Currency from the United States Bureau of Engraving & Printing 1899 Large Black Eagle Silver Certificate Currency Note

Paper Money

U.S. Paper Money FAQ
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What is currency paper made of?
Currency paper is composed of 75% cotton and 25% linen.

How durable is paper currency?
It would take about 4,000 double folds (first forward and then backwards) before a note will tear.

What is the weight of a note?
The approximate weight of a note, regardless of denomination is (1) one gram. There are 454 grams in one (1) U.S. pound, therefore, there are 454 notes in (1) one pound (Avoirdupois system). Using the troy system, there are (12) twelve ounces in (1) one pound; therefore, if one note weighs approximately (1) one gram, then (1) troy pound contains approximately 375 notes.

What was the highest denomination note ever printed?
The largest note ever printed by the Bureau of Engraving and Printing was the $100,000 Gold Certificate, Series 1934. These notes were printed from December 18, 1934, through January 9, 1935, and were issued by the Treasurer of the United States to Federal Reserve Banks only against an equal amount of gold bullion held by the Treasury. The notes were used for transactions between Federal Reserve Banks and were not circulated among the general public.

Why were certain individuals chosen to be pictured on our paper currency?
The Secretary of the Treasury is responsible for the selection of the designs, including the portraits, which appear on paper currency. The July 11, 1862 Act of Congress provided:

"That the Secretary of the Treasury be, and is hereby authorized, in case he shall think it expedient to procure said notes, or any part thereof, to be engraved, printed, and executed, in such form as he shall prescribe, at the Treasury Department in Washington, and under his direction; and he is hereby empowered to purchase and provide all machinery and materials, and to employ such persons and appoint such officers as may be necessary for this purpose."
The portraits currently appearing on the various denominations of paper currency were adopted in 1929 when the size of the notes was reduced. Prior to the adoption of this smaller sized currency, a special committee was appointed by the Secretary of the Treasury to study this aspect of the design. It was determined that portraits of Presidents of the United States have a more permanent familiarity in the minds of the public than any others. This decision was somewhat altered by the Secretary of the Treasury to include Alexander Hamilton, who was the first Secretary of the Treasury; Salmon P. Chase, who was Secretary of the Treasury during the Civil War and is credited with promoting our National Banking System; and Benjamin Franklin, who was one of the signers of the Declaration of Independence. All three of these statesmen were well known to the American public.

Treasury Department records do not reveal the reason that portraits of these particular statesmen were chosen in preference to those of other persons of equal importance and prominence. By law, only the portrait of a deceased individual may appear on U.S. currency and securities. Specifics concerning this law may be found under Unites States Code, Title 31, Section 5114(b).

Who is featured in the portraits on U.S. paper currency?
$1 Note (Face) - George Washington (1st U.S. President) (Back) - The Great Seal of the United States
$2 Note (Face) - Thomas Jefferson (3rd U.S. President) (Back) - Signing of the Declaration of Independence
$5 Note (Face) - Abraham Lincoln (16th U.S. President) (Back) - Lincoln Memorial
$10 Note (Face) - Alexander Hamilton (1st Secretary of the Treasury) (Back) - U.S. Treasury Building
$20 Note (Face) - Andrew Jackson (7th U.S. President) (Back) - White House
$50 Note (Face) - Ulysses Grant (18th U.S. President) (Back) - U.S. Capitol
$100 Note (Face) - Ben Franklin (Statesman) (Back) - Independence Hall
$500 Note* (Face) - William McKinley (25th U.S. President) (Back) - Numeral 500 and the ornamental phrase "Five Hundred Dollars"
$1000 Note* (Face) - Grover Cleveland (22nd & 24th U.S. President) (Back) - Numeral 1000 and the ornamental phrase "One Thousand Dollars"
$5000 Note* (Face) - James Madison (4th U.S. President) (Back) - Numeral 5000 and the ornamental phrase "Five Thousand Dollars"
$10,000 Note* (Face) - Salmon Chase (U.S. Treasury Secretary under Lincoln) (Back) - Numeral 10,000 and the ornamental phrase "Ten Thousand Dollars"
$100,000 Note* (Face) - Woodrow Wilson (28th U.S. President) (Back) - Numeral 100,000 and the ornamental phrase "One Hundred Thousand Dollars". This note never appeared in general circulation, and was only used in transactions between Federal Reserve Banks
* = Notes no longer in print or circulation

Have any African Americans been pictured on U.S. currency?
There are no African Americans pictured on U.S. currency. There were four African American Registers of the Treasury, however, whose signatures appeared on the currency. They were Blanche K. Bruce, Judson W. Lyons, William T. Vernon and James C. Napier. Until the series 1923 currency, the two signatures on almost all currency (except Fractional Currency and Demand Notes) were of the Treasurer and the Register. During this period four of the 17 registers were African American. The fifth African American whose signature appeared on currency was Azie Taylor Morton. Ms. Morton was the 36th Treasurer of the United States. She served from September 12, 1977, to January 20, 1981.

