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 physical size of paper money probably rarely enters most
people’s mind. There’s likely more concern about the size of the
But the decision to downsize paper money and the immediate and
long-term effects of the decision are interesting to explore.
Anyone who’s ever watched an American western movie or TV program
has often seen scenes of gambling in a saloon, a train robbery or a
stagecoach stickup. What is used for paper money in those scenes
generally depicts what collectors refer to as large-size notes.
The lavishly engraved designs of actual large-size notes would catch
anyone’s eye, but for today’s audience it’s the physical size of the
money that triggers a second glance. Most genuine large-size notes
measure 7.5 inches by 3.125 inches.
For many collectors, those notes had it all — beauty, security and a
distinctive look. So why the change?
Treasury Department officials believed the change to a smaller size
would reduce the costs of production, paper and ink. The downsizing
concept was simple enough to understand but implementing the change
was a monumental undertaking for the Treasury.
It took 20 years from when U.S. Treasury Secretary Franklin MacVeagh
proposed the idea in 1909 until it became a reality. Three Treasury
secretaries and scores of other government officials pondered the
ramifications, argued about designs, and wrangled with machinery to
complete the task. Changes in presidential administrations and World
War I also played a part in the long delay of a decision.
In May 1927, Treasury Secretary Andrew W. Mellon approved the
designs and recommendations of yet another committee studying the
change in size. The new size would be 6.14 by 2.61 inches.
Mellon directed the Bureau of Engraving and Printing to take the
necessary steps to prepare plates for the new printing setup of 12
subjects per page instead of eight subjects used in printing the
large-size notes, according to the History of Bureau of Engraving and
Printing, published by the BEP.
Finally on June 30, 1929, the BEP completed production of the first
supply of small-size currency. The smaller size notes were immediately
released into circulation. The large-size notes remained legal to use
(and they still are) but were gradually withdrawn and replaced with
their smaller counterparts.
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: