Editor’s note: In her September monthly Coin World cover
feature, Michele Orzano told the story of small-size notes and how
they changed American paper money. This is one of a series of
articles from this feature that will appear online at CoinWorld.com.
Read other posts in the series:
The year 1929 introduced many changes to the American way of life.
Perhaps the best known is the Great Depression, triggered by the Oct.
29, 1929, stock market collapse.
But another change occurred a few months before that and is still
evident today for those who use or collect paper money. Small-size
notes made their debut in the summer of 1929. The decision to downsize
paper money and the immediate and long-term effects of the decision
are interesting to explore.
Whittling down the number of types of paper money the
U.S. Treasury issued did simplify the printing process, but in some
ways also made it easier for counterfeiters, who had to learn how to
produce just one type of note instead of six. Not that counterfeiters
weren’t in action before these changes.
Today it’s the
job of the United States Secret Service to investigate counterfeiting.
But the U.S. Secret Service wasn’t formed until after the Civil
Many of its first agents came from the Union
Intelligence Service, which was headed up by private detective Allan
In 1861, Pinkerton, the founder of the
Pinkerton Detective Agency, was contracted by George Fenton, owner of
the Illinois Central Railroad, to investigate the possibility of the
railroad being taken over by Southern sympathizers.
During his investigation Pinkerton uncovered an assassination plot on
President-elect Abraham Lincoln’s life and he warned Fenton. Then
Pinkerton and his operatives carried out an elaborate ruse to safely
transport Lincoln through Baltimore.
The uncovering of
the assassination plot prompted Union Gen. George McClellan to hire
Pinkerton to organize the Union Intelligence Service to obtain
military information in the Southern states during the Civil War. In
addition to his agents, Pinkerton himself conducted investigative work
under the pseudonym of Maj. E.J. Allen.
During the late
19th century, skilled engravers were the hub of the counterfeiting
wheel. Counterfeiters generally required access to printing technology
and skills not available to many individuals.
years later, there began another change in life in America — access to
desktop scanners and computers and color photocopiers. Those
technological advances made it possible for “casual counterfeiters” to
produce enough cash for a night out on the town.
More of Michele Orzano's story on small-size notes, including a
look at the fight against counterfeiting since the 1990s, is on the
way! Check back with CoinWorld.com for the latest, or better yet,
let us tell you when a new post is up: