prisoners of war under terms of the Geneva Convention. 

Proof Note - This is a design of a note and may be complete or not but was not issued for general circulation. As such, serial numbers and signatures are lacking and often there are punch holes through the area where the signatures would normally appear.  Proofs are produced to test the technical operation of the press and the quality of the results, among other reasons.  Sometimes proofs exist in colors different from the genuine issues and may represent color trials. 

Propaganda Note - This is a copy of a note (sometimes crude, but with the intention of attracting a person's attention to it) with some sort of message printed on it.  A note like this might be produced by a country which is at war with another.  The country might plant or airdrop a bunch of these phony propaganda notes onto the enemy's soil so they would be picked up and read. 

Radar Note - One whose serial number reads the same, forward or backward.  Some collectors, particularly those of U. S. currency, collect paper money with radar serial numbers. 

Rag - A very well-worn piece of paper money, generally in an uncollectible state except for rarer issues. 

Ragpicker - A slang term for a paper money collector, i. e. one who sorts thru rags, seeking out the collectible items. 

Raised Note - one which has had its original value raised by means of an overprint from the issuing authority.  A raised note can also refer to one which has been altered in appearance in some way by unscrupulous individuals in the hopes of passing it as a higher value note. 

Reissued Note - one which has been withdrawn from circulation and then put back in later on. 

Remainder - an unissued or unfinished note which never was placed into circulation by the authority backing it.  A remainder usually is missing some aspect of the typical issued note, usually a date or signatures, and sometimes a serial number as well. 

Replacement Note - one which has been issued to replace a damaged, destroyed or lost note.  You can usually identify a replacement note by its serial number.  Some, such as on U. S. currency, have a star at the beginning of the serial number.  Thus, replacement notes of the United States are known as "star notes."  Notes from other countries might have an asterisk, or start with the letter R or the number 9, for example, depending on the country.  Usually a replacement note is in demand, depending of course on its condition, because it's quite a bit scarcer than the so-called regular notes. 

Revalidated Note - a note which was made no longer legal tender, then restamped and re-released as legal tender currency at a later date.

Safe Conduct Pass - this is a variety of propaganda note that promises safe conduct to enemy soldiers who surrender and turn in the note. These passes are usually airdropped behind enemy lines. 

Scrip - this is a type of substitute paper money that can be used to purchase goods or services or may be redeemable for cash in some instances. 

Security Strip - this is a special strip of material inserted into a note during manufacture that may be magnetic or can glow under ultraviolet light or utilize some other property that helps to make counterfeiting that note a little more difficult. The more recent U. S. Federal Reserve notes from denominations of $10 up have a security strip in them.  The newly redesigned notes have a strip that glows under uv light.  To the casual observer, the strip can sometimes look like a fold in the note. 

Serial Number - This is a system used in the majority of currency issued to keep track of the number of notes in circulation and to make counterfeiting more difficult because each note has a unique number. These numbers can be important to the collector, who often has a passion for low or special numbers. A bill with a serial number consisting of all the same numerals, for example, is highly sought after. 

Shinplaster - slang term for U. S. continental currency notes issued during the American Revolution.  Because of their nearly worthless status at the time, the notes were said to be good only to stuff in your boots to fill the holes and keep your legs and feet warm.  This term also has been applied to small fractional notes from the U. S. and Canada. 

Short Snorter - refers to one or more notes which have been autographed as souvenirs, especially by members of an armed forces group. These are collected by a number of individuals today. 

Siege Note - a type of emergency currency issued during a siege to reduce a money shortage usually caused by hoarding. 

Silver Certificate - a U. S. banknote which guaranteed payment of its face value in silver by the U. S. Treasury. These are still legal tender but are no longer redeemable for silver. 

Small Size Currency - this generally refers to U. S. paper money issued on and after July 10, 1929.  It is quite a bit smaller in size than the older so-called large size note shown here. 

Specimen - a sample currency note, often but not necessarily with serial numbers of all zeroes. The original purpose of such notes was to provide banks and other agencies with examples of newly-issued money.  A number of such specimens have been created expressly to satisfy collector demand.  Some of these were regular-issue notes simply overstamped "SPECIMEN" in the official language of the issuing nation.  In most examples of specimens, they are over- stamped in this way. 

Stage Money - these are facsimile notes or totally concocted notes for use in movies, tv shows, theatrical performances, etc. and are sought after by some currency collectors. 

Stutter Note - a note which has a serial number that is a repeating number. 

Uncut Sheet - this refers to a sheet of paper money which was how it was printed prior to being cut up.  Obviously there are different numbers of notes to a sheet for different countries or different historical times.  Many obsolete "broken" banknotes were printed four to a sheet.  Modern U. S. currency is printed with 32 notes to a sheet and is said to be a 32-subject sheet.  Partial sheets, where the complete sheet has been cut up into smaller sections, also exist for some notes.  U. S. currency sheets are available at the Bureau of Engraving and Printing, in $1, $2, & $5 denominations.  They are also available by mail order from the Bureau and also sometimes from dealers and at certain coin shows where the Treasury sets up an exhibit. 

Uniface - a note which has been printed only only one side.  Many old U. S. "broken" banknotes are uniface notes. 

Validation Stamp - generally a rubber-stamped, hand-applied impression placed on a note to authorize it's use in a certain area or to validate the issue in some way.  It could also be used to change the original value of a note or to re-issue a previously withdrawn note. 

Vampire Note - this is a slang term for a certain German 10,000 mark note design, of which there are a couple of size varieties and two different back types of the larger size note.  It's referred to as the "Vampire Note" because, if you turn the bill a certain way, it was said you could see a vampire reportedly sucking the blood out of the neck of the German worker pictured.  This is the German equivalent of the Canadian "Devil's Head" note. 

Victory Note - this is any of a series of Phillipine notes issued from 1944 to 1949 with the word "Victory" overprinted in large letters on the back. These coincided with the return of Gen. Douglas MacArthur's forces to recapture the Philippines from the Japanese in World War II. 

Vignette - This is any picture or scene on a note other than a portrait. 

Watermark - During the production of some paper, a special mark or design is implanted into the paper which is usually only visible or fully visible when the paper is held up to a light source.  Watermarks have been used by many countries as a security device for their notes for quite a long time.  The United States finally adopted a watermark for use in the newly-redesigned Federal Reserve notes. 


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