Federal Reserve Bank Notes

Small-size Federal Reserve Bank Notes – a distinctly different series from the familiar green-seal Federal Reserve Notes – have an interesting history that’s closely tied with one of the greatest economic crises in U.S. history: The Great Depression. This one-time emergency issue of 1933 was prompted by widespread cash hoarding, which in turn was spurred by panic over the many Depression-era bank failures. The issuance of Federal Reserve Bank Notes, at one of the most critical points of the emergency, was intended to help stabilize the U.S. economy. 

Small Federal Reserve Bank Notes were hastily printed using already-prepared sheets intended for series 1929 National Bank Notes. They were printed in denominations of $5 through $100. They feature brown seals and serial numbers, like series 1929 National Bank Notes, and are designated “NATIONAL CURRENCY” across the top. The letter designations for the twelve Federal Reserve Districts appear as bold black letters, from "A" to "L," four times on each notes’ face. The name of the issuing Federal Reserve Bank is featured prominently, in bold black type, where the title of a National Bank would have otherwise appeared. 

Since these notes were printed on sheets already made for “Nationals,” they had some modifications to the prepared sheets incorporated into their final printing stage. While National Bank Notes had a space labeled for the individual bank President and Cashier’s signatures, Federal Reserve Bank Notes had a bar printed over these titles, replaced with titles and signatures for Federal Reserve Bank officials. The phrase “or by like deposit of other securities” was also added after the phrase “Secured by United States bonds deposited with the Treasurer of the United States of America.” This was done to reflect the very different backing for these notes, as opposed to National Bank Notes. 

Production of Federal Reserve Bank Notes was discontinued in 1934. They remain legal tender, although they are almost never seen in circulation now. Although they were issued only for a short period, small Federal Reserve Bank Notes were printed in enormous quantities, and are not, as a class, rare. They were seldom saved at the time, so they can be challenging to find in nice condition. They are, however, interesting artifacts of the gravest economic calamity of the last hundred years, and assembling a complete set of them by district can be a real collecting challenge.