What is the average life span of a Federal Reserve Note?
The average life span of a Federal Reserve Note varies by denomination:
Life Span
$ 1 ...............
$ 5 ...............
$ 10 .............
$ 20 .............
$ 50 .............
$100 ............ 21 months
16 months
18 months
24 months
55 months
89 months

Why is green ink used to print U.S. currency?
The reason for the selection of green as the color for the backs of U.S. currency has long been among the more popular questions put to the BEP. No definite explanation can be made for the original choice; however, it is known that at the time of the introduction of small-sized notes in 1929, the use of green was continued because pigment of that color was readily available in large quantities, the color was relatively high in its resistance to chemical and physical changes, and green was psychologically identified with the strong and stable credit of the Government. In the course of preparing this history, much attention was given to the matter. Extensive research developed evidence in support of the following explanation:

With the growing popularity of U.S. currency and the development of photography in the mid-1800s, it was customary to print the notes in black combined with colored tints as a deterrent to counterfeiting. The early camera saw everything in black. Features that were distinguishable on a note by color variant lost their individuality when reproduced photographically. However, the counterfeiter soon discovered that the colored inks then in use could easily be removed from a note without disturbing the black ink. He could eradicate the colored portion, photograph the remainder, and then make a desired number of copies to be overprinted with an imitation of the colored parts. The solution to the problem lay in the development of an ink that could not be erased without adversely affecting the black coloring. Such an ink was developed and the patent rights were purchased by Tracy R. Edson, who later was one of the founders of the American Bank Note Company. This is one of the same firms that produced the first paper money issued by the United States. The faces of these and other early notes produced under contract were printed with a green tint, presumably of the protective ink.

It is not unusual in printing with oil-base-type inks, such as was the "patent green," for the color to strike through to the opposite side of a sheet. It might, therefore, be conjectured that the backs of the early notes were printed in a darker shade of ordinary green to make the tint "strike through" less obvious.
Since the transition of printing money exclusively at the Bureau of Engraving and Printing was gradual, it is logical to assume that the backs of the notes produced there during the intervening period were printed in green for the sake of uniformity. Once the BEP was on full-scale production, there was no reason to change the traditional color and so the practice was continued.

What is the origin of the $ sign?
The origin of the "$" sign has been variously accounted for, however, the most widely accepted explanation is that the symbol is the result of evolution, independently in different places, of the Mexican or Spanish "P's" for pesos, or piastres, or pieces of eight. The theory, derived from a study of old manuscripts, is that the "S" gradually came to be written over the "P," developing a close equivalent of the "$" mark. It was widely used before the adoption of the United States dollar in 1785.

What is legal tender?
31 USC 5103. Legal Tender United States coins and currency (including Federal Reserve Notes and circulating notes of Federal Reserve Banks and National banks) are legal tender for all debts, public charges, taxes, and dues. Foreign gold or silver coins are not legal tender for debts.

However, there is no Federal statute which mandates that private businesses must accept cash as a form of payment. Private businesses are free to develop their own policies on whether or not to accept cash unless there is a state law which says otherwise.

What is a Celebrity Note?
A celebrity note is a note upon which the portraits of well-known personalities (such as Santa Claus and movie stars) are temporarily affixed. They, for the most part, are found to be genuine United States currency. Private businesses produce these novelty items by purchasing new currency notes from banks and subsequently apply the picture of a well-known personality over the engraved portrait on the note by means of a pressure-sensitive adhesive. These businesses then charge their customers premium prices.

There are at least two statutes, 18 USC 333 and 18 USC 475, which may apply to celebrity notes . 18 USC 333 prescribes criminal penalties against anyone who "mutilates, cuts, defaces, disfigures, or perforates, or unites or cements together, or does any other thing to any bank bill, draft, note, or other evidence of debt issued by any national banking association, or Federal Reserve bank, or the Federal Reserve System, with intent to render such bank bill, draft, note, or other evidence of debt unfit to be reissued".

