It's all about money. (Banknote questions)

Couple of questions about them. Maybe (some or all) covered before, if yes, forgive me.

  1. One $1 bill I happened to have at home has the number B 35 97 35 74 A on it. I also checked several other $1 as well as one $5 bill, and they all had this letter-eight digits-letter scheme. One of those new $50 things, however, has two lettes-eight digits-letter, and one inexplicable “B2” mark below the serial number, but no “Federal Reserve Bank of XXX” coat of arms; it simply says “United States * Federal Reserve System”, without any comment on the location where it was printed. Any reasons for this?

  2. Is there any meaning encoded in the numbers, or is it straight serial, meaning there is some device in the printing office that prints the number on the note mentioned above (call it X), then switches one digit and prints X+1 (that’d be B 35 97 35 75 A or maybe B 35 97 35 74 B, depending on the meaning of the last letter. Any Straight Dope on this?) on the next bill exiting the machine?

  3. Are serial numbers recycled? The scheme on my $1 bill allows for a total of 26[sup]2[/sup] * 10[sup]8[/sup] different numbers, some 67.6 billion (if I calculated correctly). That’s awfully few, considering the number of bills circulating and the average lifespan of paper money. Besides, they’d surely run through the initial letters alphabetically, so the B series certainly would have been used up many decades ago and I couldn’t have a B bill if they didn’t recycle numbers. So they do re-use them, right?

  4. Who the hell pays for printing fresh money? Since all (or most of) the notes newly produced are replacement for worn-out ones issued only a few months before, bills must be a monster loss for the Fed, not to mention transportation costs. How much does producing a fresh bill cost, btw? And why didn’t they replace the $1 bill with coins long ago, saving bunches of money because coins last much longer - is this shortcoming only due to Susan Anthony’s unpopularity?

Lots of questions, but I count on the Teeming Millions.

Sorry I can’t be of much help on the other questions, but as far as #2, they are straight serial numbers. I really don’t know what the letters mean, but my WAG would be that they represent replacement status, much like the * (used to?) denotes.*

Otherwise, the numbers printed just run off in order (12345678, 12345679, etc).

*I’m not sure if the practice is still used today, but previously, serial numbers of bills that had been replaced because the original was destroyed would bear an asterisk next to the final serial character.

  1. Your $50 bill is a “Federal Reserve Note”. While the notes are printed and issued a little differently than the notes with a specific FRB branch name, once in circulation they are exactly the same. I have 2 in my wallet now, both $5’s.

  2. Straight serial numbers with no meaning. Each bill printed is one number higher than the previous bill. The letters do not change. The next time you get new bills from an ATM check them out. It’s not unusual for them to still be in sequential order. If you see a bill with a serial number like F12345678* (last letter replaced by a star symbol) it means that, for whatever reason, there is a break in the serial sequence at that bill. It’s known as a “star note” and they’re not uncommon.

  3. I don’t know how they could reuse serial numbers. No bill currently in circulation can have the same serial number as another bill of the same denomination. Serial numbers from destroyed bill could, theoretically, be re-used
    but since the bills are printed in serial number sequence and not ‘one from here, one from there’ sequence the whole range of previously issued numbers would have to have been destroyed. I don’t know the answer for sure, but I think it is no.

  4. I could not find the answer to the per bill cost of printing, but most of your other questions are answered at

DOctor Jackson, who is really a banker.

Thanks to both of you for you replys!

I took a closer look at all the bills I could grab and they all (except for the $50 one) were issued by one specific Fed branch. Each of those branches has a letter code that appears in the coat of arms (for example B for the FRB of New York or I for the Minneapolis one). The first letter of the numbers on all notes I examined corresponds to the specific FRB branch code, so I suppose the first letter’s meaning has been discovered.

But what about the last letter? It has to have a special job and it also has to change sooner or later. Maybe I should ask the Fed directly (or the Bureau of Engraving and Printing?).

About the reuse thing: The argument saying that they don’t get in worn-out ones in any order certainly is right, but if (as the link Doctor Jackson gives) they print 37 million bills a day, they have to recycle if they want to avoid running out of numbers sooner or later. And I would maybe not have such a weird mixture of high-numbered (such as a B 148… and an I 849…) in my much too empty purse if every number is a straight serial one-time item.

:Schnitte, thirsty for wisdom:

OK, I’m no expert but I do dabble in numismatics and … whatever the parallel term for bill collecting is (scriptophilia?)

Doctor Johnson basically nailed it, but to add a couple of points:

You’re right that the first letter corresponds to the FRB designation. I’m not aware that the second letter has any function other than to increase the number of possible serial number combinations by *26. Or in the case of the new ones, by 2626. Could be wrong on that, though.

Star notes replace notes that were spoiled during printing. To avoid duplication of serial numbers, they use a * instead of the letter.

You can’t duplicate serial numbers within a series. Look at the teeny print on the bottom of the face - “Series 1969” or some such. If the signatures on the note change within a design type (the series year), the series designation becomes “Series 1969A”, etc. Guess you’d have to change series if you used up all possible serial number combinations, too.

Not anymore, they don’t.

When Lawrence Summers replaced Robert Rubin as Sec. of the Tres., for example. Rubin’s series was 1995. Summers’ series was not 1995A, but 1999!

Series 1999 is still in use today. For some reason, the BEP hasn’t printed up any notes with Paul O’Neill’s signature on them.

Huh! I learn something new here everyday. Gotta check into that.

According to a post on the Where’s George message board, the new series with O’Neill’s signature will start to appear sometime this month.

Not just Susie’s unpopularity (which I think was justified, considering how often I myself mistook it for a quarter), but the Golden Sackie Buck is also unpopular. Why? 'Cause Merkins are idiots.

Whenever I go to the bank (which I increasingly rare because of ATMs and Direct Deposit) I always try to ask for a dozen or so dollar coins so that I do my part to keep them in circulation. Doesn’t look like it’s working.

There’s a lot of people who think that whatever the shortcomings/benefits of the Susie and the Sac were/are, an American dollar coin will never be successful unless they take the dollar bill out of circulation at the same time. Like Canada did with the Loonies, which have been a success.

So this means there are plenty of B 35 97 35 75 A bills out there - one of Series 1997, one of Series 1998, one of Series 1999,…?

Keeve said

Many Americans are idiots. But our idiocy is not responsible for the dollar coins NOT circulating. It is because we have an alternative(paper curency) in our pocket. Until that disappears, the coins won’t circulate.

If Canada had not wisely withdrawn their dollar bills at the same time they introduced the loon dollar, the loon dollar would probably not be circulating today. IMHO.