Bureau of Engraving and Printing - History

Bureau of Engraving and Printing - History

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Bureau of Engraving and Printing - founded in 1862, it is one of the agencies of the Department of the Treasury. It designs, engraves, and prints all paper money, treasury bonds and notes, as well postage stamps, food coupons ("food stamps"), and other official federal financial items..


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Spencer Morton Clark was born in Vermont and was involved in a variety of business activities until 1856 when he became a clerk in the Bureau of Construction of the Treasury Department in Washington, D.C. According to a history of the Bureau of Engraving and Printing, Clark became interested in the work of finishing new currency notes at the Treasury and gradually assumed increasingly greater responsibilities in the engraving, printing, and processing of U.S. Government currency and securities. He was a strong advocate for a distinct bureau within the Treasury Department for the production of currency and securities, and took over as the first Superintendent of the National Currency Bureau in 1862.

On August 29, 1862, Clark commenced work with one male assistant and four female operatives, according to a 1977 Washington Post article. Clark is said to have developed the original "Treasury Seal," a variation of which still appears on U.S. notes, according to a 1979 Washington Post article. Clark is also credited with proposing that facsimile signatures for the Treasurer of the United States and the Register of the Treasury be imprinted on U.S. notes using a "peculiar process and with peculiar ink." Prior to that, the signatures were penned by an army of clerks "For the" appropriate official, the Post article added.

In 1864, Congress authorized the issuance of a series of fractional currency notes in denominations of 3, 5, 10, 15, 25 and 50 cents, with Clark’s office being given responsibility for production of the notes.

A controversy ensued when it was discovered that Clark's image had been put on the 5-cent note. There are different historical accounts of how this occurred.

In one, the 5-cent note was supposed to bear a portrait of "Clark," as in explorer William Clark of Lewis and Clark fame. But because no one had distinctly specified exactly which Clark, the currency superintendent took it upon himself to put his own portrait on the bills. [1]

In another version, Clark ordered that the portrait of Francis E. Spinner, treasurer of the United States, be placed on the 50-cent note without consulting him. Spinner was pleased with it, and as he had authority to select portraits on new notes, approved it. Other designs were selected at random and when it came to issuing the 5-cent note, Spinner was asked whose portrait was to be selected.

Clark is said to have replied, "How would the likeness of Clark do?" "Excellent," said Spinner, thinking that reference was made to Freeman Clarke, the Comptroller of the Currency. The matter escaped further notice until the notes had been printed in enormous quantities.

Whatever the story, Congress was outraged when the notes, which had already been mass-produced, came out. According to numismatic historian Walter Breen, Congress’s "immediate infuriated response was to pass a law retiring the 5¢ denomination, and another to forbid portrayal of any living person on federal coins or currency."

Clark only kept his job because of the personal intervention of Treasury Secretary Salmon P. Chase.

Clark resigned from the National Currency Bureau in 1868 amidst a congressional investigation into record-keeping and security within the agency. [2] He went on to work at the Department of Agriculture in the Statistical Division. He later headed the Bureau of Vital Statistics in the Agriculture Department until his death in 1890. [2] He is buried in Hartford, Connecticut.

Sidney R. Yates Building History

The Bureau of Engraving & Printing was founded in 1862 to enable the federal government to print stamps, U.S. currency and other official government documents in-house. Prior to 1862, official documents were printed by outside companies. Originally housed within the Treasury Department Building, the machinery involved in the printing process soon required a dedicated facility and in 1878 land was purchased from philanthropist William Corcoran near the southwest corner of the almost completed Washington Monument.

A "plain, substantial, fire proof building" was designed by Supervising Architect of the Treasury James G. Hill and constructed between 1878 and 1880. Built with repressed machine brick laid in Flemish bond, the masonry structure featured black sand mortar between the bricks, making for a striking visual contrast while hiding soot accumulation from the building's smoke stacks. Evolving to meet the ever changing demands of an active factory, the BEP building underwent numerous additions in the 1890s as the agency developed the land around the building into a complex of small support structures and out buildings. In 1888, due to the need for good lighting by which to engrave currency plates, BEP became one of the first government buildings to install electric lights, replacing its gas lighting system with 1,000 electric bulbs.

