Follow TV Tropes


Rare Money

Go To
"The inverted double struck penny, or "kissing Lincolns", was mistakenly minted in December of 1917, where a brief glimpse of a woman's ankle caused rioting for 3 days."

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. (Example: a $2 bill in the United States, or the Japanese ¥2,000 note. For some reason, they're rarely used.)
  • An outdated design on the coin or bill. (Example: a previous monarch being shown on the currency.)
  • A rare design on the coin or bill. (Example: commemorative coins or bills.)
  • A coin that used to be a bill or vice versa. (Example: Canada used to have 25¢, $1, and $2 bills. All denominations are now coins.)
  • A coin that's made from a precious metal, usually silver. (Example: 90% silver Pre-1964 United States dimes, quarters and half dollars, and 40% silver Pre-1970 United States half dollars, all of which occasionally circulate, but are almost immediately pulled out of circulation and hoarded by individuals for their metal content.)
  • 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. (Example: $10,000 US bills, or many European currencies after the advent of the euro).
  • An unusual serial number. (Examples: 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.


    open/close all folders 

    Anime & Manga 
  • One of Mikoto's earliest interactions with Touma in A Certain Magical Index has him encountering her attacking a vending machine for eating her 2000 yen note (not often seen in circulation) and Touma promptly lampshading her use of such a rarely seen note in a vending machine.
  • Gunslinger Girl. Jose tips a restaurant waiter with a 500 euro note (very rare), 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 Books 
  • 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).
  • In a story in Gold Key's The Twilight Zone comic, a psychiatrist is visited late at night by a well-dressed young man. The psychiatrist agrees to see him, and the young man recounts a recurring dream in which he is trapped on a sinking ship. The psychiatrist provides him with reassurance, and the young man vanishes while the psychiatrist's back is turned. The young man leaves behind a pile of cash to pay for the consultation, but when the psychiatrist picks it up, he notices that they are old, large-sized US banknotes the Treasury removed from circulation in 1923. And they are sopping wet. Then he glances at a newspaper and sees that it is the anniversary of the sinking of RMS Titanic.

  • Able Team. In "Texas Showdown" the team join the mercenary army of an Texas oil billionaire. In one scene Gadgets gets a thousand-dollar bonus for a job well done, paid for with a single note, and comments that he didn't know US $1000 bills were still in circulation.
  • 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.
  • 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.
  • In Making Money, Moist von Lipwig is trying to get the denizens of Ankh-Morpork to start using paper money he printed, but because of his previous foray into stamps, some of them decide to hold onto the bills because the first ones he printed are going to become collector's items. He has to resort to shouting "It's worth money now!" at someone who wants to see if it'll be worth money some day.

    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.
  • 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.
  • 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.
  • 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.
  • The Magician: In "The Man Who Lost Himself", three crooks seem to be going to extreme lengths to discover the location of the relatively small sum of $24,000 stolen in a military payroll heist in Hawaii during World War II. It turns out the cash is in the form of so-called 'Aloha money'; money overprinted with the word 'Hawaii' in case the Japanese overran Hawaii. Now valuable collectors' items, $24,000 in uncirculated bills is now worth $1.6 million.
  • In two different episode of Scrubs, JD distracts the Janitor and Troy by asking him a riddle: "Two coins add up to 30¢, and one of them is not a nickel [5¢]. What are they?" (America does not have a 20¢ coin). Janitor and Troy dig up a 1972 dime (10¢) with a Roosevelt imperfection, which is worth 29¢; together with a 1¢ coin, they are worth 30¢ altogether. (The actual answer is a quarter (25¢) and a nickel. JD only said that one of the coins wasn't a nickel).

    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.
  • A story arc in the 1980s Old West comic strip Latigo starts with one character, who is a bit impractical and thoughtless, rejoicing at finding a "three-dollar gold piece". It's got to be a fake, right? Nope, the U.S. Mint tried it, from 1854 to 1889. Nobody liked it. In the 35 years it was produced, less than half-a million were struck, at all three U.S. Mint facilities, combined.

