Dollar bill size: democratic gesture?

I’ve often wondered why US dollar bills and their multiple aren’t different sizes, to assist the blind in distringuishing between them. I received this email just now from my brother:

Is there any truth in this?

(And don’t you think he should join the boards?)

sounds like hogwash to me. I think it’s so the mints don’t have to spend money on different cutting machines. They can use the same one for each denomination.

I think the size of our money should shrink in proportion to inflation rates, but that’s just me.

Surely the US treasury has enough money to have more than one size cutting machine… Even us semi-third-world Euro nations do.

I’ve got it!

The Treausry should start issuing differently shaped banknotes. The resulting surge in sales of new, bigger wallets would stimulte the economy all the way to LA-LA land. Oh, wait. Isn’t that GWs policy anyway?

I though you guys had to cut them by hand? How do your ATMs work with different sized bills?

I’m suprised there’s no physical imprint or seal on the bills to assist the blind. If they can run a thin ribbon through the bills, they can put a braille imprint on them.

ATMs just spew out different sized bills, and vending machines that read notes, just read different sized bills. It’s not difficult to make machines that do this - in fact, most countries do. The US appears to be unusual in having same-size bills.

Actually, Tapioca, the government should pay people to bury billions of dollar bills underground, and then private enterprise can dig 'em all up. Keynes would rise from the dead.

Ours polymer notes are different sizes, Munch, and they come out of the ATM just fine. They are also textured for the blind and for security purposes. And coloured too.

We’re a democracy as well. We do have twaddle though.

Hawthorne - you forgot the cute little windows in them :slight_smile:

The issue is not at the mint’s end: jjimm is right, cutting the bills in different sizes would involve a negligible additional expense. The issue is at the merchant’s end. The currency has been the same uniform size for about a century now, and nearly every brick-and-mortar merchant in the United States uses a cash register with uniform trays for the different denominations. (Remember how much fuss some merchants raised when the Treasury introduced the new two-dollar denomination because they needed an extra tray for it?) The currency-counting machines in banks are also designed with uniformly sized currency in mind.

OK, so why did it start off that way? Or was it a cost-cutting measure back in the day? Or was the reasoning more political than that - ‘democratic’ or indeed ‘look at us, we’re no longer Europeans’?

Greek currency was really annoying. The size of the bill didn’t coorespond to the denomination. For instance (going on memory here), the smallest bill size was 100 drachmas, next was the 50 drachma bill, then the 1 drachma. The largest (currency and denomination, AFAIK) was the 10,000 drachma bill. Made for a very messy wallet.

I guess so, though just over a year ago a load of countries, including my adopted home, just entirely changed currency - sure, it cost a lot in total, but the individual costs weren’t that high.

I guess the reason to change in the US (i.e. to help the blind) wouldn’t warrant the hassle.

The change in European currency was driven by a policy objective–a single transnational economy–that was unrelated to changing the money’s form. Since each European nation had been printing its own currency and using its own esthetic standards for its money, as a result of which there was no uniform size for notes, it was inevitable that the move to a single currency would require a new currency of a different size than some or all nations had theretofore been using.

But the United States is already a single economy. The policy motive that drove the change in European currency is therefore absent here.

Point taken. However both Ireland and the UK have totally overhauled their banknotes’ sizes twice in my lifetime.

That does sound annoying. Almost as annoying as a coin worth .10 being smaller than coins worth .01 and $.05 :smiley:

… stupid precious metals … keeping us from being the most advanced nation in terms of coinage logic …

OK. Here’s my “35-years in the coin business” point of view. I’m fairly smart on US coin and currency history. I make mistakes. But I post what I think is the correct info.

The US., NOT AS A GOVERNMENT, starting issuing banknotes around the 1810’s. They were of a rather standard size. I’ll try to post later what it was. It was definitely larger than what we have today.

The notes were issued by private individuals and private government/city/state entities. This continued until the Civil War, and in 1862, the U.S. Government started printing U.S. Government banknotes. And from then on, the U.S. Government was the issuer of notes. The private banks and individuals and the myriad of issuing concerns were doomed to eternity. It became illegal to print your own money.

The banknote sizes, in the US, were essentially standard from the 1810’s untill the US gov’t decided to reduce the size in 1928-29. That has been the size of our notes until today.

Sounds like a great subject for a staff report, newest SDSTAFF Samclem?

They don’t have to be wildly-different sizes. Australian banknotes are all identical heights; only the lengths vary. (Taking a sample from my wallet, the $50 note is about 2 cm longer than the $5.) I don’t think the average register tray is so precisely measured so that making some notes marginally smaller and others marginally larger would render it useless.

Oh, and you also need pretty colours on your notes. :slight_smile:

I’m no numismatist, but I do know a little about the political history of American currency, so let me expand a little on samclem’s post.

Before the Civil War, there was no standardization. Currency was issued by state-chartered banks, with no national regulation.

During the Civil War, two things happened: (1) the government started printing its own currency, or greenbacks, in order to pay its bills; and (2) the government restricted private bank note issue to nationally chartered banks, under federal regulation. I believe that part of that regulation was that the notes had to be a standard size. See here for some pictures of national bank notes.

After 1913 the government got into bank note issue as well, with the creation of the Federal Reserve. Private banks continued to issue bank notes until the Great Depression, and then were forced to stop.

So the size standardization appears to date back to the Civil War. The last size change, as noted, was in 1928-29. Why have we never gone to differently sized bills? I don’t know, but Americans seem to be awfully resistant to monetary changes. In my lifetime we’ve rejected the $2 bill, and the dollar coin twice, and we can’t get rid of the stinking penny. Must be something in the water.