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.
On July 25, 1991, U.S. Treasury secretary Nicholas F. Brady and
Federal Reserve Chairman Alan Greenspan unveiled the Series 1990 $100
Federal Reserve note, which featured a modest change to the existing
design: a denominated, vertical, polyester security thread and
microprinting around the vignette of Benjamin Franklin. The redesigned
notes would enter circulation in August of 1991.
The new security features were the Treasury’s answer to an increase
in the counterfeiting of $100 FRNs, which circulate around the globe.
A repeating microprinted message, UNITED STATES OF AMERICA, can be
seen around Franklin’s portrait and appears as an additional line of
ink, which can only be read when magnified.
The security thread appears vertically to the left of the black
Federal Reserve seal. The thread bears microprinting of USA 100
repeated along the length of the thread. The thread can be seen only
when the note is held up to the light.
The $50, $20, $10 and $5 FRNs with anti-counterfeiting devices were
produced over the next few years.
But a second wave of increased anti-counterfeiting devices was soon
to appear. Details about the second phase of paper money design
changes during the 1990s were made public July 13, 1994, during a
hearing before the House Banking, Finance and Urban Affairs Committee.
The announced changes included “an enlarged off-center portrait on
each denomination; a matching watermark; an enhanced security thread
in a different location on each denomination; expanded use of
microprinting in the design,” and other devices.
The new designs became a reality with the issuance of the Series
1996 $100 Federal Reserve note early in 1996. The 1996 release carried
the most significant design changes to U.S. paper money in 67 years.
As announced in 1994, the new notes also had a watermark portrait of
Benjamin Franklin, and additional anti-counterfeiting features. The
primary colors of the notes remain black and green.
However, the Series 1996 $100 FRNs were the first to feature
color-shifting ink, found on the numeral 100 in the lower right corner
of the face. Other changes made to the note design were not aimed at
That launch of the $100 note in 1996 was followed in 1997 with the
release of the Series 1996 $50 note, the Series 1996 $20 FRN in 1998,
and Series 1999 $10 and $5 FRNs in 2000. All of the notes were in the
same design style as the Series 1996 $100 note. All denominations
incorporated some, if not all, of the anti-counterfeiting features
introduced on the Series 1996 $100 note.
The addition of subtle, background colors in FRNs in 2004 was the
next makeover for the small-size notes. The first of the color-added
notes were the Series 2004 $20 FRNs, with shades of pastel green and
peach ink in the background, which were released in October 2003.
Following the release of colorized $20 FRNs, Series 2004 $50 FRNs,
with blue and red background colors, were released in October 2004. In
March 2006, redesigned Series 2004 $10 FRNs with splashes of yellow
and orange were issued. The Series 2006 $5 FRNs, with light purple and
gray, were issued in 2008.
The redesign of the $5 FRNs was not in the master plan, but in 2005
Secret Service agents working with their counterparts in Colombia had
discovered genuine $5 FRNs were being bleached and overprinted with
designs from $100 FRNs.
In April 2010, the Federal Reserve Bank of New York in New York City
was the site of an exhibit on counterfeiting. The exhibit was jointly
organized by the American Numismatic Society and the Federal Reserve
Bank with the cooperation of the U.S. Secret Service.
One of the displays showed the machinery used to “bleach” ink from
genuine $5 FRNs and to print $100 FRN designs on the genuine paper.
Because of this, U.S. Treasury officials announced in June 2006 that
the $5 FRN would undergo a redesign and upgrade of security features.
Redesigned $5 FRNs were placed into circulation in March 2008.
Government officials did not stop in their efforts to improve the
anti-counterfeiting features of U.S. paper money, though the
introduction of a new generation of notes would be delayed beyond
their original release date.
More of Michele Orzano's story on small-size notes 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: