No, this is not a post about the Illuminati conspiracies surrounding the All Seeing Eye and the Great Pyramid. The real subject is a bit more mundane, but fits right into the theme of questions we never bothered to ask. What do all those serial codes and digits on our U.S. currency mean?
The U.S. banknote contains a number of alphanumeric codes used to identify the exact source if its printing. Bills before and after 1996 and 2004 have all of the same elements, but they are rearranged into different spots. I’m going to use a 1996 Series bill for illustration.
District Letter & Number
In pre-1996 bills, you’ll find the District Letter enclosed in the ornate circular badge on the left side of the bill. After 1996, the District Letter was written with the District Number following right after.
There are 12 Federal Reserve Banks which issue US Currency. Each of them are identified by both a Letter (A through L) and the corresponding number (1 through 12). These banks are as follows:
- A1: Boston, MA
- B2: New York, NY
- C3: Philadelphia, PA
- D4: Cleveland, OH
- E5: Richmond, VA
- F6: Atlanta, GA
- G7: Chicago, IL
- H8: St. Louis, MO
- I9: Minneapolis, MN
- J10: Kansas City, MO
- K11: Dallas, TX
- L12: San Francisco, CA
Our example bill comes from F6, or Atlanta, GA. In pre-1996 currency, you’ll find the district number in all four corners of the front-face of the bill.
As of 2013, currency is printed on sheets of 50 notes. The Plate Position indicates where this individual bill fell within the sheet. For example, on a 50-note plate, there are five columns labeled 1 through 5, and ten rows labeled A through J. Our sample bill came from G3, so it was located on the seventh row in the third column. In the past, 32, 18 and 12 note sheets were used and a different grid numbering system was used. You’d have to look at the date and the serial numbers to really know which was which.
Contrary to what you’d expect, the Series doesn’t indicate the year the bill was printed. Instead, the series only changes when the design of the banknotes changes. So as I mentioned earlier, the bill got a hefty redesign in 1996. That’s why bills from 1996 to the next design change (1999) all have the mark Series 1996. When changes are considered minor, the Series date stays the same but a number is added. One example of a minor change would be the name of the U.S. Treasurer whose signature is on the bill.
Up until 1991, all U.S. currency was printed at the Bureau of Engraving and Printing plant in Washington, DC. In that year, a second facility was opened up in Fort Worth, Texas. Banknotes printed there contained a small FW to indicate they came from the Fort Worth facility. In our example, since there is no FW, the bill must have been printed in DC.
Face Plate Number
On our example bill, the Face Plate Number is G20. This identifies the specific printing plate that was used to strike the face of the bill. There’s also a back plate number on the backside of the bill, which identifies which plate was used to print the back of the bill. It’s usually found in the bottom right hand corner.
The serial number identifies each note within its denomination and series. One letter always matches the Federal Reserve District Letter (remember the 12 districts, A through G). Pre-1996 notes have this letter in first position, while banknotes after 1996 have it in the second position. The first position is reserved for a digit that identifies the Series. Series 1996 is assigned A, while each subsequent series advanced the letter by one, as follows:
1996 = A; 1999 = B; 2001 = C; 2003 = D; 2003A = F; 2004 = E; 2004A = G; 2006 = I; 2006A = K; 2009= J; 2009A = L; 2013 = M;
The next numbers are simply used to identify the bill as it was printed in numerical order. Since we print a lot of money, the series is bound to repeat itself. That’s where the final character, or suffix comes in. A is the first found, B is the second round, etc.
When a note is mutilated during manufacture, it is substituted by a “star” with an out-of-sequence serial number. This helps maintain proper counts.
Our example begins with AF, which means it was Series 1996 and came from Atlanta, GA. Fortunately, that matches up to all the other interpretation we’ve done so far! The digits “10911850” number the bill in production, but since it’s in Round B, the truth of the matter is that the number should be doubled if you want to count this bill in line. That means this was the 21,823,700th bill printed in Atlanta after the 1996 series was introduced.
With all that money being printed, it makes me wonder why I can’t seem to find any!