The Auditors' Complex"

Rapidly expanding in the wake of World War I, the Bureau of Engraving and Printing moved out of their original building in 1914, migrating to larger accommodations down the street. The new building, at 14th & C Streets, Southwest still functions as the BEP headquarters today and is one of two locations in the U.S. at which paper currency is printed. Following this move, the old building was temporarily utilized by a number of government agencies, including the IRS, General Supply Committee, and USDA.

While each of these agencies occupied space within the building, the primary occupants during this time were auditors from the departments of Navy, Treasury, and State, lending the complex of buildings its nickname: the Auditors' Complex. Several years after vacating the complex, engravers from BEP found their way back into the main building. In need of strong direct light to aid in the delicate task of engraving, the west side of the building was deemed an ideal location with its large windows overlooking the gleaming water of the tidal basin.

Sidney R. Yates Federal Building

Occupancy of the old Auditors' complex dwindled in the latter half of the twentieth century. By the 1960s, it was seriously underutilized and in need of major repairs and renovation. In 1966 the building was scheduled for demolition, however, due to a lack of funding, the demolition was postponed and in 1978 the building was listed on the National Register of Historic Places. At that time, the federal government began investigating potential reuse of the structure to help fill a growing need for additional federal office space in downtown Washington DC. Following a much needed modernization, the U.S. Forest Service moved into the building in 1990

In 1999 the building was named in honor of former Illinois Congressman Sidney R. Yates. Representing the Chicago lakefront wards, Yates was a major advocate for the arts and environment during his tenure in Congress. He also served as a council member of the U.S. Holocaust Museum, which is located next door to the Yates Building and also incorporates buildings from the old Auditor's complex.

In 1966 the building was modernized with the addition of window air conditioner units and an exterior paint job. The last major renovation of the building occurred in 1985-1987, when a major systems overhaul and window replacement was completed. Long outliving its expected temporary lifespan, the Liberty Loan building has proven an adaptable building, evolving to meet the changing needs of the federal government throughout the 20th and 21st centuries.

Engraved Prints

These works of art make wonderful gifts for the home or office. Our engraved prints are created using intaglio plate printing. In the plate printing process, ink is applied to a plate so that it remains only in the engraved areas. Paper is then laid atop the plate, and the two are pressed together under great pressure. As a result, the ink from the recessed areas is pulled onto paper, creating a finished image commonly called an engraving. You’ll find engravings that feature distinguished Presidential portraits, landmarks and monuments historical documents and special engravings celebrating our military.

The United States Mint is the official online retailer for Bureau of Engraving and Printing currency and engraving products.

Bureau of Engraving and Printing Souvenir Card. 1896. $1 Silver Certificate

Morris, Thomas

Published by Department of the Treasury, Washington D.C., 1975

Condition: As New

No Binding. Condition: As New. A steel engraving of the Silver Certificate of 1896, reverse. Martha and George Washington portraits. Issued for the American Numismatic Association's 84th anniversary convention in Los Angeles, CA August 19-24, 1975. At that point in time "Martha Washington was the only woman whose portrait has ever appeared on United States currency. In the original envelope with tissue guard. See our photo.


The obverse of the notes depict a neoclassical allegorical motif, which dominates the front of the note. The motifs are meant as representations of the theme written on the note. The back contained the profiles of two American figures (usually famous Americans) set against an ornate background.

Denominations of $1, $2, and $5 were produced. In addition to $1, $2 and $5 notes denominations of $10, $20, $50, $100, $500 and $1000 were also planned. Designs for a $10 and $50 denomination were being prepared but were never completed or produced before the series was abandoned and replaced by the series of 1899.

The term "Educational" is derived from the title of the vignette on the $1 note, ''History Instructing Youth.''

$1 History instructing Youth
Front Face Designer: Will Hicok Low
Engraver: Charles Schlecht
Rear Back Designer: Thomas F. Morris
George Washington Vignette Engraver: Alfred Sealey (1867)
Martha Washington Vignette Engraver: Charles Burt (1878)

$2 Science presenting steam and electricity to Commerce and Manufacture
Four artists were commissioned by the BEP to produce key artwork including E. H. Blashfield, Will H. Low, C. S. Reinhart, and Walter Shirlaw. [2] [3]
Other design and engraving work is as follows.
Central Vignette Designer: E. H. Blashfield
Central Frame and Background Designer: Thomas F. Morris
Vignette Engraver: George F. C. Smillie
Border Engraver: Charles Schlecht
Rear Back Designer: Thomas F. Morris
Robert Fulton and Samuel F.B. Morse Vignette Engraver: Lorenzo J. Hatch

