Prices and Rarity of 1928 Series Five Dollar Legal Tender Star Notes

The Legal Tender Fives have always held a special attraction to collectors and the less knowledgeable public. Whether you are attracted to the red seal color or the rarity and challenging pursuit of collecting this small size series in replacement Star Notes, almost everyone wants to tuck them in their “collection”. If you already collect seriously or if you wish to enter into the challenge the information in this article will help the novice and the expert deduce value and rarity.

When trying to extrapolate rarity auction prices realized certainly have veracity in determining the value of Banknotes but only if one views the material for sale. A conservatively graded note can skew the numbers higher as the floor bidders who had the opportunity to view the notes may pay double the expected price. The reverse is true for a note described as Gem but which is actually a re-embossed, pressed note or just liberally graded. That stated I will list my personal grading opinions in parentheses after the catalog grades where major differences in opinion exist. The approximate date will be listed after the price realized. All auction prices are rounded to the nearest $25. Prices before 1998 will not be used, as I do not wish to cause regret for most everyone’s lack of foresight in purchasing this popular series sooner. Prices of five plus years ago have little bearing on today’s market if there have been significant offerings since.

We will explore the collecting of this popular denomination and the general characteristics starting with the series 1928 Star. This first series is neither plentiful in higher grade circulated or uncirculated grades and is Seventh in rarity of the 11 more commonly know Star types and varieties. I have found that all Legal Tenders come well embossed and this series is not the exception. Usually found well centered with wonderful white paper and dark contrasting inks, this Star issue has sold for $4375(08/03) and $4325(06/03) described as Gem CU; Choice CU $1450 (01/00), $1950(06/04) via CAA and $2875(09/02) Smythe. Much more available in circulated grades a Choice AU brought $1450(03) and VF notes bring between $200 and $300. Prior to May of 2001 when a group of about 8 CU notes came available this Star was virtually unobtainable in CU or better. With only 5 auction appearance in CU or better in the last 5 years your opportunities to acquire this note in high grade are very limited.

The 1928A Star is Fifth in rarity and impossible to find in CU or better. A Choice AU sold for $4850(2000) and we at Smythe sold the only other AU to appear in recent auction for $6325 in 2003 and a nice VF for $3450. Other VF notes sold for $1525 and $1550 in 2003 with a F/VF selling for $1700(2002), a VG/F at $1100(2002) and lastly a Fine for $805(2004). The vast majority of these are known in Very Good to Fine and selling in the $1000 range. Only two AU notes offered in the last 5 years points to most of us having to settle for a lower grade note with a original VF being quite a find. This issue also has gorgeous white paper with embossing if you are lucky enough to find one that hasn’t crossed the country 10 times in some ones sweat soaked pocket.

To find a 1928B Mule Star in some junk box is what collectors dreams are made. Approximately 10 are known to exist with only two auction offerings in the last 5 years placing this rare Star firmly as the Second rarest. A VF-EF(VF) sold at $3750 in 2000 with another VF selling for $4600 in 2003. There have been other private sales without a doubt. I was involved in one that netted a client of mine the finest known example in Gem Uncirculated. This note was originally offered to me and then put on EBay as the owner thought he could do better. It never reached half what I offered and once again makes me wonder why the better notes sell for comparable bargains, sans any shenanigans, on EBay. As the price editor for the Standard Guide to U.S. Paper Money I have this note priced at $8000 in CU. A Gem should be worth that and more to a collector that demands the best. Perhaps much more?

The 1928B Star of the non-mule variety is Eighth in the rarity race and readily available until recently in CCU or better. All grades and prices realized have been relatively consistent over the last 5 years: EF/AU $375(2002); AU $500(2002) and $750(2004); CU and a CCU(CU) for $975 and $1100(2004); CCU $950(1999), $550(2000), $925(2003) and lastly a CCU Smythe sold for $1050 in Memphis June 2003.

Third on the list for rarity is the 1928C Mule Star which is much more available than the 1928B Mule. With approximately 15+ known and only five auction appearances, the 28C Mule Star is rarely available in grades above Fine to Very Fine. A note described as CCU sold for $2850(2000), an EF $1600, two Fine notes for $725 and $450(2003) and a Fine/Very Fine(F) for $550. With infrequent offerings in higher grades we can use the first two recorded prices realized as benchmarks only. The average note available for sale in Fine is probably a bargain at $500 to $750 considering only fifteen collectors could ever place one in their collections.

