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What is the origin of the dimensions of large-sized US dollar bills?
June 1, 2014 1:18 PM   Subscribe

US dollar bills before 1928 were larger than they are now, 188mm by 79mm. Are there records of why that particular size was chosen?

This Stack Overflow question claims that the size of IBM punch-cards was based on reusing currency carriers from large-size US dollar notes. I'm trying to trace this set of dimensions as far back as is possible, but I haven't been able to find out where large-size US notes were sized as they were.

Are there records of where these measurements came out of? (And if it's based on another currency, where that currency gained its measurements from)
posted by CrystalDave to Education (7 answers total) 2 users marked this as a favorite
 
I don't know why any particular bill size was chosen, but if you want a visual take on the old larger size: get hold of an old computer punch card. Those cards never changed their size or shape after they were invented about 1888, when they were sized to match the size of the then-current US paper money.
posted by easily confused at 1:30 PM on June 1 [1 favorite]


Frank King noted the size change in a Gasoline Alley strip.
posted by brujita at 2:04 PM on June 1


It's worth noting that this size 3⅛ in × 7.4218 in. You might start by trying to figure out what the size of their predecessors, the first United States Notes, and the Demand Notes.
posted by grouse at 2:20 PM on June 1


I did a deep dive into the punch card history a bit back, and afaict back then, the first large notes was the same size as the demand notes they replaced, which in turn was the same size as the private issue bank notes they replaced. The demand ones and many of the earlier were all printed by the same company, American Bank Note Company, so a guess is that they just kept doing what they were doing. And as for Hollerith's punch cards, this also had the advantage that you could reuse existing cash drawers and boxes.
posted by effbot at 2:25 PM on June 1 [3 favorites]


You're mixing your units there - large US notes are 3.125 by 7.4218 inches (7.938 by 18.851 cm)

It's more likely that it's based on the existing paper size that it was printed on, minus the trimmed margins.
The few uncut sheets for large sized notes I've been able to find are four to a page, but don't list dimensions. They were apparently cut by hand at the individual banks.

4*3.125 = 12.5.
7.4218.

With margins, that's ball-park close to 8x13", which is now US foolscap, but that apparently wasn't a thing in the 19th Century. Perhaps the thing to do is look for uncut sheets of the original private issue bank notes.
posted by zamboni at 2:27 PM on June 1


In July 1929, after years of discussion and months of preparation, the first small-size U.S. currency was placed into circulation. The new notes were about 25% smaller than previous issues. The change was intended primarily to reduce the cost of currency production; but it was also used as an opportunity to redesign all the notes in a uniform style, standardize designs for each denomination across all types, and introduce color-coded seals and serial numbers for each type.
posted by Rob Rockets at 2:59 PM on June 1 [2 favorites]


I have an answer. It's only speculative, but I haven't been able to find a better one, and I'm usually pretty good with this sort of thing.

Back in the olden days, when paper was made by hand, "the common size of the papermaking mold" was 19 * 25 inches. This was a standard sheet of paper, and when folded and trimmed it made eight octavo pages.

When the US was purchasing paper for its currency notes it was ordered from a manufacturer who measured production in "posts" of 125 sheets. One fifth of a post is 25 sheets, 475 inches long by 25 inches wide. If you cut that length into eighths you will end up with pieces that are 59.375 inches long by 25 inches high. And each one of those sheets will make 8 x 8 currency notes that are 7.421875 inches long by 3⅛ inches high, almost exactly the size of a note that is supposed to be 7.4218 inches by 3⅛ inches.

Like I say, this is speculative, but I haven't seen a better suggestion anywhere.
posted by Joe in Australia at 5:02 AM on June 2 [2 favorites]


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