$5 Electricity as the Dominant Force in the World
Central Vignette Designer: Walter Shirlaw
Border Designer: Thomas F. Morris
Central Vignette Engraver: G. F. C. Smillie
Border Engraver: Thomas F. Morris
Rear Back Designer: Lorenzo J. Hatch and Thomas F. Morris
Rear Back Engraver: G. F. C. Smillie
Ulysses S. Grant and Phillip Sheridan Vignette Engraver: Lorenzo J. Hatch

The naked breasts of the female figures on the $5 silver certificate reportedly caused some minor controversy when several Boston society ladies took offense to the design. Some bankers reportedly refused to accept the notes in transactions, and the term banned in Boston allegedly originates from the $5 silver certificate. [4] [5] In response, the Bureau of Engraving and Printing prepared a "draped" bosom $5 vignette design for a proposed 1897 series. The redesign also included a highly modified front face but was never utilized.

Also for the first time in 1893, Bureau authorities invited a small group of outside artists and engravers to submit design proposals for the new series of notes. The presence of the outside group caused tremendous creative problems within the BEP. Great personality conflicts and jealousy could be [ clarification needed ] one reason that, although the $1 design was approved in July, 1894, the remaining two notes were not accepted until late 1895. At one point during the process, BEP designer Thomas Morris resigned. Coupled with being banned in Boston, the notes were quickly replaced by the Series of 1899 notes.

Educational Series
Image Value Dimensions Description
Allegorical motif Obverse Reverse
$1 Large-sized History Instructing Youth A personification of History instructing a youth, pointing to a panoramic view of the Potomac River and Washington, D.C. The Washington Monument and the Capitol are visible in the background. The United States Constitution is displayed to the right. Circling the motif are the last names of famous Americans. Some of those listed are: (George) Washington, (Benjamin) Franklin, (Thomas) Jefferson, (Robert) Fulton, (Samuel F.B.) Morse, & (Ulysses S.) Grant. Martha Washington, George Washington
$2 Science presents Steam and Electricity to Commerce and Manufacture Science (center) presents the two children, Steam and Electricity, to the more mature figures of Commerce (left) and Manufacture (right). Robert Fulton, Samuel F.B. Morse
$5 Electricity as the Dominant Force in the World Electricity surrounded by other allegorical figures, representing the dominant force in the world. The United States Capitol building can be seen behind the female figures. Ulysses S. Grant, Philip Sheridan
For table standards, see the banknote specification table.
  1. ^A Guide Book Of United States Paper Money: Complete Source for History, Grading, and Prices pg. 27 "It is delightful to that the most beautiful designs, in the opinion of many, are those that were used on the smaller denominations. "
  2. ^ Tome Wilson. "Late Victorian-era money in America". (September 6, 2010).
  3. ^ Melkor-Bradley. "FlyingMoose". (1997).
  4. ^A Guide Book of United States Paper Money: Complete Source for History, Grading, and Prices pg. 106 "The uncovered bosoms of certain of the figures in the scene caused several Boston society ladies to rally against the design and some banks to resist taking them - the origin of the term "banned in Boston."
  5. ^Federal Reserve Bank of San Francisco (2006-04-05). "American Currency Exhibit: Metal Standards - Showcase of Bills" . Retrieved 2006-10-31 .
  • A Guide Book Of United States Paper Money: Complete Source for History, Grading, and Prices by Arthur L. Friedberg (Compiler), Ira S. Friedberg (Compiler), and Q. David Bowers. 0-7948-1786-6

Portions of this article used material from the Federal Reserve Bank of San Francisco website, which is in the public domain.

Bureau of Engraving and Printing - History

Privacy Policy and Legal Notices
Thank you for visiting the Bureau of Engraving and Printing's (BEP) website and reviewing our Privacy Policy Statement. Your privacy is of the highest concern to us. This Privacy Policy covers the entire BEP website. Our privacy policy is clear: we collect no personally identifiable information when you visit our website unless you specifically and knowingly provide that information to us. Personally identifiable information includes your name, e-mail, mailing address, phone number, or other information that identifies you personally.

