By the 1920s, the number of notes produced annually by the Bureau of Engraving and Printing was huge and ever increasing. Production costs also went up, due to the tremendous amounts of specialized paper and ink that were needed. One way to cut expenses was to reduce the size of the notes. And that's precisely what they did.
Small-Size Legal Tender Notes 1929-1969
Legal Tender Notes are the longest-lived type of U.S. paper money! Also known as United States Notes, these were first authorized in 1862, and although none have been issued since 1969, they are all still legal tender today. All small-size Legal Tender Notes have a red Treasury seal and red serial numbers.
$5 Legal Tender Note – Series 1928A
A distinguished portrait of Abraham Lincoln is featured on the face of this note, and a view of the Lincoln Memorial in Washington, D.C. is depicted on the back. The note shown is from Series 1928A.
Small-Size Silver Certificates 1929-1968
These popular notes were once backed by an equivalent amount of silver deposited into the U.S. Treasury, payable to the bearer upon demand for the note's face value in precious metal. All small-size Silver Certificates have a blue seal and serial numbers.
$1 "Funnyback" Silver Certificate – Series 1928A
Seen on the face is a classic portrait of George Washington. The back of this note features a large, ornately engraved ONE, plus fancy borders and scrollwork. These notes are nicknamed "Funnybacks," because at first glance, the back of the note seems mismatched in design with the front. The note shown above is from Series 1928A.
Small-Size National Bank Notes 1929-1935
National Bank Notes were originally authorized in the early 1860s to allow banks which had been "chartered" to issue their own currency. By 1929, over 14,000 banks had been chartered as National Banks. All small-size National Bank Notes are from Series 1929 have a brown seal and serial numbers, and were issued until mid-1935, when the bonds securing these notes were called in. There are two different types of small-size nationals: Type 1, with the charter number shown twice, and Type 2, with the number shown four times.
$5 National Bank Note – Series 1929, Type 2
This note features a classic portrait of Abraham Lincoln on the face, and the Lincoln Memorial on the back. The note shown is from Series 1929, Type 2, and was issued by the First National Bank of Laporte, Pennsylvania.
Small-Size Federal Reserve Notes 1929-Present
In 1913, a central banking system was established as a result of the Federal Reserve Act. This created a new type of note called the Federal Reserve Note (commonly referred to as FRN), issued by the Federal Reserve System. Today, these notes make up 99.85% of all paper money in circulation. They are backed by the system, not the individual banks. (Read more: Federal Reserve Districts)
From $1 to $10,000
Although issued in denominations from $1 through $10,000, the highest denomination notes seldom have ever been seen by the public. The low denomination $1 and $2 dollar Federal Reserve Notes have only been issued since 1963, but the $5, $10, $20, $50 and $100 notes have been printed for the entire 75 years that small-size paper money has been in existence. Since 1945, no FRNs over $100 have been printed. Beginning in 1969, a great many notes of $500 and higher have been redeemed and destroyed as they were deposited into the Federal Reserve System. Shown are many of the familiar Federal Reserve Notes, from the $1 note with Washington's portrait to the color-shifting Series 2004 $20 and the Series 1996 $100 note. Plus, there is the high denomination $500 note with President William McKinley, and the $10,000 note with Salmon P. Chase, Secretary of Treasury. The faces all have green seals and serial numbers and engraved backs.
World War II Emergency Notes 1942-1945
World War II brought about some collectible varieties of small-size U.S. currency – specially printed notes designed to be used in certain geographical locations during the war. Some were issued for use during the invasions of North Africa and Europe, others were intended for use on the Hawaiian Islands. These notes are sought after by collectors as true mementos of World War II.
Hawaii Overprint Notes – 1942
These notes were an economic defense against a Japanese invasion and possible takeover of Hawaii. Specially marked notes, distinguishable by brown Treasury seals and serial numbers, were issued seven months after the attack on Pearl Harbor. In addition, each one was overprinted with HAWAII on the face and back. These notes would have been declared worthless if large quantities were ever captured by enemy forces.
$10 North African Invasion Notes – 1942
This special currency was issued to the U.S. troops that landed in North Africa in 1942 and began the advance into Axis-held Europe from the south. Because of the yellow Treasury seals, the notes could be easily identified and declared worthless in case enemy forces captured large quantities of cash. The notes were Silver Certificates, but with a difference – the Treasury seals were printed in yellow instead of the normal blue.
Small-Size Gold Certificates 1929-1933
Gold Certificates were backed by an equivalent amount of gold deposited into the U.S. Treasury that was payable to the bearer upon demand for the note's face value. With Roosevelt's Gold Reserve Act of 1933, all Gold Certificates became obsolete. These popular collectibles are genuine reminders of the days when U.S. paper currency was "as good as gold!"
$20 Gold Certificate – Series 1928
A portrait of Andrew Jackson is on the face of this note, with a view of the White House on the back. Along with being reduced in size in 1929 (as were all other notes), Gold Certificates lost their distinguishing gold-colored back design when the notes became standardized. However, their Treasury seal and serial numbers continued to be printed in gold ink. The note shown is
a $20 Gold Certificate from Series 1928.
$10 Gold Certificate – Series 1928
A portrait of Alexander Hamilton, America's first Secretary of the Treasury, is featured on the face, and a view of the U.S. Treasury Building in Washington, D.C. is engraved on the back. Like the other small-size Gold Certificates, the Treasury seals and the serial numbers are printed in gold. The note shown is a $10 Gold Certificate from Series 1928.