When I returned to coin collecting a few years ago from my hiatus that began before I went to college I discovered there was more to collecting than buying shiny objects of copper and silver. I found that there was a confluence of history and politics that was also an interest. My return to numismatics coincided with my returning to school to get a masters degree that included public policy as part of the curriculum. It was perfect for a political junkie. So when something is written or broadcast that adds to my quest to learn about history that includes numismatics, my interest piques.
At the end of November, I was channel surfing and found a documentary on one of the C-SPAN channels about the History of U.S. Currency. The show featured an interview with Franklin Noll, Consultant in the Bureau of Engraving and Printing Historical Resource Center. It was a different look at the BEP since it did not go into the process of printing money but the final result and the evolution of the BEP.
Using pieces of the BEP’s archive, Noll traces the history of the bureau from its founding in 1861 to the modern small currency. Noll begins by showing some of the pre-BEP printed notes and how the government needed to control its currency in order to help fund the Civil War. He showed the first notes that were printed by a “New York Printer” under the authority of the new bureau. Noll does not mention that the New York printer was the American Banknote Company.
One think I learned was that Franklin Delano Roosevelt was the only president who had a direct influence on any aspect of currency design. When presented with the proof for the small one dollar Federal Reserve Note, FDR requested that the BEP switch the Great Seal and the Heraldic Eagle so that the eagle is on the right side of the note. FDR felt that this would be better since the eagle’s head would face the center of the note. Otherwise, the eagle’s head would be facing off the note. Noll showed the actual proof sheet that FDR wrote his request.
The video of the History of U.S. Currency can be viewed online in the C-SPAN Video Library. Not only can your watch the video, but there is an option to purchase a DVD. Just click here to see the video. Enjoy!