Rare Money

The bill or coin in question is perfectly legitimate and not Counterfeit Cash. But for some reason or other, it's seldom seen. It can be rare for any (and any combination) of the following reasons:

  • A rare, but real, denomination.
  • An outdated design on the coin or bill.
  • A rare design on the coin or bill (for example, commemorative coins or bills)
  • A coin that used to be a bill or vice versa. For Example 
  • A foreign coin or bill.
  • A discontinued coin or bill (whether it has any current value is beside the point, it once did). This includes coins and bills of discontinued currencies.
  • An unusual serial number (for example, an extremely low one or one with a lot of the same digit.) This includes "star notes", where a special symbol in the serial number marks the bill as a replacement for a misprinted one.

The inverse is Cheap Gold Coins, where a currency that should be rare is everywhere.

Examples

Anime and Manga
  • In an episode of Gunslinger Girl: Il Theatrino, Hirshire tips a restaurant waiter with a 500 euro note (see below), after Henrietta attacks the man upon mistaking him for an assassin. It's not clear what the waiter is more surprised by: by the fact that a tiny girl manhandled him so badly or by the banknote he probably saw for the first time in his life.

Comic Book
  • In a Golden Age Batman comic, the Penny Plunderer traps Batman and Robin in a Death Trap. As he leaves he contemptuously flings two pennies at Batman as "coins for the eyes of a dead man". One was a normal copper penny and the other was a zinc-coated steel penny issued during WWII to save copper. This combination allows Batman to make a makeshift battery that he uses to escape the Death Trap. (It Makes Sense in Context).

Literature
  • In Oathbreakers, a Valdemar novel by Mercedes Lackey, Sunhawks who are infiltrating the city of Petras carry with them a coin called a Hawkspiece. It's worth little, but since it's virtually never seen out of the town of Hawksnest, it's useful as an identification piece in a city hundreds of miles away.
  • For the "Outdated Design" variant, there's The Ghost On Saturday Night. When Opie runs an errand for two men after they perform a show in which they apparently raise the ghost of a dead outlaw, he's paid with an 1877 Indian-Head Penny—and his Great Aunt Etta is the only person in town he knows of who has one, which she keeps in the bank. Because of this and strange sounds before the show, he realizes that these two men (whom Aunt Etta thinks are con artists) have robbed the bank.
  • The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy mentions a currency called the Triganic Pu. There are eight Ningis to one Pu, but since a Ningi is a triangular rubber coin six thousand miles along each edge, nobody has ever collected enough to own one Pu.

Live-Action Television
  • Agent Carter: Jarvis, a butler to the rich Howard Stark, pays a $50,000 payment to a crook in $1000 dollar bills, with the crook expressing disbelief that they're real. The series taking place in 1946 makes having those bills more plausible, since $1000 dollar bills stopped being printed in 1945.
  • The Victim of the Week from Bones first season Christmas Episode was a coin collector who had been murdered for his collection in the mid 1950s. The murderer took all his valuable coins but left the worthless pocket change, which included a rare 1943 copper Lincoln one cent piece, worth several hundred thousand dollars.
  • This is invoked on Better Call Saul as part of a Violin Scam Jimmy and Marco are running. Jimmy claims to have a misprinted $0.50 coin where the picture of the president is inverted. Since the coin is rarely seen in circulation, the mark does not remember which way the picture should be facing and is easily convinced that the coin is a valuable misprint.
  • In an episode of The Andy Griffith Show Andy pulls a prank on Barney to teach him a lesson, showing him a Buffalo nickel which is pointing the "other direction," so it's a rare and valuable misstrike. Andy sells Barney his nickel for $75. Then Barney compares it to his own nickel and discovers that they both face the same way.

Newspaper Comics
  • A strip of FoxTrot references an incident where a man was arrested at a Best Buy because his 2 dollar bills were mistaken for counterfeit money. Paige then begs her mom for some to give to Jason, because she wants to see him get arrested.

Tabletop Games
  • In Dungeons & Dragons, as well as derived games (like Pathfinder), there are coins worth more than gold pieces (such as platinum), but they are very rarely used, since most prices are denoted in gold, and large sums of money are usually transported in form of gems.
  • Exalted has Jade, a magical material associated with the Terrestrial Exalted (and with no relation to real jade). It's fantastically valuable and also a Practical Currency as the Exalted can use it to make magic items, which means that few below powerful lords bother trading in it directly. Most people get by with a paper currency called jade scrip, silver coins, or barter.

