Exploring U.S. Small Size Notes: A Comprehensive Collector's Guide 1928-Present

Have you ever wondered about the evolution of U.S. paper currency? How did the transition from large-size to small-size notes shape the landscape of collecting?

In this comprehensive guide, we will answer these questions and more. We will explore the historical context surrounding the first release of small-size currency, uncover the nuances of their design, and provide you with practical tips for building a remarkable collection. Whether you're seeking to acquire rare variations, discover the stories behind each note, or simply expand your knowledge of U.S. paper currency.

Evolution of Small Size Notes:

In 1928, the United States experienced a significant transition from Large Size Notes to Small Size Notes. This transition was driven by several factors and recommendations from influential figures within the banking and government sectors. The main motive behind this transition was to modernize the currency, enhance practicality, and achieve significant cost savings.

Large Size Notes, which were used before 1928, were physically larger in dimensions, making them cumbersome to handle and store. They were also more susceptible to wear and tear due to their size and fragility. The decision to transition to smaller notes was officially recommended by the Secretary of the Treasury, Andrew W. Mellon. Mellon believed that reducing the size of U.S. banknotes would enhance their durability, ease of use, and security features.

To implement this change, the U.S. Bureau of Engraving and Printing began the process of designing and producing the new Small Size Notes. The designs were carefully crafted to incorporate intricate details and advanced security features that would deter counterfeiting attempts. The Small Size Notes series encompassed various types of banknotes.

The changeover started with the last of the large-size notes issued under Series 1923, which were replaced on July 10, 1929, with the release of the reduced-size notes of current proportions. The changes were made across all of the nation's circulating bills, including Silver Certificates, Gold Certificates, United States Notes, National Bank Notes, Federal Reserve Bank Notes, and Federal Reserve Notes​.

Exploring Different Types of Small-Size Paper Money

The public adapted quickly to the new notes, with financial institutions preparing for the changes and educating people on the new banknotes. The Great Depression may have aided in the transition, as many people cashed in their large-size bills to survive, which helped the large-size money to disappear from circulation​​.

  1. Silver Certificates: Silver Certificates were issued between 1928 and 1964. They represented a promise to redeem the banknote for a corresponding amount of silver bullion. Silver Certificates were distinguished by their blue Treasury seal. Initially, there is only a $1 denomination from the series of 1928 with the portrait of George Washington. The 1928 Silver Certificates were common, with around 640 million printed. The value of these notes today depends on the series and the condition, with the 1928C, 1928D, and 1928E series being rare and thus selling for more money. They were also the first notes to be called "funnybacks" because of the unique design on the back of the bill​.
  2. Federal Reserve Notes: The 1928 Federal Reserve Notes were redeemable in gold at the United States Treasury or in gold or lawful money at any Federal Reserve Bank. This obligation to exchange FRNs for gold ended in the early 1930s as the United States left the gold standard in response to the Great Depression. The first series was issued in various denominations, ranging from $1 to $10000. There were also signature changes and seal changes which resulted in the Series of 1928A, 1928B, 1928C, and 1928D.
  3. United States Notes: Red seals and red serial numbers distinguish United States Notes from other types of banknotes in the first series. United States Notes series of 1928 were first issued in various denominations, including $1 Puerto Rico, $2, and $5.
  4. Gold Certificates: Gold Certificates were also part of the first series of Small Size Notes, although they were not as widely circulated as the other types. Gold seals and gold serial numbers distinguished Gold Certificates from other types of banknotes in the first series. Gold Certificates were initially redeemable for gold coins, but redemption ceased in 1933. As a result, these notes are highly collectible and sought after by enthusiasts.
  5. National Bank Notes: The first small-size series of National Bank Notes was introduced in July 1929 from $5 up to $100. These notes were issued by individual national banks and featured their names, locations, and charter numbers on the front. All of the notes bear the combination signatures of Jones and Woods and a small brown seal on the right.
  6. Federal Reserve Bank Notes: Federal Reserve Bank Notes featured a similar design to other small-size notes all of them are series of 1929. Federal Reserve Bank Notes were issued in various denominations, including $5, $10, $20, $50, and $100. They bear the brown serial numbers and seal which are larger than the National Bank Notes.

The first series of 1928 small-size notes were the first to be standardized in terms of design and characteristics, these notes shared many design elements, such as the same portraits, vignettes, and symbols. They were also the first to measure 6.313" by 2.688", smaller than the large-sized predecessors and earlier​.

Notable Variations, Rarity, and Desirability of Small Size Currency:

Within the captivating realm of Small Size Notes, collectors are captivated by the wide range of rare and sought-after variations, making them highly desirable. Among these treasures, certain examples hold a special allure that ignites the passion of collectors. These exceptional notes possess either remarkable historical significance or are distinguished by their limited print runs, elevating their status to that of the holy grail in the world of small-size paper money collecting.

King of Small-Size 1933 $10 Silver Certificate: This particular note is classified as a one-year type, featuring a Treasury seal and a redemption clause stating "payable in silver coin to the bearer on demand." In contrast to the more common 1934 series, this bill bears the inscription "IN SILVER PAYABLE TO THE BEARER ON DEMAND." Its rarity and distinctive design make it highly coveted among collectors. With a limited production of just 216,000 notes and a substantial portion being destroyed, the surviving population is extremely small.

