Chloe Effron
Chloe Effron

Decoding the U.S. Dollar Bill

Chloe Effron
Chloe Effron

Most of us handle a $1 bill on a daily basis, but how often have you stopped to look at what it's telling you? There's a lot there. Here's an annotated guide to understanding the various numbers, letters, and symbols structured around good old George Washington. You'll never look at the littlest bill the same again. 

Graphic by Chloe Effron


Made up of the check letter and quadrant number, the note-position identifier indicates the physical spot that a particular bill occupied on a printing sheet.


Established in 1913, the Federal Reserve is made up of twelve banks that distribute currency. The seal bears the name of the issuing bank and a letter designating the district—"L" is the letter for San Francisco


The serial number appears twice on the front of the bill, once in the lower left hand corner and once in upper right hand corner. All bills above $2 have a serial number that begins with two letters: The first corresponds to the series year, and the second to the letter code of the bank that distributed the bill ($1 bills only have this letter). The numbers that follow are simply a counter keeping track of how many of that type of bill have been printed during the series at that particular Federal Reserve Bank. A single printing “run” exhausts the eight-digit count. After the numeric sequence, a final letter serves as part of the printing counter and is sometimes replaced by a star, which meant that there was an error in printing. A star sheet is used to replace the imperfect sheet.


This number appears four times on the front of the bill. These many signifiers can be helpful in cases of mutilated currency.


This helps to provide information about the printing plate used to create the note. Notes printed in the Forth Worth facility have an FW facility mark in front of the check letter and face plate number combination. A note that was printed on a web press can be identified by the lack of plate location or check number, and by the plate number on the back being located at the top of the letter E in the word ONE.


Current Secretary of the Treasury Jacob J. Lew is the 76th person (all men) to hold the position.


Contrary to popular belief, the series year does not denote the actual year that the bill was printed, but the year that the series began. A new series comes from a change in the Secretary of the Treasury, the Treasurer of the United States, a significant gap in production times, and/or a change to the note's appearance.


Current Treasurer Rosa Gumataotao Rios is the 43rd person to hold the position, which has been held exclusively by women since 1949

Graphic by Chloe Effron


"In God We Trust" is the national motto of the United States and first appeared on paper currency in 1957, after a piece of 1955 legislation made it mandatory on all bills and coins. The motto was originally placed on coins due to increased religious sentiment during the Civil War. Secretary of the Treasury Salmon P. Chase received many appeals and instructed James Pollock, Director of the Mint at Philadelphia, to prepare a motto. It first appeared on the 1864 two-cent coin. 


Similar to the front plate number, the back plate number identifies the specific printing plate used to print the reverse side of the bill.


The Great Seal appeared on the $1 bill in 1935, and we can thank President Franklin Roosevelt for one of the lasting design features. When it was first submitted for his approval, the obverse and reverse were swapped. Roosevelt rescinded his initial approval, made some changes (including the seal switch) and initialed "FDR." 

College Board Wants to Erase Thousands of Years From AP World History, and Teachers Aren't Happy

One would be forgiven for thinking that the Ides of March are upon us, because Julius Caesar is being taken out once again—this time from the Advanced Placement World History exam. The College Board in charge of the AP program is planning to remove the Roman leader, and every other historical figure who lived and died prior to 1450, from high school students’ tests, The New York Times reports.

The nonprofit board recently announced that it would revise the test, beginning in 2019, to make it more manageable for teachers and students alike. The current exam covers over 10,000 years of world history, and according to the board, “no other AP course requires such an expanse of content to be covered over a single school year.”

As an alternative, the board suggested that schools offer two separate year-long courses to cover the entirety of world history, including a Pre-AP World History and Geography class focusing on the Ancient Period (before 600 BCE) up through the Postclassical Period (ending around 1450). However, as Politico points out, a pre-course for which the College Board would charge a fee "isn’t likely to be picked up by cash-strapped public schools," and high school students wouldn't be as inclined to take the pre-AP course since there would be no exam or college credit for it.

Many teachers and historians are pushing back against the proposed changes and asking the board to leave the course untouched. Much of the controversy surrounds the 1450 start date and the fact that no pre-colonial history would be tested.

“They couldn’t have picked a more Eurocentric date,” Merry E. Wiesner-Hanks, who previously helped develop AP History exams and courses, told The New York Times. “If you start in 1450, the first thing you’ll talk about in terms of Africa is the slave trade. The first thing you’ll talk about in terms of the Americas is people dying from smallpox and other things. It’s not a start date that encourages looking at the agency and creativity of people outside Europe.”

A group of teachers who attended an AP open forum in Salt Lake City also protested the changes. One Michigan educator, Tyler George, told Politico, “Students need to understand that there was a beautiful, vast, and engaging world before Europeans ‘discovered’ it.”

The board is now reportedly reconsidering its decision and may push the start date of the course back some several hundred years. Their decision will be announced in July.

[h/t The New York Times]

Nate D. Sanders Auctions
Sylvia Plath's Pulitzer Prize in Poetry Is Up for Auction
Nate D. Sanders Auctions
Nate D. Sanders Auctions

A Pulitzer Prize in Poetry that was awarded posthumously to Sylvia Plath in 1982 for her book The Collected Poems will be auctioned on June 28. The Los Angeles-based Nate D. Sanders Auctions says bidding for the literary document will start at $40,000.

The complete book of Plath’s poetry was published in 1981—18 years after her death—and was edited by her husband, fellow poet Ted Hughes. The Pulitzer Prize was presented to Hughes on Plath’s behalf, and one of two telegrams sent by Pulitzer President Michael Sovern to Hughes read, “We’ve just heard that the Collected Plath has won the Pulitzer Prize. Congratulations to you for making it possible.” The telegrams will also be included in the lot, in addition to an official congratulatory letter from Sovern.

The Pultizer’s jury report from 1982 called The Collected Poems an “extraordinary literary event.” It went on to write, “Plath won no major prizes in her lifetime, and most of her work has been posthumously published … The combination of metaphorical brilliance with an effortless formal structure makes this a striking volume.”

Ted Hughes penned an introduction to the poetry collection describing how Plath had “never scrapped any of her poetic efforts,” even if they weren’t all masterpieces. He wrote:

“Her attitude to her verse was artisan-like: if she couldn’t get a table out of the material, she was quite happy to get a chair, or even a toy. The end product for her was not so much a successful poem, as something that had temporarily exhausted her ingenuity. So this book contains not merely what verse she saved, but—after 1956—all she wrote.”

Also up for auction is Plath’s Massachusetts driver’s license from 1958, at which time she went by the name Sylvia P. Hughes. Bidding for the license will begin at $8000.

Plath's driver's license
Nate D. Sanders Auctions


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