Treasurer and Bureau of Engraving and Printing Sell Uncut U.S. Currency

The Ledger coverby Tom Diaz
The Ledger, Spring 1998

In late November, a long line of people waited in the auditorium of the Federal Reserve Bank of Boston. Hanging on the wall was a banner emblazoned with the statement, "We make money the old fashioned way, we print it." The we might have referred either to a bunch of counterfeiters or to the U.S. Bureau of Engraving and Printing. With the appearance of U.S. Treasurer Mary Ellen Withrow, it was safe to assume

The Bureau of Engraving and Printing (BEP) set up shop at the Federal Reserve Bank of Boston for a two-day sale of sheets of uncut genuine currency. According to the Bureau's Mary Halsall, the BEP tries to visit the Federal Reserve Banks at a rate of three per year. Their last visit prior to Boston was a successful turnout

For the currency connoisseur, most of the uncut bills were Federal Reserve Bank of Boston issues. Boston Fed issues carry the capital letter A (for Boston, the First District) and the number 1. (Each of the 12 Federal Reserve Districts is identified by its own letter and number - A through L and 1 through 12.)

But don't expect to pay face value for the uncut sheets. A sheet of four uncut dollar bills will cost you $11.50. The markup helps cover the Bureau of Engraving and Printing's overhead and production costs.

For some of the buyers, the uncut sheets will be used as gifts for Christmas, birthdays, graduations, weddings, and other occasions, especially for that hard-to-buy-for person. Others will use them as customer incentives and, of course, many simply want to add them to their collection. But those who really want to show off will wrap their gifts in uncut currency or maybe even use the sheets to wallpaper a favorite room.

A typical buyer at the November sale in Boston was Coleen Benson, an employee at the Boston Fed. "I bought two sets of $1 sheets and one $5 sheet. The $5 sheet was a Christmas gift for my grandfather. Watching him open his gift and reading the personal note from Treasurer Withrow wishing him a Merry Christmas was priceless. It was the perfect gift for my hard-to-buy-for grandfather. He has it hanging above the fireplace."

Will the uncut sheets increase in value? Perhaps. The $1 bill may actually be worth more to collectors if the Treasury eventually discontinues the paper dollar in favor of a dollar coin. The reasoning behind replacing the dollar bills with coins is cost. The dollar bill is the most widely produced and quickly replaced bill, with a life of about 17 months, whereas coins can last about thirty years. Almost half of all the currency printed in fiscal 1996 - over four billion notes - was in $1 bill denominations.

Even though the Treasurer's signature is already printed on every bill, people waited in long lines to get her signature again, but this time, in person. On the first day, Treasurer Mary Ellen Withrow autographed as many uncut sheets as time allowed.

The bestseller over the two days was the sheet of four $2 notes, mainly for the uniqueness and the scarcity of the Jefferson bill. "It's a bill you don't see every day. I didn't even know they still made them," responded a buyer. Others bought the $2 sheets because "it's the most attractive of the bills," referring to the portrait of the signing of the Declaration of Independence on the back. Other top sellers were the sheets of four and sixteen $1 notes.

President Clinton appointed Ms. Withrow as the 40th Treasurer of United States in 1994. As Treasurer, she is responsible for the operations of both the U.S. Mint and the BEP. Treasurer Withrow holds the distinction of being the first person to have held the post of Treasurer at all three levels of government - local, state, and national.

How to Buy Uncut Currency

If you were not able to attend the sale, you can order uncut currency by writing to:

U.S. Bureau of
Engraving and Printing
Mail Order Sales,
Room 515 M
14th and C Streets, SW
Washington, D.C., 20028

or by calling

(202) 874-3316
(7:30 a.m. to 4:00 p.m., Monday-Friday).