A legendary $1,000 bill known as the “Grand Watermelon” was recently sold at public auction for the amazing sum of $2,255,000. It was the highest price ever paid for any United States paper money and probably a record for any bank note anywhere in the world.
Few people have seen any $1,000 bill in recent years. The government stopped making them around 1948 and they have been gradually withdrawn from circulation ever since. They are still legal tender, but because so many were being used in illegal trading, a decision was made to stop printing any bills over the $100 denomination. Whenever any $500, $1,000 or $10,000 bill is turned in to a bank today it is sent to Washington for redemption and destruction.
A limited supply of high denomination bills remains in the hands of collectors, but they are so scarce that even the most common variety is valued at about $1,250 regardless of condition. I have heard of incidents where collectors have been called upon to “rent” $1,000 bills to photographers or movie studios for use in an advertisement or movie scene. Do not bother asking your local bank to find one for you, they simply do
not exist in normal banking channels. About the only time they do come on the market is when some forgotten legacy or hoard is accidentally discovered.
Ever since the earliest days of federal paper money in this country, around the time of the Civil War, it was commonplace for bills over $100 to be available to anyone who could afford them. At a time when the use of checks was limited and there were no credit cards, the large bills were necessary for commerce. Many different kinds of $1,000 bills have been made since the first ones of 1862, but none are so colorful and coveted as the unusual one with a design called the “grand watermelon” that was made in 1890.
The descriptive moniker was given to this note because of the way the zeros in 1000 are shaped. They are fat and oblong, and look something like watermelons. A similar feature is seen on the companion $100 note that was made at the same time. Both are Treasury Notes of series 1890. The $100 bill has a portrait of
Commodore Farragut, while the $1,000 shows the head of Civil War General Gordon Meade. Collectors have long held these to be two of the most sought after pieces of United States paper money because of their rarity unusual designs. The $100 notes have sold for prices up to $35,000 each, but no specimen of the $1,000 note has appeared on the market for many years.
It is estimated that fewer than 25 of the “grand watermelon” notes have not been redeemed by the government, and it is doubtful that more than a half dozen still exist.