High denomination: Small Size Notes with high denominations, such as $500, $1,000, $5,000, and $10,000, are particularly rare and desirable. These high-value notes were primarily used for interbank transactions and are highly coveted by collectors for their scarcity and historical significance after their discontinuation due to concerns about their use in illegal activities, such as money laundering.

Learn more: Exploring The History of U.S High Denomination

Historical Special Issue Notes: During World War II, distinct Small Size Notes were issued for use in Hawaii and North Africa. The Hawaii overprint notes are marked with a brown seal and "Hawaii" printed across them, while the North Africa notes featured a yellow seal. These notes could be quickly demonetized if they fell into enemy hands, and today, they are valued collector items due to their historical significance and rarity.

Rare Issue Low Printing: Low print run issues are another form of a rarity in the world of Small Size Notes. These are notes from a particular series or Federal Reserve Bank that had a significantly smaller print run compared to other notes. As a result, fewer of these notes are in circulation, making them a rarity. These low print run issues often command higher prices due to their scarcity.

The Mysterious Mule Notes: In the numismatic world, a "mule" note is a peculiar anomaly that arises due to the juxtaposition of printing plates from different series. In the context of Small Size Notes, a mule refers to a note that bears a face plate number (which represents the design) from one series and a back plate number (which denotes the year of the series) from another. These discrepancies are not deliberate, but the result of haphazard variations during the printing process. The rarity and intriguing nature of mules make them a thrilling find for currency collectors.

Test or Experimental Notes: represent another intriguing chapter in the story of Small Size Notes. These were printed to test new types of paper and ink to enhance the notes' durability. Distinguished by a small "E" or "S" on the face of the note or by Block Printing, these experimental notes were released in limited quantities, making them a coveted find for collectors.

Collecting Strategies for Small Size Notes:

When it comes to collecting Small Size Notes, there are various approaches you can take based on your preferences and interests. Here are some strategies to consider:

Specific Denominations: One approach is to focus on collecting Small Size Notes of specific denominations. You can choose to specialize in a particular denomination, such as $1, $5, or $10, or explore higher denominations like $50 or $100 notes. This strategy allows you to build a comprehensive collection within your chosen denomination, tracking the different series, variations, and design elements.

Design Elements and Themes: Another strategy is to center your collection around specific design elements or themes that appeal to you. Small Size Notes feature various intricate portraits, vignettes, and symbols. You can concentrate on collecting notes with specific design features like historical figures, architectural landmarks, nature motifs, or thematic representations.

Series and Types: Collecting by series and types involves assembling a complete set of Small Size Notes within a specific series or type. For example, you can focus on acquiring all the Silver Certificates, Federal Reserve Notes, United States Notes, or Gold Certificates from different years and denominations. This approach allows you to explore the evolution and historical significance of each series.

Regional or Special Issues: Regional or special issues offer a fascinating avenue for collecting Small Size Notes. Examples include the Hawaii and North Africa issues, where notes were specially printed for use in those regions during World War II. Collecting these unique releases adds depth and historical significance to your collection, offering a distinct subset of Small Size Notes to pursue.

Signature Variations: A specific focus on signature variations can be an exciting collecting strategy. Different Treasury Secretary and Treasurer combinations appear on Small Size Notes, and you can aim to acquire notes with rare or notable signature combinations. This approach adds a historical and administrative aspect to your collection.

Complete Sets: If you prefer a more comprehensive approach, you can strive to build complete sets of Small Size Notes, aiming to have at least one note from each denomination, series, and type. This approach offers a well-rounded collection that showcases the diversity and evolution of U.S. paper currency.

Remember, collecting Small Size Notes is a personal journey, and you can mix and match these strategies based on your interests. It's essential to research, network with other collectors, attend numismatic events and consult reputable resources to expand your knowledge and find opportunities to acquire Small Size Notes that align with your collecting goals.

Resources and Communities for small-size paper money beginner collectors:

As a beginner collector of Small Size Notes, it's essential to leverage the wealth of online resources, reference books, and numismatic communities available. These platforms provide valuable information, expert advice, and opportunities to connect with fellow enthusiasts. Here are some trusted resources to explore:

  • Websites and Online Resources: Paper Money Forum - A dedicated online forum specifically focused on discussions related to paper money collecting, including Small Size Notes.
    (Website: https://www.papermoneyforum.com)
  • Bureau of Engraving and Printing: The official website of the Bureau of Engraving and Printing provides information on U.S. currency production, history, and educational resources.
    (Website: https://www.moneyfactory.gov)
  • Reference Books: Standard Guide to Small-Size U.S. Paper Money 1928 to Date by John Schwartz; Scott Lindquist. This book focuses specifically on Small Size Notes and offers in-depth coverage of their design, history, and various series. It includes information on denominations, signatures, special issues, and a guide to grading.