The Privacy Act of 1974 , 5 U.S.C. § 552a allows individuals to be protected against unwarranted invasions of their personal privacy resulting from Federal agencies collection, maintenance, use, and disclosure of personal information about them. Please contact the Office of the Chief Counsel-Privacy Office, for information on how you can be notified if a United States Bureau of Engraving and Printing Privacy Act System of Records contains a record about you, and for information on how you can gain access to a record about you, and amend or contest its content. The most recent inventory of our Privacy Act Systems of Record Notices (including Routine Uses) can be found at http://www.treasury.gov/privacy/issuances/Documents/2013-08849.pdf

Information Collected and Stored Automatically

If you do nothing during your visit but browse through the website, read pages, or download information, we will gather and store certain information about your visit automatically. This information does not identify you personally. We automatically collect and store only the following information about your visit: the name of the domain from which you access the Internet the date and time you access our site the pages you visit within our site and the Internet address of the site from which you linked directly to our site. We use the information we collect to measure the number of visitors to the different sections of our site, and to help us make our site more useful to visitors. Computer software programs create summary statistics, which are used for such purposes as assessing what information is of most and least interest, determining technical design specifications, and identifying system performance or problem areas. Raw data logs are used for no other purposes and are scheduled for regular destruction in accordance with National Archives and Records Administration general guidelines.

Except for authorized law enforcement investigations, no other attempts are made to identify individual users or their usage habits.

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You may also add your name, address, telephone number, and e-mail to our mailing list, either by indicating that you want to be on the mailing list when you make a purchase or by submitting a separate form requesting inclusion on our mailing list. We retain and use mailing list information only to keep you informed about our products and services. You may contact us at any time to remove your name from the mailing list or to change and update your personal information.

Our authority for requesting information when you make an online purchase or when you request that your name be added to our mailing list is 5 U.S.C § 301. Disclosure of the information we request is voluntary, but if you don't provide the information, you will be unable to complete your transaction or will be unable to join our mailing list.

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Contacting Us
Your comments, questions, and suggestions are extremely important to us. You may contact us electronically by completing the online request form on our "Contact Us" web page. You may also contact us by using the telephone numbers, mailing addresses, and e-mail addresses provided on the website. Before contacting us, there are a few things you should know.

You are not required to provide your name or any other personally-identifying information in order to contact us. If you want us to respond to a question or other inquiry, however, you will need to provide sufficient information for us to contact you.

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This website may offer educational content to children under 13, but we make no attempt to collect personally-identifiable information online from them. If a child voluntarily initiates a request for information or services through our "Contact Us" web page, the information collected will be used solely for the purpose of responding to the request. We take children's privacy very seriously, and encourage parents to contact us with any questions or concerns they may have.

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When you access our site you are entering an official United States Government System, which may be used only for authorized purposes. The Government may monitor and audit usage of this system, and all persons are hereby notified that use of this system constitutes consent to such monitoring and auditing. For Site Security purposes and to ensure that this service remains available to all users, we employ software programs to monitor network traffic to identify unauthorized attempts to upload or change information, or otherwise cause damage. Unauthorized attempts to upload information or change information on this service are strictly prohibited and may be punishable under the Computer Fraud and Abuse Act of 1986 and the National Information Infrastructure Protection Act.

To ensure the security and confidentiality of personally identifiable information, we use security software to prevent unauthorized access, and conduct periodic tests of security safeguards.

Links to Other Sites
Our website has links to the websites of other federal agencies, and in a few cases, links to private organizations. Before leaving our website, a page will appear informing you that you are leaving our server. Once you link to another website, you are subject to the privacy policy of the new site. Any link to another website is provided solely for the convenience of the user and does not constitute endorsement by the Bureau of Engraving and Printing or the United States Government of that site or its information, products, or services. We assume no responsibility for the content or operation of other websites.

