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Got Change for 500?
February 16, 2012

Since the United States ended the active circulation of paper money in denominations of $500 and higher in 1969, I have wondered from time to time what it was like to use them.

What exactly could you use them for?

In 1969 I earned about $10 a week from my paper route. A $500 bill would have taken virtually all my earnings for a year.

Needless to say, my thoughts on this topic remained simply idle fantasy.

Until the World Money Fair in Berlin.

At the Krause booth someone actually wanted to subscribe to World Coin News and tendered a 500-euro note as payment.

On that day, such a note was worth about $655. I had never seen anything but a photograph of this top euro denomination.

So, among the three of us at the booth we did not have change for such a large bill, so we had to decline the note with apologies.

Now I know what such a large denomination introduced in day-to-day life does to me.

It’s disruptive.

Also, I would hate to lose it if I had somehow been able to accept it and make change.

It is well known that the German economy is more cash based for ordinary transactions, but I suspect even ordinary Germans don’t regularly make change for a 500-euro note.

So much for my 43 years of idle speculation about large denominations. If they existed in the United States, they would only make my life more difficult as the 500-euro note did in Berlin.

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About the Author
David C. Harper has been a coin collector since 1963. He joined the Krause Publications editorial staff in 1978 and is currently editor of Numismatic News and World Coin News. He also edits two books annually, North American Coins & Prices and Coin Digest. He is the author of the Class of '63 column that runs each week in Numismatic News. His first bylined numismatic article appeared in the June 1971 issue of Coins Magazine and his various Krause Publications assignments included a stint as editor of the magazine 1980-1983. Harper received a bachelor of science degree from the University of Wisconsin-Oshkosh in 1977. He had a double major of journalism and economics.

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