History of Currency Designs

The redesign of 1934

The gold recall of 1933 led to several changes in the legal backing of our currency, and hence to changes in the wording used on the notes themselves. At the same time, some of the notes also underwent more obvious changes in design, leading to the creation of the newly dated Series 1934.

The most drastic changes affected the GCs. Since gold was no longer in general circulation, the new Series 1934 GCs were issued only to the Federal Reserve Banks, and were not released to the public. These noncirculating notes had their backs printed in bright orange, rather than the traditional green; the back designs themselves, however, were unchanged. On the face side, the $1000 and higher notes now had their denominations expressed in large gray figures in the right field, as the smaller denominations always had had. The obligation on the GCs was changed to read "This is to certify that there is on deposit in the Treasury of the United States of America ____ dollars in gold payable to bearer on demand as authorized by law". And for the first (and only) time, a $100,000 denomination was printed; previously, the $10,000 had been the highest-denomination note produced.

FRN legends, 1928 and 1934

The Series 1934 FRNs received no real design changes, but only a new legend not referring to payment in gold: "This note is legal tender for all debts, public and private, and is redeemable in lawful money at the United States Treasury, or at any Federal Reserve Bank." For the FRNs, though, the $10,000 remained the highest denomination.

$1 SC obligations, 1928 and 1934

Although the gold recall did not affect the SCs directly, there was a simultaneous change in the law regarding silver: The SCs could now be backed by silver bullion in the Treasury, in addition to silver coinage. Therefore, their wording was also changed. All of the Series 1934 notes carry the shortened legend that had been introduced on the 1928E $1 SC, and the revised obligation "This certifies that there is on deposit in the Treasury of the United States of America ____ dollars in silver payable to the bearer on demand".

Typical 1934-series SC design

In addition, the Series 1934 SCs had the Treasury seal moved to the right side of each note, to the same position that it occupied on the FRNs; its former position on the left was now occupied by a large denomination numeral, also overprinted in blue. And for the first time, a small-size $5 SC was printed, joining the $1 and $10 already in production. The new $5 SC was given lathework borders identical to those on the $10 SC, the only case in which the same lathework style was used on different denominations.

Lathework borders,
$5 FRN, SC, and USN

The USNs not being directly backed by gold or silver, the changes affecting these notes were sufficiently minor that the series date was not advanced from 1928 to 1934. The legend was simplified, beginning with the Series 1928C $2 and Series 1928B $5, to read "This note is a legal tender at its face value for all debts public and private". At the same time, the border lathework on the $5 USN, which had previously been identical to that of the $5 FRN, was changed to a pattern differing from both the $5 FRN and the $5 SC. Lathework of yet another style was added to the $2 USN, which had had none before.

$2 USNs with and without lathework

The FRBNs and Nationals were not affected by the new metals policies. Indeed, the brief emergency production of FRBNs had already ended in January 1934, less than a year after it began; and in 1935 the Nationals would likewise cease to roll off the presses. With the GCs also out of circulation, the nation now had only three types of currency in production, instead of the former six.

Next: Series 1935, and some minor varieties

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