The first step to starting your one dollar bill collection is to read all of the information on this site! The second step is to decide what to collect. You shouldn't worry too much about this decision, because it is effortless to change your mind later.
United States currency has two features that lend themselves particularly well to systematic collecting. First, each note indicates the series of the note, and second, each note indicates the Federal Reserve Bank at which it was printed (see Decoding a Bill for more information).
Since Congress authorized the printing of $1 Federal Reserve Notes in 1963, there have been 23 series issued. With 12 different Federal Reserve Banks there are more than 250 collectibly different notes in what we might consider the modern era (not every series was printed by every bank). That's a lot of notes. Although it's technically possible to pursue the entire realm and try to accumulate one example of each note, you might choose to start out by trying to find one example of each series, or choose one series and try to find an issue from each Bank.
Of course there is no reason to limit yourself to the modern era. The United States has been issuing one dollar bills since 1862 and the variety is amazing (see History for more information). Although many pieces of old currency are extremely scarce, a surprising number of notes from throughout the 20th century remain accessible and still occasionally turn up in circulation. The red and blue seals and serial numbers, and interesting inscriptions and obligations found on notes from the 1920s to 1950s make these items fascinating conversation pieces.
One very common collecting area for all types of US currency is the pursuit of fancy serial numbers. The most often pursued of the fancy serial numbers are the very low (i.e. 00000062) and the very high (i.e. 99999302). It's interesting to note here that even though low serial numbers are more popular, high serial numbers are more rare because not every series reaches the high numbers.
Star Notes have a special serial number produced when notes are destroyed because of production errors. Star notes have an asterisk (*) before or after the serial number. The purpose of the star note is to maintain the correct count of notes in a serial number run without reproducing the serial number.
Other commonly pursued serial numbers are:
After you've begun to accumulate a quantity of bills, you'll probably want develop a storage system that helps you organize and display your collection. Almost all collectors use some type of clear plastic sleeve that protects the note while allowing it to be easily examined from both sides. There are essentially three variations on this theme. First, individual holders are available in various thickness that cover and protect the entire note. These holders are then typically stored standing up in a box. The box system is great for being flexible when you add, remove, or reorganize bills from your collection, but not such a great way to display them. Also available are currency wallets and albums with the clear plastic sleeves built-in. Wallets and albums are great for display, but tend to be a little more expensive and again reorganization can be tricky. The third common option is something called a stock sheet, which is essentially an album page designed for a generic three-ring binder.
The most important thing about using clear plastics to store your banknotes is to only use products designed for long-term archival storage of collectibles. Most common plastics contain a compound called PVC, which deteriorates over time releasing acids and gases which will ruin notes. The easiest way to ensure that your storage system is safe is to use products sold by currency, stamp or coin dealers. (See the Links page for a few ideas).
Although this site encourages collecting paper money directly from circulation without much regard to condition, you should be aware that many currency collectors are very concerned with the condition of a note. Over time, collectors have developed a grading system which is an effective way to quickly describe condition. Although there is no absolute standard for grading terms and their meaning, most collectors, dealers, price guides, and organizations would adhere to something like the following:
Crisp Uncirculated (UNC or CU): Absolutely no sign of wear or handling. No folds, creases, or bent corners.
About Uncirculated (AU): Essentially in UNC condition with a slight imperfection such as a counting fold on one corner or an uncreased bend in the center.
Extremely Fine (EF or XF): Three light folds or one strong fold which breaks the surface. Paper is clean and bright with original sheen. There may be slight rounding at the corners.
Very Fine (VF): May have several folds although the note is still crisp and has a minimum of dirt. There may be minor tears or very small holes. Corners also show wear but not full rounding.
Fine (F): A circulated note where a definite softening has occurred and individual folds and creases may no longer be visible. No tears may extend into the printing. This is grade should be considered about average for what you might find in circulation.
Very Good (VG): Tears and small holes with no remaining crispness. Staining may have occurred. No missing pieces.
Good (G), Fair and Poor: The continuum of shabby notes. Missing pieces, writing on the note etc. A worn out note.