Did the US ever have a $200 bill?

The $200 bill is one of the highest denominations of US currency ever issued for public circulation. However, unlike the widely recognizable $100 bill which remains in circulation today, the $200 bill had a relatively brief lifespan in the late 19th and early 20th centuries before being discontinued. Its rarity has made the few remaining $200 bills valuable collector’s items. So did the United States ever officially issue a $200 bill? Let’s take a closer look at the history of this scarce high-denomination banknote.

A Brief History of the $200 Bill

The $200 note has its origins in the early days of American paper currency. Up until the mid-19th century, most money in circulation consisted of coins. Paper currency was still relatively new and seen as risky compared to “hard money” like gold and silver coins. However, the government began issuing paper money out of necessity to help fund the Civil War.

In the 1860s, the US Treasury introduced several high-denomination banknotes ranging from $100 to $1000 to help move large amounts of cash. The first $200 note featuring Abraham Lincoln was issued in 1863. This Civil War-era series is known as the “rainbow notes” among collectors due to their colorful Treasury Seal printed in multiple inks.

While the $200 bill was initially intended for interbank transfers and payments to government bondholders, some notes did circulate among the public. However, high denominations like the $200 and $500 bills were eventually phased out in the late 1860s. Rising inflation after the war meant citizens preferred to hold lower denominations.

It would be nearly three decades before the $200 bill made another appearance. In 1879, the US shifted from unbacked fiat currency known as “Greenbacks” to notes backed and redeemable for either gold or silver. A new $200 “Legal Tender Note” with an orange-red Treasury seal was issued as part of this specie-backed series.

Unlike previous high denominations, the 1879 $200 bill and other larger notes such as the $500, $1000, $5000, and $10,000 bills actively circulated for several decades. Their issuance reflected the government’s abundance of gold reserves following the Black Hills Gold Rush. Demand for these bills came from banks, corporations, and wealthy individuals dealing in very large cash transactions.

However, the $200 note once again faded from use in the early 20th century. After the establishment of the Federal Reserve in 1913, National Banknotes issued through commercial banks became the predominant form of paper money. These early Federal Reserve Notes only included denominations up to $100, which were sufficient for most transactions.

The last $200 bill rolled off the Bureau of Engraving and Printing presses in 1934. Like other denominations over $100, the $200 note simply wasn’t utilized enough by the 1930s to warrant further production. Today, most existing $200 bills are collector’s items usually worth far more than their $200 face value due to their age and scarcity.

What Did the $200 Bill Look Like?

Over its lifespan, the $200 note featured several different designs reflecting the eras in which they were produced. However, all $200 bills share some common elements typical of US currency. This includes intricate engraving work, a portrait of a distinguished American statesman, and various security features.

1863 $200 “Rainbow Bill”

– Portrait: Features a portrait of President Abraham Lincoln along the left side of the obverse. This makes it one of the first US banknotes to depict Lincoln, issued shortly after his assassination in 1865.

– Back Design: The reverse pictures the painting DeSoto Discovering the Mississippi by American artist William Henry Powell. It depicts the Spanish explorer Hernando de Soto first encountering the Mississippi River in 1541.

– Colors: Nicknamed the “rainbow notes,” the 1863 series was printed with a bright red Treasury Seal and blue serial numbers. The unique blend of colors was intended to deter counterfeiting.

1879 $200 Silver Certificate

– Portrait: Depicts former Secretary of the Treasury Hugh McCulloch. Orange-red scalloped Treasury Seal.

– Back Design: Features an engraving of the Battle of Lexington 1775, a significant early clash between American minutemen and British troops during the Revolutionary War.

– Colors: Printed with red serial numbers and seal. The left third of the note is an orange-red color.

1882 $200 Gold Certificate

– Portrait: Features burly mustached former Secretary of War and State William M. Evarts.

– Back Design: Pictures the U.S. Capitol Building in Washington D.C.

– Colors: The distinctive gold-colored ink gives these notes their “gold certificate” name. Black printing.

1905 $200 National Bank Note

– Portrait: Depicts founding father and inventor Benjamin Franklin.

– Back Design: Pictures the arrival of the Pilgrims at Plymouth Rock in 1620.

– Colors: Green-black print with red serial numbers. Issued by individual National Banks rather than the Federal government.

1918 $200 Federal Reserve Bank Note

– Portrait: Features President and Civil War general Ulysses S. Grant on the obverse.

– Back Design: The reverse pictures the painting Embarkation of the Pilgrims by Robert Walter Weir. Another early Colonial scene.

– Colors: Printed with standard green-black ink common to Federal Reserve Notes of this era. Contains a brown Federal Reserve Bank seal.

While their designs changed, the large sized $200 bills all contained standard security features such as intricate lathe work patterns and microprinting to deter counterfeiters. Later $200 notes also incorporated early security features like embedded silk threads.

How Many $200 Bills Were Issued?

The $200 note was always one of the rarest issued US banknotes. Today, collectors estimate only around 600 examples of any $200 bill have survived in collectible condition. However, accurate records of the original print runs are limited. Here are some estimates of issuance for each series:

1863 $200 Legal Tender “Rainbow” Note

The 1863 $200 notes were printed in small quantities, likely less than 50,000 notes total. Being the first $200 bill, few entered public circulation at the time.

1879 $200 Silver Certificates

Possibly 288,000 notes printed. Saw slightly wider use than previous issues.

1882 $200 Gold Certificates

The 1882 Gold Certificates saw the highest issuance, with 1,120,000 $200 notes printed. Heavy usage in financial transactions at the time.

1918 $200 National Banknotes

As little as 24,000 notes believed to have been issued across all National Banks combined.

