Dr. Sol Taylor

The Bureau of Engraving and Printing

Donn Pearlman
Donn Pearlman takes an extremely close look at a sheet of newly printed Federal Reserve notes during the American Numismatic Association's 2005 summer convention in San Francisco. (Photo: Gino Wang)
By Dr. Sol Taylor
"Making Cents"
Saturday, January 3, 2009

he source of our paper money has been the Bureau of Engraving and printing since 1874.
    From the start of our paper money system in 1863, the bureau in charge of printing currency was known by various titles such as "Printing Bureau," "Small Note Bureau" and "First Division, National Currency Bureau."
    The BEP was officially started in 1874 with congressional allocation of operating funds starting in 1875. The BEP also produced our postage stamps from 1894 to 2005. The American Banknote Company produced our postage stamps before 1894.
    The BEP also prints special documents, government securities, invitations, certain identification cards, government forms and special forms for various government agencies. The BEP does not produce coins — the United States Mints produce our coins.
    Early production was limited to sheets of four notes. In 1918, increased power presses enabled sheets of eight notes to be printed which were hand-cut to size when completely printed — front, back and applied serial numbers and Treasury Seal.
    The special paper required for our paper money has been contracted to Crane Co. of New England, which holds the exclusive patent on the high-fiber content paper used in our paper money.
    The major changes in paper money occurred in 1929, which reduced the size of the notes and enabled 12 notes to be printed on a single sheet. The paper is more resistant to wear than regular rag content paper with the $1 bill lasting some 18 months in circulation. About half of the monthly output of the BEP is the one dollar bill. The special inks are also fairly stable and resist running when wet. This size has been in effect since then.
    In 1952, with the use of fast drying inks, the BEP was able to produce notes on sheets of 18 and in 1957 enlarged to 32 notes per sheet. Since 1968, the BEP has been producing all denominations on sheets of 32 using the latest dry intaglio process.
    Since 2000, several anti-counterfeiting features have been incorporated in all notes from $5 to $100 to make counterfeiting more difficult — including hologram images, watermarks, microprint and subtle coloring. The BEP offers notes in various uncut formats at their D.C. and Fort Worth facilities, which are open to the public.
    In 1987, due to the demands of currency production, an additional BEP facility was begun in Fort Worth, Texas. The D.C. facility was deemed too small for modern production and too far from the Western Federal Reserve banks where many of the notes had to be shipped.
    The original D.C. facility was located at 14th Street NW in the neoclassical style. In 1938 an addition to the D.C. facility was completed between C and D Streets and is 570 feet long and 285 feet wide.
    Operation at the Fort Worth facility began in December 1990, and the official dedication took place April 26, 1991. The BEP employs 2169 people as of December 2008. The chief executive of the BEP is Larry R. Felix and the BEP is under the Department of the Treasury.