Earlier this month I finally was able to scratch a item from my bucket list by visiting Washington D.C.. I took in as much history, tradition, and information, as I believe one could soak in over my 4 day visit. As part of my week long adventure, I made sure to visit a site that I found particularly facinating personally, as well as professi0nally, The US Bureau of Engraving and Printing. For me, this was the mecca of the printing universe, as well as one of the most important and critical printing project on earth, the production of US paper currency.
I admit I had several preconceptions on how currency production would take place. I imagined pressmen in white lab coats, uber high-tech printing equipment, and armed guards around every corner. What I discovered from my tour, was that much of the equipment and production workflow was very familar to my experiences in printing. The basic production process was very similar at Printing Partners, with a few subtle differences. Sure, there were some secrets not revealed, especially the engraving plate process and color shifting inks, but much of the process was familar. Sometimes I thought what they were printing may have been actually easier, as they are producing only 6 different projects a year. The 1, 5, 10, 20, 50 and 100 dollar notes are the only bills currently in print and circulation. At Printing Partners, each project is approached with a custom and unique production mindset that also comes with unique expectations. Either way, I am confident that both operations have unique challenges that weren’t necessarily obvious from my 1 hour tour.
I would have like to share with you more photographic details of the operation. However it was made abundantly clear that you would be met by a federal agent if you attempted to take any photographs of production. I took their word for it.
In lieu of top secret photographs, hopefully these interesting facts about US currency will at least be interesting:
$ – The Bureau of Engraving and Printing produces 38 million notes a day with a face value of approximately $541 million.
$ – 95% of the notes printed each year are used to replace notes already in circulation. 48% of the notes printed are $1 notes.
$ – The U.S. Department of the Treasury first issued paper currency of the United States in 1862 as a result of a shortage of coins and the need to finance the Civil War.
$ – In 1929, the size of currency was reduced to about 2/3’s of its former size when production was converted to 12-subject plates. The familiar portraits and back designs of our currency were also established at that time.
$ – If you had 10 billion $1 notes and spent one every second of every day, it would require 317 years for you to go broke.
$ – Currency paper is composed of 25% linen and 75% cotton. Red and blue synthetic fibers of various lengths are distributed evenly throughout the paper.
$ – The speciality paper used is manufactured by Crane papers and is illegal to purchase outside the BEP.
$ – Have you ever wondered how many times you could fold a piece of currency before it would tear? About 4,000 double folds (first forward and then backwards) are required before a note will tear.
$ – The average life of a $1.00 dollar bill is 18 months
$ – The 100 dollar note has been the largest denomination of currency in circulation since 1969.
$ – The largest note ever printed by the Bureau of Engraving and Printing was the $100,000 Gold Certificate, Series 1934. These notes were printed from December 18, 1934 through January 9, 1935 and were issued by the Treasurer of the United States to Federal Reserve Banks only against an equal amount of gold bullion held by the Treasury. These notes were used for transactions between FRBs and were not circulated among the general public.
$ – Martha Washington is the only woman whose portrait has appeared on a U.S. currency note. It appeared on the face of the $1 Silver Certificate of 1886 and 1891, and the back of the $1 Silver Certificate of 1896.
$ – The beginning of an establishment for the engraving and printing of U.S. currency can be traced as far back as August 29, 1862, to a single room in the basement of the Main Treasury Building where two men and four women separated and sealed by hand $1 and $2 U.S. notes which had been printed by private bank note companies. Today there are approximately 2,800 employees who work out of two buildings in Washington, D.C. and a facility in Fort Worth, Texas.
$ – During Fiscal Year 1995, it cost approximately 4 cents per note to produce 9.7 billion U.S. paper currency notes.