Urban Legend
  • There are tales of US two-dollar bills and 1-dollar coins being mistaken for fakes, simply because they're seldom seen.
  • There are also tales of groups who are accused of not contributing to a community (I believe the one I heard was about the Navy) using $2 bills to show that, yes, they do contribute.
  • There is a story about a Christian woman in the Eastern Bloc who was approached by a man who wished to attend one of the meetings. Realizing he was a Communist agent, she gave him an old coin as an identification piece expecting her fellow Christians to look into the odd, old coin and discover it was worth Thirty Pieces of Silver—the sum Judas Iscariot was paid to betray Jesus and the sum Joseph's brothers sold him for.

Video Games
  • In El Sword, if you take a side profession as Treasure Hunter, you can find special treasure chests in dungeons that contain old coins. You can trade the coins in any shop for in-game currency.
  • Golden Obles in Pillars of Eternity are an internationally accepted currency minted in Vailia. However, they are extremely rare even in its country of origin, and even more so in Dyrwood, where the game takes place.
  • Far Cry 4: Money issued prior to Pagan Min's reign is officially worthless, but you can still sell it as Vendor Trash. It's implied that Pagan printed his own money just so he could plaster his body double's face all over it.
  • In Fallout: New Vegas the Legion Legion Denarii and Aurei are not Cheap Gold and Silver coins as Caesar's Legion are the only ones making them (after the Brotherhood of Steel destroyed the New California Republic's gold deposits) and their... culture... isn't looked highly upon, so few traders in the Mojave made deals with them.

Western Animation
  • In an episode of The Simpsons Bart & Homer go on a quest to collect every Lincoln head cent to fill a collector's holder. They get every one except the [fictional] 1917 "kissing Lincoln" misstrike, which they manage to scam Mr. Burns out of when he outbids them at a rare coin auction.
  • An episode of Cyberchase has Bianca thinking she's rich after finding a one dollar coin on the street, only to check its value with a coin librarian and find it's not made of gold.

Real Life
  • Canada has a 50-cent coin. Newer vending machine will not take it, and older ones would mistake it for a Loonie (the 1 dollar coin). It's still regularly minted, but not in large quantities and is only available to the public directly from the mint, so it's extremely rare to see it in everyday transactions.
  • In Poland, while a 200 PLN banknote does exist and people are generally aware of it, it remains a pretty rare sight and cannot be found within cash machines.
  • In the UK, this is something of a Running Gag with £50 notes and Scottish pound notes (which aren't technically legal tender like Sterling ones, but can be exchanged for them freely). Although most businesses usually reject them because of a lack of familiarity making the risk of forgeries too high (as well as the difficulty of exchanging them - and not having enough change, in the case of fifties), rather than because this trope is being played straight.
  • Half- and dollar coins in the U.S. Hardly anyone uses 50-cent pieces and they're too large to fit in most vending machines. While dollar coins are mostly treated as novelties, and vending machines tend to treat them as quarters if they accept them at all.
    • One of the rarest US bills in circulation is the $2 bill. The only place you will regularly see $2 bills are in strip clubs, since punters like to be seen throwing around large amounts of money, and... well, a punter throwing around a quantity of $2 bills mean twice as much as income as if the punter throws around an equal amount of singles.
    • The rarity of $2 bills is such that there are stories of clerks at stores and restaurants rejecting them and sometimes trying to call the police because they thought they were fake.
    • Apple cofounder Steve Wozniak uses the bills' rarity to troll cashiers and clerks in epic fashion. He buys uncut sheets of $2 bills directly from the Federal Reserve, makes booklets out of them, and uses them to buy things while claiming he "just printed them this morning!" This got him in some hot water with the Secret Service at one point (back when they were part of the Treasury, and investigating counterfeit money was under their purview).
  • 500 euro notes are seldom seen by the average populace.
    • In Spain, where one fourth of these notes are, the population took to nickname them "bin Laden" since everybody know their whereabouts and their shame but nobody ever saw them.
  • Five ruble bills in Russia. They were replaced by coins a long time ago, but never legally declared invalid. These bank notes became curiosities and collector's items, and sell for dozens of times their legal value.
  • In Israel, some of the coins have on their reverse the picture of the person who used to be on the corresponding bill before it was pulled out of circulation. There are also limited series of coins with "40 years to Israel" and coins with a chanukiah on the obverse. See here for pictures. Some of these are rather difficult to find, since people are reluctant to spend them.
  • The UK also has £5, £20 and £100 coins. These are legal tender but are minted for the collectors market - most shops will have never seen them and will refuse to accept them.

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