Engaging with these resources, reference books, and numismatic communities will expand your knowledge, help you stay updated on collecting trends, and provide opportunities to seek expert advice. Remember to participate actively, ask questions, share your own experiences, and contribute to the numismatic community. Collecting Small Size Notes becomes more enriching when you connect with fellow enthusiasts and learn from their expertise.

Where to Find Small-Size Currency for Sale

eBay: eBay is a popular online marketplace that offers a wide range of Small Size Notes for collectors. With a vast selection and various sellers, eBay provides a convenient platform to browse, compare prices, and make purchases. To get started, create an account on eBay and search for Small Size Notes in the currency category. (Website: https://www.ebay.com)

Stack's Bowers Galleries: Stack's Bowers Galleries is a renowned auction house that hosts currency auctions, including Small Size Notes. They offer a wide range of notes, from common issues to rare varieties and special editions. (Website: https://www.stacksbowers.com)

Heritage Auctions (Online and Offline): Heritage Auctions is a well-known auction house that conducts both online and live auctions featuring Small Size Notes. They have a robust online platform where you can participate in bidding from the comfort of your own home. Additionally, Heritage Auctions also holds physical auctions at various locations, providing the opportunity to attend in person. (Website: https://www.ha.com/)

Coin Shops and Numismatic Stores: Local coin shops and numismatic stores often have a selection of Small Size Notes available for sale. These establishments specialize in coins and currency, and they may carry a variety of Small Size Notes from different series and denominations. Visit these stores to browse their inventory, examine notes in person, and discuss your collecting interests with knowledgeable staff.

Coin Shows and Expos: Coin shows are excellent offline marketplaces for buying and selling Small Size Notes. Attending coin shows allows you to interact directly with dealers, view a wide variety of notes, and engage with fellow collectors. Visit www.coinzip.com to stay informed about upcoming coin shows in your area.

Tips for Buying Small-Size Paper Currency: A Guide for Online and Offline Purchases

Online Marketplace Tips:

Buying a raw note solely based on a picture/in hand can be a challenging task, as it's difficult to fully assess the note's condition and authenticity. However, by following the tips below, you can minimize the risk of being ripped off and make more informed purchasing decisions:

  • Research Sellers: Before purchasing an online marketplace, research the reputation of the seller. Check their feedback ratings, reviews, and any additional information available. Trusted sellers with positive feedback are more likely to provide a satisfactory buying experience.
  • Verify Authenticity: When buying Paper Money online, ensure that the seller provides clear images and accurate descriptions of the notes. Look for any signs of tampering or alterations. If possible, consider purchasing from sellers who provide certification or grading from reputable third-party organizations.
  • Request Additional Information: Don't hesitate to ask the seller for more information about the note. Request additional pictures from different angles to gain a better understanding of its condition. Inquire about any known issues or potential concerns that may not be apparent in the initial picture.
  • Compare Prices: Compare prices across different sellers and platforms to ensure you're getting a fair deal. Keep in mind factors like note condition, rarity, and demand when evaluating prices. Consider the market value and recent auction results for similar notes.

Learn more: A Complete Guide to Grading U.S. Paper Money for Collectors

Offline Marketplace Tips:

  • Engage with Dealers: Establish relationships with reputable coin dealers. Experienced dealers can provide expert advice, insights on market trends, and access to a wider range of notes. Building trust with a reputable dealer can be beneficial for both buying and selling Small Size Notes.
  • Examine Note’s Condition Carefully: When buying Small Size Notes in person, examine them carefully for condition, authenticity, and any potential damage or alterations. Familiarize yourself with the grading standard.
  • Quick Price Comparisons Tool: Having a smartphone or price guidebook on hand during in-person purchases is highly beneficial. It allows you to conduct quick pricing research, compare prices, and evaluate the note's value based on its condition, rarity, and market demand. Online marketplaces, auction results, and price guides can provide valuable information to ensure you're paying a fair price.
  • Lighting: Proper lighting is essential when examining. Adequate lighting helps reveal details and detect any potential flaws, such as pinholes, stains, or hidden damage. Ensure you have sufficient lighting to thoroughly inspect the note and identify any imperfections that may affect its value.

Embracing the joy and rewards of collecting Small Size Notes:

Collecting Small Size Currency is an engaging and fulfilling hobby that offers a wealth of rewards. By immersing yourself in the world of Small Size Notes, you'll have the opportunity to explore a vast array of rare and sought-after variations that captivate collectors. Whether you choose to specialize in specific denominations, focus on distinctive design elements, or dive into the intricacies of different series and special issues, there are endless possibilities to customize your collection and delve into the rich history of U.S. paper currency.

As you embark on your collecting journey, you'll come to appreciate the exquisite beauty, historical significance, and artistry of Small Size Notes. Every note holds a story waiting to be discovered, and each addition to your collection becomes a unique piece of that narrative. Embrace the excitement of building a diverse collection, constantly expanding your knowledge through the wealth of resources and communities available to collectors.

Remember, the joy of collecting Small Size Notes lies in the process of exploration and discovery. Immerse yourself in the stories behind each note, connect with fellow enthusiasts, and relish the journey of uncovering the intriguing tales woven into the fabric of U.S. paper currency. Happy collecting, and may your collection be a testament to your passion and appreciation for these remarkable pieces of history!

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