Dr. Sol Taylor

Symbolism on Our $1 Bill

By Dr. Sol Taylor
"Making Cents"
Saturday, May 31, 2008

he $1 bill in your wallet has been virtually unchanged since the first $1 Federal Reserve notes were issued in 1957.
    It is appropriate that George Washington, our first president, is the figure chosen for the current $1 bill. He has been on the $1 bill since 1917.
    From 1934 to 1957, the $1 bill was a silver certificate. That meant there was a certain amount of silver (at 91 cents per ounce) in the Treasury for every $1 bill (and for $5 and $10 silver certificates, as well).
    The motto, "In God We Trust," is one of the more recent additions, having been first applied some 50 years ago. Previously, the motto appeared only on our coinage starting in 1864.
    The green seal is the seal of the United States Treasury. The serial numbers are also in green. There are 12 Federal Reserve districts, and starting with Boston (A) and New York (B), each serial number will start with the letter of the respective Federal Reserve district.
    Unlike the older silver certificates (which are no longer redeemable in silver — that ended almost 40 years ago), Federal Reserve notes are not redeemable in anything other than other United States currencies and coins.
    The paper used in making these notes has come from the Crane Co. in Connecticut where the special fiber content paper has been made under contract to the government for more than 100 years. The paper is more resistant to wear and tear, to washing and loss of color over the life of the note, which averages about 18 months. The special inks are more resistant to smearing and fading.
    On the back are two circles featuring the Great Seal of the United States. This device was first designed and approved for official use back in 1782. Two committees and 14 men worked some six years to develop the final product, which was approved by Congress on June 13, 1782, under Charles Thompson, secretary of Congress.
    The circle on the left shows a pyramid with the cap missing and an eye glowing at the top. There are various explanations for this symbolism, one of which states the nature of the unfinished United States with an overseeing eye. The Latin phrase, "Annuit Coeptis," means "God has favored our undertaking." The Latin phrase below the pyramid, "Novus Ordo Seclorum," means "A new order for a new world."
    The number 13 appears in various forms to represent the united 13 colonies. There are 13 steps in the pyramid, 13 plumes on each of the eagle's wings, 13 bars on the shield, 13 leaves on the olive branch, 13 fruits and 13 arrows.
    Several proposals have been made to eliminate the $1 bill, but each new dollar coin has proved a flop, and people prefer $1 bills to $1 coins.

    Dr. Sol Taylor of Sherman Oaks is president of the Society of Lincoln Cent Collectors and author of The Standard Guide to the Lincoln Cent. Click here for ordering information.