The second most common and Tenth on the list of rarity of the eleven collectable series and varieties of $5 Legal Tender Star notes is the 1928C Star. Choice CU notes have sold for $650(2001), $700(2002) and a Choice to Gem note sold for $750(2003). Three recently recorded sales of notes described as Gem brought $825, $1100 and $950 in 2003. Four sales of notes in 2003 and 2004 described as AU to CCU, that were all AU in this authors opinion, brought $400 to $600 with an EF garnering $250. Only the 1928F Wide 1 is easier to locate in high grades. A good average for prices breaks down as Choice to Gem notes being $900 to $1000 with the AU notes fetching an average of  $500 and EF Stars bringing half that.

Sixth in running for rarity is the 1928D Star. Surprisingly hard-core collector friends of mine like Jim Hodgson and David Schlingman have recorded at least 30 Stars of this series. Mr. Hodgson also pointed out that there are between 8 to 10 CU notes known. Apart from these CU notes which are rarely seen in the marketplace the average grade is around Fine. In 1999 a note described as Gem(AU) sold for $5050 with one in the same grade selling for $3850 a year later. Notes graded Fine sold for $1325(2002) and $1500(2003). Two notes sold in 2003, one G/VG fetching $575 and another sold by Smythe in 2003 Memphis graded EF/AU brought $3450. One could surmise that a CCU note is worth $4000 or slightly more with VF notes falling in somewhere around $1500. Of course with only 10 or so high grade notes available you may have to pay more for a premium grade specimen.

Ninth on the list but really in a dead heat with the eighth place finisher is the 1928E Star. The higher grade specimens sold in CCU for $825(2001), $925(2002), $950(2003) and $690(2004). One note described as Gem brought $725(2000) and another graded Superb Gem achieved the record of $1725(2003). Two notes grade EF/AU brought $450 and $500 respectively in 2003. No longer easy to find in CU or better they usually show up with average margins but decent paper quality and punch through embossing. I would note sell a Choice to Gem note for under $1000 to $1200 range which pegs it at nearly the exact same level as the 1928B Star price. Unfortunately the 1928B does note come well centered for the most part so the 1928E may be slightly easier to find by comparison.

The unique 1928E Star Mule deserves some mention in this article but is uncollectible but for one deep pocket collector. Impossible to research as there was only one sale ever made by private treaty and a price estimate would be an educated guess at best. Discovered in high grade there may be the opportunity to find another but until there is an auction record it is beyond the scope of this article.

Eleventh or last in rarity and the most available of the series in Star is the 1928F Wide 1 variety. Over 13 recorded sales in CCU to Gem were made in the last three-and-a-half years alone with many more made privately. The only note available as an affordable “type” example with too many offerings to list individually here so I will just give ranges. In CCU Wide 1s have brought between $400-475 and in Gem $500 to $975. A couple notes graded by CGA as Gem 66 $750(2003) and CGA 68 $1850(2004) have been recorded. As these notes always come with great embossing, decent centering and good paper quality I caution anyone buying third party graded material to buy the note not the holder. A realistic price for a CCU note is around $500 and a Gem $600-700 with utter perfection being worth $1000 perhaps.

The 1928F Narrow Star variety comes in at a solid Fourth in rarity. With the help from my friend Jim Hodgson we were able to estimate there are 15 notes recorded thus far with five auction offerings since 2000. A note described as Gem 66 sold for $3525 in 2000. Another Gem sold by Smythe in 2002 brought $3750 along with a VF for $500. In 2003 a VG brought $350 with an EF topping out at $1050. With only 15 known these prices seem relative bargains compared to some of the other Stars.

Lastly is the 1928F Wide 2 Star which comes in First in rarity after the recently discovered, unique 1928E Mule Star. Finding one of these misattributed as a common Wide 1 would be akin to winning the small size lottery. With only 4 to 5 known and only two auction offerings in the last four years. A Choice AU sold for $3350 in 2000 with the only other piece being sold in a major public currency auction a VG in 2003 for $1400.

Many small size specialists, collectors and dealers alike, realize the true scarcity of the notes they handle. Still many more do not have anything but the latest price guide to help them value the notes they seek. With the help of good friends (Jim Hodgson and Dave Schlingman) and a couple hundred pounds of auction catalogs one can lift the fog for all to see what challenge awaits and at what price. Half the notes discussed here can be acquired in high grade while just as many should be snapped up in any grade. I have cautioned many a collector to opt for a lower grade on scarce notes. Otherwise he or she could end up grading himself or herself VG before they find anything better. Happy Hunting.

All text © 2004 Scott Lindquist. All Rights Reserved