Privacy Information

Privacy-related questions, concerns, or complaints shall be addressed to:

Bureau of Engraving and Printing

Office of the Chief Information Officer - Office of Critical Infrastructure and IT Security

Sidney R. Yates Federal Building

The Sidney R. Yates Federal Building, historically known as the Bureau of Engraving and Printing and later the Auditor's Building Complex, is a large historic federal building located on the National Mall and built between 1878-1880 that has housed multiple federal government offices. It is an L-shaped building of red and black brick construction in the Romanesque style and was designed by the office of James G. Hill, the Supervising Architect of the Treasury. [1] [2] The brick was provided by the Peerless Brick Company of Philadelphia. The builder was John Fraser, Superintendent of Construction for the Treasury, and the bricklayers were Bitting & Davidson. [3]

The building was originally designed and constructed for the United States Department of the Treasury Bureau of Engraving and Printing (BEP). The Bureau was founded in 1862 to allow the federal government to produce its own official documents private companies having done so prior to this. The Bureau's machinery and offices were originally located in the Treasury Building, but eventually more space was required. In 1878, land was purchased from philanthropist William Wilson Corcoran and an Act of Congress on June 28 of that year authorized commencement of construction. The building was completed in 1880. Three additions were later constructed in 1891, 1895 and 1900. [1] [2] The Bureau moved to a larger building at 14th & C Streets in 1914. [4]

Following the Bureau's move, the building was used by a number of government agencies, but primarily housed auditors from the Departments of Navy, Treasury, and State, and became known as the "Auditors' Complex". Engravers from the BEP also later used space on the west of the building as it provided excellent natural light for their work. By the 1960s, the building had become underutilized and in need of major renovation. It was slated for demolition in 1966, but was postponed due to lack of funding. [2]

The building was listed on the National Register of Historic Places in April 1978 for its architectural and historical significance. [2] The listing included three contributing buildings, named Annex #1-3, on 2 acres (0.81 ha). [1]

Following a repair and modernization campaign in 1985–1987, the USDA Forest Service moved into the building in 1990 and continues to occupy the building. In 1988, the 1891 addition known as the South Annex was demolished so that the adjacent United States Holocaust Memorial Museum could expand into the space. In 1999, it was redesignated the Sidney R. Yates Federal Building, honoring Illinois Congressman Sidney Richard Yates who helped establish the Holocaust Memorial Museum and served on its council. [2]

In 2017, a working clock was added to the tower. It had been a part of the original design, but was not installed due to excessive costs. [5]

Aerial view of the BEP in Washington, D.C. circa 1918 United States Souvenir Card issued by the Bureau of Engraving and Printing, for the HAPEX APS 70 exhibition and 84th Annual Convention of the American Philatelic Society in 1970

The Bureau of Engraving and Printing has its origins in legislation enacted to help fund the Civil War. In July 1861, Congress authorized the Secretary of the Treasury to issue paper currency in lieu of coins due to the lack of funds needed to support the conflict. The paper notes were essentially government IOUs and were called Demand Notes because they were payable "on demand" in coin at certain Treasury facilities. At this time the government had no facility for the production of paper money so a private firm produced the Demand Notes in sheets of four. These sheets were then sent to the Treasury Department where dozens of clerks signed the notes and scores of workers cut the sheets and trimmed the notes by hand. The Second Legal Tender Act (July 11, 1862 12   Stat.   532) authorized the Treasury Secretary to engrave and print notes at the Treasury Department the design of which incorporates fine-line engraving, intricate geometric lathe work patterns, a Treasury seal, and engraved signatures to aid in counterfeit deterrence. [2]

Initially, the currency processing operations in the Treasury were not formally organized. When Congress created the Office of Comptroller of the Currency and National Currency Bureau in 1863, currency-processing operations were nominally subordinated to that agency and designated the "First Division, National Currency Bureau". For years, however, the currency operations were known by various semi-official labels, such as the "Printing Bureau", "Small Note Bureau", "Currency Department", and "Small Note Room". It was not until 1874 that the "Bureau of Engraving and Printing" was officially recognized in congressional legislation with a specific allocation of operating funds for fiscal year 1875.

From almost the very beginning of its operations, the Bureau of Engraving and Printing designed and printed a variety of products in addition to currency. As early as 1864, the offices which would later become the BEP made passports for the State Department and money orders for the Post Office Department. Passports are now produced by the Government Publishing Office. Other early items produced by the BEP included various government debt instruments, such as interest-bearing notes, refunding certificates, compound interest Treasury notes, and bonds. The production of postage stamps began in 1894, and for almost the next century the BEP was the sole producer of postage stamps in the country.

Photo, Print, Drawing Bureau of Engraving and Printing, Stamp Division

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  • Rights Advisory: No known restrictions on publication.
  • Reproduction Number: LC-DIG-ppmsca-40921 (digital file from original item) LC-USZ62-70550 (b&w film copy neg.)
  • Call Number: LOT 8861 [item] [P&P]
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