On paper, he’s famous: Alexander Hamilton and the $10 bill

SHARE On paper, he’s famous: Alexander Hamilton and the $10 bill

The ticket-purchasing frenzy for the Chicago run of “Hamilton” opened June 21, and within days the initial show run was pretty much sold out. (Some seats do remain; check broadwayinchicago.com.) Performances begin Sept. 27, and while Chicago prices are well below those of the show’s New York counterpart, it will still take a lot of Hamiltons to see, well, “Hamilton.”

That’s the musical about Alexander Hamilton, the face of the $10 bill.

Like Benjamin Franklin (whose face adorns the $100 bill), Hamilton was a Founding Father but not a United States president. He was also this country’s first Treasury Secretary, making “Hamilton’s” coming run at the PrivateBank Theatre an apt choice historically.

But Hamilton was not the first face to be featured on the 10-spot.

According to the U.S. Currency Education Program, the first $10 Demand Notes were published in 1861. At the time, the front side of the bill featured Abraham Lincoln, then the president.

The first $10 Federal Reserve note was issued in 1914, featuring Andrew Jackson’s portrait on the front. He remained on the $10 until 1929 when Hamilton’s portrait (as done by John Trumbull) became the featured vignette.

While the overall design of the $10 bill has changed several times over the ensuing decades, Hamilton has remained the front-side portrait while the U.S. Treasury building has sat on the back.

It’s not just the man on the front that’s changed over time. According to the Currency Education Program, U.S. currency was 30 percent larger than its modern descendent until 1929, when all Federal Reserve Notes were reduced in size to lower manufacturing costs.

According to the U.S. Bureau of Engraving and Printing, the $10 note was redesigned to better protect the currency against counterfeiting in 2006. These notes now have subtle hints of orange, yellow and red in the background. The $10 bill, like all other U.S. paper currency, has an embedded security thread which glows orange under UV light. When held up to a light source, a portrait watermark of Hamilton can be seen on both sides of the bill. The numeral “10” in the lower right-hand corner of the front-side changes color.

There’s been recent controversy over proposed changes to the $10 bill. Due in part to the tremendous popularity of the “Hamilton” musical, a plan to remove Alexander Hamilton to make room for a prominent woman’s portrait was reversed. Instead, images of prominent women’s suffragettes will join the U.S. Treasury building on the back.

Are some Hamiltons worth more than $10? Not the old $10 Federal Reserve notes, said Rod Gillis, the educational director for the American Numismatic Association’s money museum in Colorado Springs. “They are not considered especially rare.”

And it’s no wonder: According to the bureau, 627 million $10 bills were scheduled to be produced between Oct. 1, 2015, and Sept. 30, 2016, and the average lifespan of one of these notes is 4.5 years.

But if you’re a collector – or you’re just going through your grandparents’ attic this fall – you might have more luck with a $10 silver certificate. Gillis said that the value of such an item could vary greatly according to the certificate’s condition, who signed the certificate’s series, and to which bank it was scheduled to go. They can be worth anywhere from $30 to $30,000, he said.

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