In April 2018, nearly $1.6 trillion in U.S. currency was in circulation worldwide. You may know that Federal Reserve notes are composed of 75 percent cotton and 25 percent linen, but are you familiar with the identifiers and symbols that can be found across each denomination? While intricate designs make Federal Reserve notes visually appealing, some details add complexity and serve as security features. The U.S. government periodically redesigns Federal Reserve notes for security reasons: to stay ahead of counterfeiting threats and to keep counterfeiting levels low. Did you know that because the $1 note is infrequently counterfeited, its design has not changed since it was issued in 1963? Let’s take a look at four of the features and symbols that are commonly found on Federal Reserve notes.

#1 Serial numbers

Each Federal Reserve note contains a serial number that provides key information about the note. This unique combination of characters appears twice on the front of the note.

The numbering system for U.S. currency was adopted in 1928. Notes printed before 1996 have serial numbers that consist of one letter, eight digits and one letter. As shown in the table below, the prefix letter identifies the Federal Reserve Bank to which the notes were issued. The last letter advances through the alphabet when all eight serial numbers have been printed for a specific Federal Reserve Bank within the same series. For example, a note with the serial number A12345678B indicates that it was issued to the Federal Reserve Bank of Boston. The $1 and $2 notes still use this format.

Federal Reserve Bank of ...DistrictIdentifier
Boston First A
New York Second B
Philadelphia Third C
Cleveland Fourth D
Richmond Fifth E
Atlanta Sixth F
Chicago Seventh G
St. Louis Eighth H
Minneapolis Ninth I
Kansas City Tenth J
Dallas Eleventh K
San Francisco Twelfth L

Currency printed since 1996, like the example below, has a second prefix letter in the serial number and follows a two-letter, eight-digit and one-letter format. The first letter of the prefix designates the series (for example, the letter A designates Series 1996). The second prefix letter designates the Federal Reserve Bank to which the notes are issued. In the example, AB12345678B, we can identify that this is a 1996 series note issued to the Federal Reserve Bank of New York.

Federal Reserve Note Serial Numbers

A list of series letters (Off-site) and their corresponding years can be found at uscurrency.gov (Off-site).

#2 The Treasury Seal

The Treasury Seal, shown below, can be found across all denominations of Federal Reserve notes. A green seal to the right of the portrait on each note represents the U.S. Department of the Treasury. The design of the seal was changed to incorporate an English inscription and appears on all Federal Reserve notes of the 1969 series year or later.

The Treasury Seal

#3 The Great Seal of the United States

The two most prominent features on the back of the $1 note are the pyramid and the eagle, which together constitute the Great Seal of the United States.

As shown below, the American bald eagle is supporting a shield that is composed of 13 stripes that represent the original states. The top horizontal stripe represents Congress. “E Pluribus Unum” (Out of Many, One) represents this union. The olive branch and 13 arrows denote the power of peace and war, which is exclusively vested in Congress. The constellation of stars denotes a new state taking its place and rank among other sovereign powers.

The Great Seal

The pyramid, shown below, represents strength and duration. The eye over it and the motto, “Annuit Coeptis” (He [God] has favored our undertakings), allude to the many interventions of providence in favor of the American cause. The date underneath is that of the Declaration of Independence and the words under it, “Novus Ordo Seclorum” (A new order of the ages), signify the beginning of the new American era in 1776.

The Pyramid

#4 Federal Reserve Seals

For $1 and $2 notes, the seal to the left of the portrait represents one of the 12 Federal Reserve Banks. Like the prefix of the note’s serial number, the seal identifies the Federal Reserve Bank to which the notes were issued. In the example below, the note was issued to the Federal Reserve Bank of Richmond.

The Federal Reserve Seal

For all other denominations, the note features the Federal Reserve System Seal (shown below) rather than a Federal Reserve Bank-specific seal.

The Federal Reserve System Seal

Resources

There are several resources available to help you learn more about the features of U.S. currency. A comprehensive list of Federal Reserve Note identifiers (Off-site) is available on the uscurrrency.gov (Off-site) website. To learn more about how money is made, visit the Bureau of Engraving and Printing (Off-site) website.

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