Old Pueblo Coin – Tucson, AZ

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Depression Era Scrip

Scrip or Script is a medium of exchange that is produced in place of federal currency. It can be made by a municipality, a bank, a business or individual.  In the late 1920’s and mid 1930’s the use of scrip spread to many areas of the country as cash was scarce and banks were closing down. Below are photos of some Scrip from the City of Detroit dated June 10, 1933.

The notes were printed by the Columbian Printing Company. They have the look of currency, but are printed on a plain paper, unlike the fiber paper the US uses. These notes also had water marks that run vertically near the ends of the notes. US notes of that era do not have water marks.

Detroit Depression Scrip 1933

Detroit Depression Scrip 1933

The front of the notes have a serial number and have a seal on them referring to them as “Series A”. It is roughly the same size as a current Federal Reserve Note (you know, the currency we use now).

1933 Detroit Depression Scrip

1933 Detroit Depression Scrip

The motto of Detroit is printed on the note. The Latin phrases read “SPERAMUS MELIORA” | “RESURGET CINERIBUS”.  This translates to “We hope for better things. It will arise from the ashes”. I’ve never seen a more prophetic motto! This motto was given to Detroit in 1805 after a fire destroyed much of the city.

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Martha Washington

US currency is rife with famous political figures. From Presidents to Secretaries of State to Generals, there are many men to collect. Many of these figures  you probably have never heard of unless you are a political junkie or history buff. Most of the women on US notes are allegorical, that is to say they are not real people but a figure representing a concept or a belief.

The exception is Martha Washington. She was prominently placed on the left hand side of the 1886 United States Silver Certificate. The portrait used is the famous Charles Francois Jalabert painting. It was engraved by Charles Burt. The front design for this note was used for 10 years. The back of the note was changed halfway through, in 1891. The 1886 note is very popular and is often simply referred to as a “Martha”.


Martha Washington on US 1891 Silver Certificate

I think it speaks to the spirit of the times when you look at who is on the currency – both in the past and present. Here is a list of the other people featured on the 1886 Series Silver Certificates.


  • $2 General Winfield Scott Hancock, Union General – Civil War
  • $5 Ulysses S Grant, 18th President and Union General – Civil War
  • $10  Thomas  Hendricks, Vice President March 4, 1885-Nov 25, 1885.  Died in office.
  • $20 Daniel Manning, Secretary of the Treasury from 1885 – 1887

Although higher denominations circulated at the same time, they were not from the 1886 series. When a knew series came out in 1896 (the so-called Educational series) Mrs. Washington was on the back of the note opposite her husband, president Washington. They are the only husband and wife together on a US note. Together the 1886 and 1896 Silver Certificates are among the most popular with collectors.


Back of the 1896 US Silver Certificate

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FRN Districts

There are a lot of numbers and letters involved with currency. On US Currency you will notice the long serial number. But what about those other numbers and letters on the sides of the serial numbers? What do they mean?



The B2 Indicates the district.


When the Federal Reserve system was developed in 1913 the country was divided into 12 districts (warning Hunger Game fans: No relation to the 11 districts). The districts sizes were determined by population first and geography second so the western districts cover huge tracks of land.

Name of District Number Alphabet
Boston 1 A
New York 2 B
Philadelphia 3 C
Cleveland 4 D
Richmond 5 E
Atlanta 6 F
Chicago 7 G
St Louis 8 H
Minnesota 9 I
Kansas City 10 J
Dallas 11 K
San Francisco 12 L


1928 $100 Features the number 10 for Kansas City

1950's Kansas City note with J for the District letter.

1950’s Kansas City note with J for the District letter.

The 1928 Series of Federal Reserve Notes were the first notes set at our current size.  Before 1928 they were larger. Today we call them large size and small size. The 1928 greenbacks used the alphabet at the front of the serial number and used the number in the seal and in the four corners.



The Federal Reserve Bank Notes of 1929 have the District listed by name and the letter in several spots.

The 1929 Federal Reserve Bank Note series had a crisp clean look with the name of the district on the note with the letters in the corner. One thing that is consistent over the years is that at the beginning of the serial number you will find the district letter.

Large Size


1914 Series with an Alpha-Numeric seal.


1918 Series $1 with Cleveland.

The 1914 Series Federal Reserve Notes have an alpha-numeric seal on it. So a note from New York will have a “2-B” in the seal. They also have it in the four corners of the note. The “Federal Reserve Bank Note” Series of 1918 does not use the large seal but does have the smaller annotations in the corners.



The black alphanumerics indicates the district, and the second letter in the serial number matches.

The black alphanumerics indicate the district, and the second letter in the serial number matches.


Map of the Districts


Map for the Federal Reserve Districts

Map for the Federal Reserve Districts


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What time is it?

Have you ever watched a sporting event with a friend and had an argument over a call made by the official? They will show the play in slow mo, and super slow mo and then you both come to the opposite conclusion as to if the pass was complete or incomplete.

This is the problem with the US $100 bill. Since 1929 the bill has had Independence Hall on the back of the note.  I have a couple of close up shots of some notes over the years. You can take a look at them and see for yourself what time you think it is.