    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 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.
  • 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.
  • Far Cry 4: Money issued prior to Pagan Min's reign is officially worthless, but you can still sell it as Shop Fodder. It's implied that Pagan printed his own money just so he could plaster his body double's face all over it.
  • 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.
  • Yakuza contains a sidequest in which Kiryu tracks down five 2000 yen bills (see Real Life for more info) for a collector who's interested in studying why they aren't circulating very well.

  • When Tyler first meets the Rainmaker in PS238, he ends up giving him a Washington quarter. Nowadays those are common, but this was a time travel chapter, so state quarters wouldn't be minted for decades at the time. In the story's present day, Tyler (in his Moon Shadow persona) proves his identity to Rainmaker by giving him a second Washington quarter.

    Western Animation 
  • A For Real segment 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.
  • 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.

    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.
    • Averted, however, in major cities like NYC and Washington DC, where they are used as change at subway fare card kiosks. Dispensing coins is easier than dispensing paper bills, so if you put $5 on your MetroCard and pay with a $10, you'll get gold dollar coins back. This does sometimes cause confusion if you travel, however, as they are uncommon elsewhere and are sometimes mistaken for counterfeit.
    • 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 (as that agency is in charge of combating counterfeiting of U.S. currency—its original mission in fact—as well as protecting the President of the United States).
    • While not exactly rare the $50 bill is pretty unpopular, mainly because it comes with the same problems the $100 bill has (they're hard to get change for and stores would rather just not deal with them at all) but is only worth half as much. It's the least printed bill other than the $2.
    • Wheat pennies (Lincoln pennies struck between 1909-1958) were frequent targets of this a few decades after they were replaced with the Lincoln Memorial reverse design, but being pennies, they were still common enough that people would hunt through change for them and often find a few. Now they are quite rare to see "in the wild".
    • Bicentennial coins featured a unique reverse design and double date; the quarters famously had the "drummer" reverse and are still sometimes seen in circulation despite frequently being "collected"; the bicentennial half dollar and dollar, already being unusual coin denominations, are practically never seen in circulation, although they're hardly uncommon to find in grandma's safe.
  • 500 euro notes are seldom seen by the average populace. Even €100 and €200 notes are in circulation less than when the Euro was first issued and many shops won't accept them.
    • 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. In fact, it was because of this association with criminality that the European Central Bank ended up discontinuing the 500 in 2016.
  • 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.
    • Around 2022, the Bank of Russia started issuing new five ruble bills. Because of the unusual plastic-y texture (all other Russian money uses linen or cotton materials) and the fact that the designers seemingly forgot to replace the "1997" date print, many incidents of the bills being mistaken for fakes have been reported.
    • Also, in 2014 a new 1-ruble coin design was introduced, replacing the number 1 with the "₽" symbol. It was quetly discontinued not long after, but the strangely-labeled coins are still sometimes a source of minor confusion (and minor revenue, selling for 5 times the 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.
  • Gold sovereigns, one of the best known modern gold coins in history, are still legal tender for their face value: 50 pence for half sovereigns, £1 for a full sovereign, £2 for a double sovereign and £5 for a quintuple sovereign. However, considering how the price of gold continues to rise, you'd be an absolute moron to hand them over in your change.
    • The UK also has £5, £20 and £100 gold and silver bullion 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.
  • Australia mints gold coins for the collectors' market. Technically, these are legal tender in Australia and her territories, but they are never used for transactions as the gold value of the coins far exceeds the face value.
    • There's also the very early run of circular 50c coins (the regular ones are dodecagons). Still technically legal tender but with an extremely high silver content that puts their worth about ten times their face value without even considering collectors value.
  • Japan has the 2,000 yen note. Introduced in 2000, it's not normally issued by ATMs or accepted by vending machines and many stores don't like to deal with them as their registers don't have places for them and as such don't see a lot of circulation. The note does enjoy popularity in Okinawa due to representing the Shureimon on the front and among foreign tourists due to many foreign exchange banks carrying surplus notes.