The last $200 bills were the 1918 series Federal Reserve Bank Notes. Only 72,000 issued before production ended in 1934. With such a small original supply, the $200 note became obsolete long before lower denominations.

What Was the $200 Bill Worth?

When introduced in the 1860s, the $200 note had an extremely high face value intended for interbank transfers and large cash transactions. Adjusted for inflation, $200 in 1863 had the same purchasing power as over $3,500 today. So these bills did represent a significant amount of money.

However, as inflation rose and the cost of goods increased, the practicality of high-denomination notes diminished. The last $200 Federal Reserve Notes issued in 1918 had the equivalent buying power of about $2,600 in today’s dollars. While still substantial, more modest denominations like the $20 bill became far more useful for everyday purchases.

By 1934 when it was discontinued, the $200 note simply wasn’t utilized enough to justify further productions. Lower denominations could facilitate any large cash payments previously requiring $200 bills.

Why Was the $200 Bill Discontinued?

The $200 note had a relatively brief lifespan in the late 1800s to early 1900s before being phased out. So why did the US government discontinue the denomination? Here are some of the key reasons:

Limited Usage

The $200 note was always rare in public circulation. After initial releases, very few new $200 bills entered use. Lower denominations were simply more convenient for daily transactions.

Technological Improvements

New technologies like telegraphic money transfers and automated check clearing made large paper bills unnecessary for interbank and corporate transactions.

Establishment of the Federal Reserve

The Federal Reserve introduced its own standard series of US currency after 1913, excluding rare denominations over $100 that saw little demand.


In the early 20th century, inflation had significantly reduced the purchasing power of high-denomination notes compared to when first introduced.

Risk and Reputation

Large bills gained an association with money laundering, tax evasion, and organized crime during Prohibition. This contributed to the decision to cease their production.

For these reasons, the Federal Reserve chose to focus exclusively on smaller denominations like the $1, $5, $10, $20, $50 and $100 bills still issued today. The $200 note simply wasn’t practical or necessary for legitimate transactions by the 1930s.

When Did They Stop Printing $200 Bills?

The Bureau of Engraving and Printing gradually phased out all denominations above $100 through the early 1900s. The last $500 and $1000 bills were issued in 1918, followed by the $5,000 and $10,000 notes last printed in 1922.

However, the $200 bill lingered slightly longer. The final $200 notes were dated back to 1918 but continued to sporadically print for another decade. The Bureau of Engraving finally ceased all production of the $200 Federal Reserve Bank Note by January 1934.

No $200 bills have been printed for legal circulation since then. Occasionally the Bureau of Engraving and Printing will create souvenir $200 notes with special commemorative designs sold to collectors at a premium. But no new $200 bills have entered general public use in almost 90 years now.

Could the $200 Bill Make a Comeback?

The $200 note has been out of circulation for nearly a century now. But with inflation constantly reducing the value of the dollar over time, could higher denominations like the $200 bill ever make a comeback?

In theory, the government could authorize a modern-day revival of the $200 note. However, there are several reasons why this appears unlikely:

  • No practical need – The lack of public demand is what originally doomed the $200 bill. Transactions that involve sums over $100 can easily be facilitated by multiple $100 and lower denomination bills.
  • Crime and money laundering concerns – Large bills most commonly facilitate illegal activities like tax evasion, drug trade, and corruption.
  • Security costs – Producing new high-denomination notes would be expensive and require enhanced anti-counterfeiting features.
  • Promotion of digital payments – With mobile wallets and online transfers, paper currency is becoming less necessary for legitimate large value purchases.

For these reasons, a return of the $200 banknote seems improbable in the foreseeable future. The Bureau of Engraving and Printing and Federal Reserve have shown no interest in reintroducing notes larger than the $100 bill. While curiosity about rare $200 notes persists among numismatists, their reign as an active US currency denomination appears over for good.

The $200 Bill’s Significance and Legacy

While it may not have an active role in commerce today, the $200 note still holds historical significance. It represents both a bygone era in American currency as well as the origins of the modern US monetary system.

Some key points about the legacy of the $200 banknote:

  • As one of the first high-denomination notes, the $200 bill helped establish paper money as a viable medium of exchange alongside coins early in US history.
  • The rare use of the $200 note paved the way for today’s Federal Reserve Note series focused exclusively on more practical denominations under $100 for public use.
  • Discontinuing the $200 bill reflected efforts to stabilize inflation and retire underutilized paper currency as the US monetary system matured.
  • Surviving $200 bills are highly valued collector’s items and cultural artifacts representing the changing history of American money.

While it was ultimately short-lived compared to modern bills, the $200 note still represents an important developmental phase in US currency. The origins and discontinued status of the $200 banknote provides insight into how and why our current paper monetary system evolved the way it did.

For currency collectors and numismatists interested in American history, the rare high-value notes like the $200 bill will remain intriguing artifacts of the past. Their legacy is now relegated to museum exhibits and auctions rather than everyday commerce. But as the highest paper denomination ever in public circulation, the $200 note’s unique history merits being remembered.


In summary, while the US did issue $200 banknotes for several decades, the denomination was always exceptionally rare in public use. First introduced during the Civil War, several revised $200 bill designs saw modest circulation until the early 20th century. But a combination of limited demand, inflation, and supplemental technologies ultimately made high-value notes unnecessary over time. The $200 Federal Reserve Bank Note ended its short run when production ceased permanently in 1934. No $200 bills have been printed for legal circulation since.

But even without current relevance as an active currency denomination, the $200 bill still represents an enlightening early chapter in the development of paper money and the modern US monetary system. For this reason, its unique history and aesthetic appeal lives on in the realm of numismatics and currency collecting today. So while you’ll sadly never encounter a $200 note in your wallet, their limited past issuance still constitutes an intriguing period for the now-discontinued denomination.

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