Editor’s Note: The COINage Welcome Mat features new advertising partners. COINage welcomes Steve Zeller, owner of Unitedstatespapermoney.com.
COINage: How did you become interested in paper money?
Steve Zeller: Colonial Currency was the first type of paper money that I became interested in. I was drawn to these notes because I felt that they were an excellent value relative to their scarcity, and I also love U.S. history. It is amazing to me how these old notes survived for so many years without being destroyed.
CA: What was the transformational process that caused you to become a paper money dealer?
SZ: The business started in 1999 as an eBay store selling coins and vintage baseball cards without any paper money. In 2008, I purchased the domain name unitedstatespapermoney.com and created a website using my modest personal currency collection as the initial inventory. I ran the eBay store with coins and baseball cards at the same time I was building the separate paper money business. The paper money business was very successful and also easier to operate. So I decided to convert the eBay store to all paper money as well.
It took about three years to transition to all paper money. I still have the eBay store along with unitedstatespapermoney.com, with both having identical inventory.
CA: What is your favorite kind of paper money to collect and deal in yourself?
SZ: It is difficult to be a collector and an effective dealer at the same time. I need to offer the best items to my customers and not cherry-pick for myself. I limit my own paper money collecting to rare National Bank Notes, in which I am personally interested. My favorite item in my collection is a rare 1902 $10 Fleetwood, Pennsylvania note. This note is special to me because I am the head track and field coach at Fleetwood High School in Pennsylvania.
I don’t have a favorite kind of paper money to deal in. I like all the types of currency available in my store. Recently, I have sold Confederate notes.
CA: What are three aspects of making money and profiting from collecting?
SZ: Just because something is old doesn’t mean that it is valuable. Many numismatic items have thousands, and even millions of specimens still in existence. Common items are priced like commodities and don’t offer much appreciation potential, regardless of age. Collectors should focus on scarcer items if they are buying as an investment.
Be patient. If you buy the right items at reasonable prices, they will appreciate over time. Currency prices have been steadily increasing since I first started the business.
Collectors should buy the items that they enjoy the most. In doing so, they can build an incredible collection that gives them great satisfaction and maintains value over time.
CA: Does the graying of the industry impact the collecting arena of paper money?
SZ: The numismatic hobby has been around for centuries. The industry has been driven by older collectors who have more free time to focus on things like hobbies and often have more money to spend on collectibles. However, young generation adults are becoming increasingly more interested in collecting thanks to the internet and online selling. The digital age is transforming the industry, and dealers will need to adapt. Coin shows and shops are still an important part of the hobby but are no longer the only way for collectors to buy.
CA: If the U.S. Bureau of Engraving and Printing were to discontinue printing paper money and the nation moved to debit card use, how would that affect the collecting of paper money?
SZ: I don’t believe the hobby would be greatly affected if we replaced paper money. There will always be collectors and people interested in U.S. history, regardless of what is currently used in commerce. Old paper money is attractive with its ornate illustrations, scarcity, and historical value.
CA: If you were to give a gift of what you are selling, what would you give?
SZ: I would give an 1899 U.S. $1 Silver Certificate. The note features a magnificent American Eagle in the center, flanked by Presidents Lincoln (left) and Grant (right). It is one of the most popular older notes among collectors, both for its beauty and affordability.