Most of us handle a $1 bill on a daily basis, but how often have you stopped to look at what it's telling you? There's a lot there. Here's an annotated guide to understanding the various numbers, letters, and symbols structured around good old George Washington. You'll never look at the littlest bill the same again.
Graphic by Chloe Effron
1.THE NOTE-POSITION IDENTIFIER
Made up of the check letter and quadrant number, the note-position identifier indicates the physical spot that a particular bill occupied on a printing sheet.
2. FEDERAL RESERVE SEAL
Established in 1913, the Federal Reserve is made up of twelve banks that distribute currency. The seal bears the name of the issuing bank and a letter designating the district—"L" is the letter for San Francisco.
3. SERIAL NUMBER
The serial number appears twice on the front of the bill, once in the lower left hand corner and once in upper right hand corner. All bills above $2 have a serial number that begins with two letters: The first corresponds to the series year, and the second to the letter code of the bank that distributed the bill ($1 bills only have this letter). The numbers that follow are simply a counter keeping track of how many of that type of bill have been printed during the series at that particular Federal Reserve Bank. A single printing “run” exhausts the eight-digit count. After the numeric sequence, a final letter serves as part of the printing counter and is sometimes replaced by a star, which meant that there was an error in printing. A star sheet is used to replace the imperfect sheet.
4. FEDERAL RESERVE DISTRICT NUMBER
This number appears four times on the front of the bill. These many signifiers can be helpful in cases of mutilated currency.
5. FACE PLATE NUMBER
This helps to provide information about the printing plate used to create the note. Notes printed in the Forth Worth facility have an FW facility mark in front of the check letter and face plate number combination. A note that was printed on a web press can be identified by the lack of plate location or check number, and by the plate number on the back being located at the top of the letter E in the word ONE.
6. SIGNATURE OF THE SECRETARY OF THE TREASURY
Current Secretary of the Treasury Jacob J. Lew is the 76th person (all men) to hold the position.
7. SERIES YEAR
Contrary to popular belief, the series year does not denote the actual year that the bill was printed, but the year that the series began. A new series comes from a change in the Secretary of the Treasury, the Treasurer of the United States, a significant gap in production times, and/or a change to the note's appearance.
8. SIGNATURE OF THE TREASURER OF THE UNITED STATES
Current Treasurer Rosa Gumataotao Rios is the 43rd person to hold the position, which has been held exclusively by women since 1949.
Graphic by Chloe Effron
"In God We Trust" is the national motto of the United States and first appeared on paper currency in 1957, after a piece of 1955 legislation made it mandatory on all bills and coins. The motto was originally placed on coins due to increased religious sentiment during the Civil War. Secretary of the Treasury Salmon P. Chase received many appeals and instructed James Pollock, Director of the Mint at Philadelphia, to prepare a motto. It first appeared on the 1864 two-cent coin.
10. BACK PLATE NUMBER
Similar to the front plate number, the back plate number identifies the specific printing plate used to print the reverse side of the bill.
11. THE GREAT SEAL
The Great Seal appeared on the $1 bill in 1935, and we can thank President Franklin Roosevelt for one of the lasting design features. When it was first submitted for his approval, the obverse and reverse were swapped. Roosevelt rescinded his initial approval, made some changes (including the seal switch) and initialed "FDR."