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.
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 USPaperMoney.info. Images of their actual signature are included as available. Enjoy!