1966 $100 US Note

1966 $100 US Note

1990 $100 Federal Reserve Note

1990 $100 Federal Reserve Note


After looking at both of these I considered self evident that the time is 2:22. After trying to find information on the significance of the time I came across THIS ARTICLE that says the BEP and FED claim the time is 4:10. This sounds like evidence, unless you consider the source…I don’t know of a source with less credibility than the FEDS! It sounds more like they have a negative reaction to the use of the time 2:22 because it was used in the movie National Treasure.

You can look at these images and tell me they say 4:10, however, on both notes the hand near the 2 appears shorter, especially on the 1990 note.  I did have another professional numismatist tell me that you could establish the difference in time based on the shadows that are cast. I happen to think the difference in time wouldn’t lend itself to a wide variation in shadows.

"A N.W. view of the state house in Philadelphia taken 1778," by Charles Willson Peale. (detail) The Library of Congress.

“A N.W. view of the state house in Philadelphia taken 1778,” by Charles Willson Peale. (detail) The Library of Congress.

When I look at the $100 bill I always thought it was neat to see the history. What I found out in the process is that the clock wasn’t even on the tower during the revolution. It wasn’t until 1828 when the building was redesigned that the clock was moved from the front of the building to the tower.  Therefore it is clear that the time on the clock was not there for historical reasons.

When the new $100 bill came out in early 2014 (2009 dated) I was surprised to see a new time on the clock. It was moved from 2:22 (or 4:10 if you are stubborn) to 10:30. This time they made one hand on the clock noticeably shorter, so there would be no arguments. The only question  left is why 10:30? If the time had no meaning, then why change it? Was the old time really 4:10? Did they let the artist pick the time? Can we start a new conspiracy? According to the BEP both images are taken from the original sketches by J.C Benzing, done in 1928.

The changes were among the steps in the new counterfeiting measures taken by the BEP. In case you think that is too subtle of a change, the other change on the new hundred is more dramatic, but just as hard to notice. The new hundred has the back side of the property instead of the front side. These anti-counterfieting changes may all be necessary and the changing time may be meaningless, but I am going to stay indoors on the 30th of October this year!

2009 $100 Federal Reserve Note

2009 $100 Federal Reserve Note

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What is MPC?

In 1946, shortly after the end of World War II, US military bases around the world got a whole new type of currency. They are called Military Payment Certificates. It was common, until then, for US enlisted men to get payed in foreign currency. This often created a black market where soldiers preferred trading cigarets  and other physical items instead of currency.



The first series of MPC was numbered 461. This series had 5 cent, 10c, 25c, 50c, $1, $5 and $10 notes. The highest denomination for any series was $20. Most series have similar designs for each denomination, and would change color schemes with each denomination.

MPC were originally printed by the Tudor Press Corporation of Boston and later the Forbes Lithographic Company, also of Boston. It wasn’t until 1964 that the Bureau of Engraving and Printing started printing MPC.

Like any currency, counterfeiting was a concern. To combat the issue Military Payment Certificates were switched out ever 18-24 months. The change over, or C-Day, would happen over night, in a 24 hour period, without warning. The old MPC would no longer be used and the counterfeiters would have to try working on the new ones.mpc1

Despite the fantastic designs, MPC are generally an infrequently collected item. They have a small, but fervent, collector base who meet annually at “MPC Fest”.  What this means as a new collector is that it is an easy series to start collecting and working your way through. Many of the notes can be acquired for less than $10 in decent condition. In fact, the hardest part in many instances is actually finding the notes. This means you can enjoy years of collecting, of enjoying the hunt, without breaking the bank.


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New $100 Review

October 13th, 2013 was the issue date for the new $100 bill.  It was 4 long years since they tried to issue the notes, but had several problems during the production process. The biggest addition is a holographic strip that runs vertically on the front of the note. The image shifts from the “Liberty Bell” to a “100”. It is a really nice purple color.


The note still has lots of micro-printing on it, as well as the watermark. The notes have a gold to copper color shift on the 100 in the bottom right corner as well as the Liberty Bell found in the ink well.  A large, multi-color “100” is on the back to help the visually impaired identify the note.

The back of the note has a newly refined version of  ”Independence Hall”. It looks sharp. I don’t know if there is a reason for the time on the Clock on Independence Hall, but it went from 2:22 on the old notes to 10:30 on the new note. Conspiracy theories enter here:_____________ . Maybe the artists simply took some liberties!


The new bust of Benjamin Franklin is sharp. Previously it was just his face. These notes seem to have cripser lines and design details then the last incarnation.  We’ll see if that is because they wanted to put their best foot forward on the roll out of the new (2009-A Series) notes, or if the new process is that much superior to the old process. We should know in 6 months.

Overall I believe it is a big improvement in not only the technology side of things, but also aesthetics.  The holographic strip jumps off the note and the note will compete with the much better designed notes of other countries (especially our mates up north, don’t-ya-know). The new $100 bill is a big step forward from the older design.

You can find more about the new $100 on the BEP’s website.

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