An example of great typography on US paper money currency....

zeno333's picture

The 1896 US 5 Dollar Education Note..... Said by many to be the most beautiful US currency ever made....It also has some great typography incorporated in the design.

1896 5 Dollar Education Note.jpg389.59 KB
Joshua Langman's picture

Wow. Thanks.

eliason's picture

Beautiful, yes. Typography, no.

zeno333's picture

I call the 3 Vs representing the number 5 at the 3 corners beautiful typography IMHO.

Nick Shinn's picture

Bare boobs, a Brazilian, wings, and her own power source—tends to overshadow the lettering.

John Hudson's picture

Bah! Overblown, over crowded, throw-in-everything eclecticism.

The pre-WWII British bills were far more beautiful.

5star's picture

The rich textural depth of that 5iver is awesome! That Brit bill is somewhat classy stuff, really diggin' the broad way outline for the word Twenty!


DTY's picture

It's interesting to compare the two approaches to deterring counterfeits: the Americans throwing in as much fine detail as possible so that something would almost certainly be copied badly, and the British using very little so that anything that is wrong would stand out more clearly.

None of it is exactly typography, though, as Craig says, since the lettering was hand-engraved on the dies used for creating the printing plates.

zeno333's picture

That main vignette is supposed to be the main focus....The lettering at the corners are not the main focus of the overall work.

zeno333's picture

DTY, why would it not be typography, the lettering and numbers at the 4 corners? Typography used to be only hand writing, then it moved to wood block and metal we have added digital....Either way Typography is the art and science of placing lettering and the design of that actual lettering itself....This currency has lettering and numbers placed on it, and there is for sure lots of "design" amongst the actual lettering itself....(The Capital V at the top left corner is simply stunning...). So using all practical definitions of the word, it is indeed "Typography".

Luma Vine's picture

Your "practical definitions" are quite different than those of many people on here zeno333. Here is what Merriam-Webster says:

hrant's picture

Luma's right - please use more rigorous definitions, it's more... practical.


John Hudson's picture

Zeno, typography is, as the word suggests, writing with type. If it weren't a distinct technology from pen writing or block printing or engraving or laser etching, etc. it wouldn't have a distinct name. In the digital realm, fonts are used to output to many different kinds of technologies, so it is more common for typography to play a role in the creation of letters in various media than used to be the case, but when we're talking about historical artefacts we should take care to accurately describe the means of their making. If you want a general term to refer to the kinds of lettering treatment on that US bill independent of technology, it would be ... lettering.

quadibloc's picture

This thread reminded me of the 1935 series of banknotes issued by the Canadian Imperial Bank of Commerce.

Si_Daniels's picture

I've fixed it...

zeno333's picture


DTY's picture

To me the important difference between typography and the lettering arts (whether with pen, brush, burin, or something else) is that typography involves the arrangement of already-formed letters, while lettering involves an interaction between the arrangement and the forming of the letters. The square-letter engraver for that silver certificate did a number of things that were very un-typographic at the time, such as adapting the "A" in "DOLLARS" to the shape of the preceding "L".

Now that OpenType programming makes type more flexible, the difference isn't as sharp as it was previously. There's always been quite a lot that type designers can learn from lettering, and more now than before, but typographers are still mostly constrained by what the type designer offers them.

oldnick's picture


I hope that your "fix" is at least 150% of the original size of the horseblanket note; otherwise, you could be in a heap of trouble with the Secret Service, which oversees the technical specs relating to the reproduction of U.S. currency…at least, in theory. The last time I talked with agents in Washington, DC, there appeared to be a number of regulations about which they were either vaguely or not at all sure…

zeno333's picture

Funny you should mention that 150%....I printed out that 1895 5$ education note on a good printer and framed it, and I had to make sure it was 150% larger than the original.....

JamesM's picture

> the last time I talked with agents ...there appeared to be a
> number of regulations about which they were either vaguely
> or not at all sure…

Here are the government's rules:

As a practical matter, they're unlikely to get upset about actual-size web images because the resolution is so low. Prints at high resolution (like in a book, magazine, or brochure) are a bigger concern as someone might cut it out and try to pass it off as real currency.

I used to have a large bank as a client and we often used money images in the brochures and needed to be careful to comply with the rules. Most commercial printers are very familiar with these rules and will refuse to print a piece that violates them.

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