Major Designs of United States Currency


Here you will find some US Banknotes to illustrate various design elements that existed in our not too distant past. Certainly our Grandfathers used the larger banknotes, which were about 1/3 larger than our current size US Banknotes. Their designs were often very different than what we are used to now.

Below you will find a complete One-Dollar type-set of banknotes from 1899 to Present day. There are many different signature combinations, and Star notes (issued in lieu of damaged notes), but each major style change of One-Dollar Bills is represented below. Other note denominations are represented, but not complete. In addition, a few 'Extras' have been added to show even broader changes.

An interesting historical aspect of these notes is what they could be used for. While most stores, people and banks had no problem in accepting them, there were some specific rules that were in place on some of the notes at certain times. You could certainly buy your groceries, pay your bills, go to the hardware store, etc. and pay with any of the notes, so most people were not affected. But there were some limitations that were in place for things such as Duties on Imports and Interest on Public Debt. These restrictions were in place because the different types of banknotes were issued with separate funds. For instance one type of banknote called the "United States Note" (AKA Legal Tender or Red Seal Notes) were restricted for being used to repay the public debt with notes that are a part of the public debt. This was because the way that the country funded (or at any rate accounted) for the notes, they were considered a direct obligation of the United States, and thus were public debt. At the time, it was seen as fiscally irresponsible to repay debt with notes that were issued that were a large part of that debt.

After a while, the Legal Tender Notes lessened their restrictions and began using the generic phrase "Legal Tender For All Debts Public and Private", which in effect made them indistinguishable from Federal Reserve Notes, and they were eventually discontinued.

Another interesting feature is that there was a long time when you could redeem your notes, and not just the Silver Certificates, or Gold Certificates. Certain phrases such as "Redeemable in Lawful Money" were common, and to prove that these were Bank 'Notes', the phrase "Will Pay To The Bearer" told the person who had the note that they could indeed go and get 'Real' money for their paper notes. Few did so, as there was no reason to: people accepted the notes as money, and thus it became so. That's why the phrase "LEGAL TENDER FOR ALL DEBTS PUBLIC AND PRIVATE" is on our notes today. It is a declaration that it is money itself, not a check, a note, a certificate or a receipt of money.

Below are some notes from my personal collection. These notes are mostly from the 20th century onward, but there are a few notes from the 19th century, as well as the original 13 colonies, which will help in understanding the evolution of banknote design in the United States.


Be sure to check out these new sections:


USA - Original Thirteen Colonies


USA - Misc. Banknotes


It won't be too long before we can all talk to the youth of today and tomorrow about the old style of money that we grew up with, having only a couple of colors in the designs. It will look and feel old, just as the older notes shown here do.

There is a LOT more that can be shown, but this gives an idea of the types of notes and their designs that were out just since the dawn of the 20th century.