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The Top 5 Most Iconic Dollar Bill Designs, Part 2

We continue our series of iconic dollar bill designs with the 1869 “Rainbow” $1.00 Legal Tender.

Does the portrait on this tender look familiar?

There are several features that make 1869 Rainbow legal tender notes both iconic and instantly recognizable. The first feature that you might notice is the portrait of George Washington. This portrait was taken from a famous painting by Gilbert Stuart. Does it look familiar? It’s the same one that still graces our $1.00 legal tender notes to this day!

The original artwork of George Washington
by Gilbert Stuart

George Washington was depicted on a number of obsolete notes prior to the nationalization of currency in 1862, but the rainbow legal tender is the first official United States note to feature a president on it.

The voyage of Columbus was often romanticized in the 19th century, and as such, was seen on many banknotes. In the upper left-hand corner of this note, you’ll see a vignette of Columbus arriving in America.

The 1869 Rainbow legal tender was a dollar with pizzazz.

On top of the artwork, what also stands out on 1869 legal tender notes is the beautiful coloration of the paper. These notes were printed on blue tinted paper with colorful overprinting of reds and greens. This variety of color is why they’re known as “Rainbow” notes.

Interestingly, the star next to the serial number does not indicate a replacement note as it does on modern issues. Instead, it is just another piece of decorative pizzazz on a beautiful note.

Over 41 million series of this note were issued, but they aren’t as common as you might think.

A total of 41,868,000 Series of 1869 $1 Rainbow Notes were issued between 1869 and 1875. However, they are much rarer as a collector piece than this production number indicates.

Today there are less than a few thousand that exist. These banknotes saw extensive use in the decade following the American Civil War, so most examples you’ll find are heavily worn.

The reverse side of the 1869 Rainbow legal tender
The 1869 Rainbow legal tender is an excellent note to consider for any paper money collection.

There are numerous minor varieties featuring different seal and monogram arrangements, making it an enjoyable to note collect for variety enthusiasts. Given the iconography and the beauty of this type, it’s a great note to display and appreciate.

For the budget collector, obtaining an example of this note type will be a challenge.

While very poor condition notes can sometimes be found between $200-$300 one should expect to spend at least $400 for an appreciable example of this note. When hunting for budget example patience will be key.

Beware of notes that have been doctored by washing and pressing. Also beware of tears and holes that have been patched and repaired.

For collectors with more resources available consider saving up to purchase a note in Very Fine condition.

A note in this grade will look very pleasing and show a nice amount of the rainbow coloration. Try to find an example in this rage that is devoid of soiling or rust marks. Again, patience is a virtue when it comes to selecting an 1869 Rainbow $1.00.

For advanced collectors, there are notes available in high grade but they are certainly quite rare and costly.

When they do come available, expect to spend anywhere from $1,800 to $4,000 for a note in the range of Extra-Fine to the higher end of almost uncirculated. The finest known example of an 1869 $1 legal tender is a single PMG note graded 67 with exceptional paper quality designation. This specimen sold at the Baltimore Expo in 2021 for $66,000 with Stacks Bowers.

For the most advanced collectors, one will likely have to “settle” for a note in the range of 64 or 65. Purchasing a note of this quality will require of budget of around $20,000 and once again, a degree of patience in waiting for the auction to come along that features a note in this high of a grade.

Other posts in this series:

Lithograph of George Washington credit: Library of Congress on Unsplash

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