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  • Writer's pictureDouglas Keefe

Currency Printed Using Experimental Paper

The Gold and Silver Mine

By: Douglas Keefe

1928 marked the change in size of our currency from the old “horse blankets” to the size today, or a reduction of approximately 20%, resulting in the corresponding savings of the cost of paper to produce our currency. Some time after this change occurred, the Bureau of Engraving and Printing (BEP), whose responsibility is to print our currency, decided to try a different type of paper to test alternative printing techniques and to see if durability could be increased as well as provide a challenge to counterfeiting. The $1 bill was chosen for this test as it was the most circulated and the cheapest. The 1928-A and B series were used for these tests with only a subtle change to identify these notes by using unique block letters in the serial numbers. This test was also done with the 1935 series. As the silver certificates were redeemed and returned to the treasury, the notes with the special serial numbers would be separated and their wear compared to the regular printed notes.

In 1944 the BEP once again decided to test another batch of special paper, but instead of just using a unique serial number block letter, it was decided to print in red the letters “R” for regular paper and “S” for special paper. This was done to enable a quicker identification of the 2 different types of paper, the bold letters being easier to read than the special serial numbers, and according the governmental publication “History of the Bureau of Engraving and Printing 1862-1962”, the BEP officials believed “that the American public in general is nonobservant regarding the physical aspects of its’ paper money – that so long as it is genuine and spendable, the ordinary citizen is not too concerned with its’ looks”. Having said that, the BEP officials expected the general population to just ignore the “R” and “S” printed on the $1 bills.

For testing purposes, both groups of silver certificates were released in June of 1944 with a total of 1,184,000 notes of each type along with 12,000 star notes (replacements). Well, there is nothing like placing a scarlet letter on something to get peoples’ attention. The governments opinion about the population not observing the difference couldn’t have been more wrong because too few of these notes were redeemed to draw a meaningful conclusion about the quality of the special paper. It is a known fact that people will save something that is out of the ordinary or different when it comes to coins and paper money in the hopes that is now or may become valuable.

As for the value of these notes with the “R and “S”, in average circulated condition they can be worth between $100 and $200 each, but the star note can command a price of $1000 or more.

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