Is the Series Year on Dollar Bills the Actual Year the Note Was Printed?

One of the most common misconceptions about the series year on United States currency is that the bill was actually printed in the same year. This is almost always true for coins, but not so much for USA paper money.

Common Question: Is the Series Year on Dollar Bills the Actual Year the Note Was Printed?

In two words: Not necessarily. For example, there are more than 10 different Friedberg catalog numbers for 1899 $1 Silver Certificates, the iconic “Black Eagle” note. The varieties of this note are distinguished by the signature combination from the Treasurer of the United States and the Secretary of the Treasury  (with the exceptions of Fr. 226-a and Fr. 229-a). If there are 10 different signature combinations, that doesn’t mean 1899 was a rough year at the Treasury 🙂 . Instead, it reflects the normal coming and going of Treasury officials, often long past the actual year on the bill.

Here’s an obvious example: Fr. 236 1899 $1 “Black Eagle” Silver Certificate with signatures of Speelman-White was NOT printed in 1899. Speelman and White served their respective terms in office well into the 1920s. That means $1 Black Eagles bearing the 1899 year were still being printed, most likely at the very beginning of each man’s respective term. Harley V. Speelman served as Register between 1/25/1922 – 9/30/1927. (By the way, “Harley” has to be the coolest first name for a government official 😉 ). Meanwhile, Frank White served as Treasurer between 5/2/1921 – 5/1/1928.  This respective Friedberg number was probably being printed and circulated in early 1922.

Source: Signers of United States Paper Money,

The above example represents the vast majority of United States currency with one common design and different Treasury Officials’ signatures. Note that Friedberg numbers aren’t always consecutive based on a new signature combination. The Friedberg standard catalog also includes all known design varieties, seal colors, seal sizes, and extremely rare notes produced under exceptional circumstances.

Also realize that a few signature combinations and series years of Large Size notes might be “out of order” based on who was serving when and in what capacity. For example, Albert U. Wyman served as Treasurer twice in two non-consecutive terms. He was initially Treasurer, 7/1/1876 – 6/30/1877. Then he took a break. 🙂 A few years later, he returned as Treasurer, 4/1/1883 – 4/30/1885.

Once small size notes began circulating in 1928, Treasury officials gradually tried to make things much simpler and consistent.

According to Schwartz and Lindquist’s Standard Guide to Small-Size U.S. Paper Money: “Prior to the Series of 1974, the series date on the face of each bill indicated the year in which the face design of the note was adopted. The capital letter following the series year indicates that a minor change was authorized in a particular series. Such a change occurred with a new Secretary of the Treasury or Treasurer of the United States. This policy was changed when William E. Simon became Secretary of the Treasury. He directed that the series year would be changed whenever there was a change in the Office of the Secretary of the Treasury. Now the series dates are advanced by one letter, or a new year is selected, the latter being more common recently. Consequently, each new signature now results in a surprise for the collector.”

Source: Standard Guide to Small-Size U.S. Paper Money, 10th Edition, page 17

In a nutshell, small size notes issued between 1928-1974 had their series year determined when the face design was chosen. Subsequent letters following the series year were used when either the Treasurer or Secretary of the Treasury changed. From 1974 moving forward, the series year or letter is only assigned when a new Secretary of the Treasury takes office.

That means all those 1950A, B,C,D, and E notes were NOT printed in 1950, but well into the early 1960s. Notes bearing the series of 1988 or 1988A were most likely printed long after 1988 when the Secretary of the Treasury was changed.

You can view all the signers of United States currency here at Images of their actual signature are included as available. Enjoy!

Treasury Secretary Nominee Jacob “Jack” Lew’s Signature A Little Loopy

This article was inspired by a thread at the PCGS Currency Forums, “Soon, Series 2013, now with pictures” – click here

The Fifty-Seventh Inaugural Ceremonies have come to a close, and now it’s back to business. Mr. Obama will be nominating a few new faces to his cabinet, including Jacob “Jack” Lew, for Treasury Secretary. Timothy Geithner, the current Treasury Secretary, will be leaving the cabinet for other ventures. A New York Times blog takes a look at his complex legacy and history with Treasury – here.

Policy implications aside, most paper money enthusiasts are eager to know how the prospective Treasury Secretary’s signature will appear on United States Currency. First, let’s meet Mr. Lew face to face. It’s only gentlemanly, of course, before we prattle about his John Hancock.

Jacob “Jack” Lew, Treasury Secretary Nominee

Mr. Lew was President Obama’s budget manager in the previous Presidential term. Now, he’s just a confirmation hearing away from signing NEW notes!

So what does his current signature look like?

Jacob Lew Signature
Jacob Lew Signature

What the %&$# ? Does Mr. Lew sign documents on a Titlt-A-Whirl? That’s a little Yankee Doodle for a government official, eh? Did Lew write prescriptions in a past life? Politico also questioned Mr. Lew’s hand-eye coordination – click here.

Kidding aside, if that’s his authentic signature, that’s what the engravers will have to put on the plates. There is some precedent for asking Treasury Secretaries to “try again” on their signatures, including outgoing Secretary Timothy Geithner. Here is Geithner’s signature prior to getting scolded by the Bureau of Engraving and Printing, from a New York Times article about him prior to taking office:

Timothy Geithner's original signature
Timothy Geithner’s original signature

That’s kinda nutty, too, and not unlike Mr. Lew in his preference for circular penmanship styles. Later, Geithner’s signature was engraved on Series 2009 notes as:

Timothy Geithner, official Secretary of the Treasury signature, Series of 2009
Timothy Geithner, official Secretary of the Treasury signature, Series of 2009

The Daily Beast has a nice slideshow of recent Treasury Secretary’s signatures – click here.

Wow! That’s quite a change. Some think Geithner’s modified chicken scratch is boring, bland, and most likely not even his own handwriting 🙂 . Others think it is institutional in appearance and appropriate, not to detract from the new design features of the latest Federal Reserve Notes being printed at B.E.P.

Geithner’s signature appears on the famously flawed Series of 2009 $100 bill that has YET to circulate as of the date of this article, January 22, 2013. Mum’s the word at Treasury as to when the new $100 will hit the streets. They are in the process of sorting through 1.1 billion creased error notes, which is no small task. Engineers and government officials have been shacked up inside the Fort Worth Printing facility for over a year trying to get the notes up to spec.

Back to Louie Lew – not a Kingmen song from the 1960s – if the B.E.P. was uptight about Geithner’s scribble-scrabble, they’re probably not going to be too tolerant Lew’s authentic signature, either. Our guess is he’ll have to rehearse several different styles before an acceptable rendition of his name is determined.

Imagine visiting the USA from the Far East, withdrawing your first Series 2013 $20 bills at JFK airport. After a 15 hour flight, screaming babies, and a measly bag of peanuts, you’ll naturally question the seriousness of the United States when its money bears the mark of someone trying to remain anonymous while attempting to close a bar tab stone drunk.

Joking aside, if and when Mr. Lew is officially the next Secretary of the Treasury, we welcome him and wish him the best of luck. Of all the problems facing the nation, his unique signature is the least of our worries. In the meantime, we’ll sit tight waiting for the first notes bearing his namesake to get into general circulation, in hopes of grabbing some rarities with remarkable etchings from very patient engravers.

Will “Loopy Lew” star notes eventually become one of the hobby’s most sought after rarities? Stick around, you’ll find out soon enough!