Additionally, 18 USC 475 prescribes criminal penalties against anyone who "designs, engraves, prints, makes, or executes, or utters, issues, distributes, circulates, or uses any business or professional card, notice, placard, circular, handbill, or advertisement in the likeness or similitude of any obligation or security of the United States issued under or authorized by any Act of Congress or writes, prints, or otherwise impresses upon or attaches to any such instrument; obligation, or security, or any coin of the United States, any business or professional card, notice, or advertisement, or any notice or advertisement whatever". The prohibition contained in section 475 may apply when a celebrity note is being used as a form of commercial advertising.
A determination of the legality of any particular celebrity note is a matter within the authority of the Department of Justice. The Bureau of Engraving and Printing's position regarding this matter is that this and similar other treatments of United States currency are demeaning. This type of enterprise is neither endorsed nor authorized by officials at the Bureau of Engraving and Printing.

Was Confederate currency printed by the Bureau of Engraving and Printing?
The Bureau of Engraving and Printing has exclusively designed, engraved, and printed all United States paper money since 1862. However, Confederate States Notes were not produced by the BEP and are not obligations of the United States Government.

If genuine and in good condition, Confederate Notes may be of interest to collectors of old currencies. The names and addresses of collectors and dealers are likely to be found online or at your local library.

Do $3 notes exist?
The Bureau of Engraving and Printing has never been authorized to print a $3 note. However, during the early 1800's, banks operating under Federal or state charters issued notes of that denomination. These notes were printed by private contractors and are not obligations of the federal government.

Which of our Founding Fathers are found on the U.S. currency we use today and why?
Many denominations of today's Federal Reserve Notes feature portraits of men regarded as Founding Fathers of the country because of their roles in creating and developing the new nation of the United States of America. Some of the accomplishments of the Founding Fathers that appear on U.S. paper money are listed below.

George Washington (1732-1799) $1 Federal Reserve Note
Member of the First and Second Continental Congresses (1774-1775)
Commander-in-Chief of the American Revolutionary Army (1775-1783)
President of the Constitutional Convention (1787)
First President of the United States (1789-1797)
Thomas Jefferson (1743-1826) $2 Federal Reserve Note
Member of the Second Continental Congress (1775-1776)
Author/Signer of the Declaration of Independence (1776)
First Secretary of State (1790-1793)
Third President of the United States (1801-1809)

Alexander Hamilton (1755-1804) $10 Federal Reserve Note
Served in the American Revolutionary Army (1775-1781)
Member of the Constitutional Convention (1787)
Signer of the U.S. Constitution (1787)
First Secretary of the Treasury (1789-1795)

Benjamin Franklin (1706-1790) $100 Federal Reserve Note
Served in the Second Continental Congress (1775-1776)
Member of the Constitutional Convention (1787)
Negotiated peace treaty with Great Britain (1781-1783)
Signer of the Declaration of Independence and U.S. Constitution (1776/1787)

What is the significance of the Great Seal of the United States on Paper Currency?
The face (obverse) of the Great Seal first appeared on the back (reverse) of the $20 Gold Certificate, Series 1905. In 1935, both the face and back of the seal appeared for the first time on paper money on $1 Silver Certificates.
Mandated by the First Continental Congress in 1776, the Great Seal took many years of work by multiple individuals and committees before final adoption in 1782. The Department of State is the official keeper of the seal. A description and explanation of both the obverse and reverse of the seal comes from the Department of State pamphlet The Great Seal of the United States (September 1996):

Obverse Side of the Great Seal: The most prominent feature is the American bald eagle supporting the shield, or escutcheon, which is composed of 13 red and white stripes, representing the original States, and a blue top which unites the shield and represents Congress. The motto E Pluribus Unum (Out of many, one), eludes to this union. The olive branch and 13 arrows denote the power of peace and war, which is exclusively vested in Congress. The constellation of stars denotes a new State taking its place and rank among other sovereign powers.

Reverse Side of the Great Seal: The pyramid signifies strength and duration: The eye over it and the motto Annuit Coeptis (He [God] has favored our undertakings) allude to the many interventions of Providence in favor of the American cause. The date underneath is that of the Declaration of Independence and the words under it, Novus Ordo Seclorum (A new order of the ages), signify the beginning of the new American era in 1776.

Why is the phrase In God We Trust on U.S. currency?
The use of the national motto on both U.S. coins and notes is required by two statutes, 31 U.S.C. 5112(d) (1) and 5114(b), respectively. The motto was not adopted for use on U.S. paper money until 1957. It first appeared on some 1935G Series $1 Silver Certificates, but didn't appear on U.S. Federal Reserve Notes until the Series 1963 currency. This use of the national motto has been challenged in court many times over the years that it has been in use, and has been consistently upheld by the various courts of this country, including the U.S. Supreme Court as recently as 1977.

The Department of the Treasury and the Department of Justice intend to actively defend against challenges to the use of the national motto. In 1992, a challenge was filed and successfully defeated in the U.S. District Court for the District of Maryland.


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