During World War I, when Americans were hoarding gold and making it difficult for the government to keep gold coins in supply, the US issued the original Federal Reserve Bank Notes (FRBN). Unlike the earlier Federal Reserve Notes, the FRBN were the obligations of one of the 12 district banks rather than the Federal Reserve System as a whole. They were printed using the template for National Bank Notes.
The original FRBN were Series 1915. Most were larger than the previous Federal Reserve Notes. They featured the portraits on the left-hand side rather than in the center, and had a blue treasury seal. Small-size FRBN were also printed, but only a few of those were distributed. Therefore, they are valuable to old money dealers.
The first FRBN were issued in denominations of $ 5 to $ 20. With the Series 1918 printing, $ 1 and $ 2 denominations were added to replace the Silver Certificates, and a $ 50 bill was introduced as well. All district banks now printed the bills, although not all denominations were printed by every bank. The new obligation on the bills read, "Secured by United States Bonds or United States Certificates of Indebtedness or United States One-Year Gold Notes Deposited with the Treasurer of the United States of America."
- The $ 1 denomination features George Washington on the left-hand side of the bill. The back shows a flying eagle clutching an American flag. The current value depends on the condition of the bill.
- The 1918 $ 2 bill, known as "the battleship note", pictures Thomas Jefferson on the front and a battleship on the back of each note. They have a variety of signatures and districts.
- The $ 5 bill, with Abraham Lincoln on the front, is not valued as highly as the other denominations.
- The $ 10 denomination note, featuring Andrew Jackson, is particularly rare and valuable, with the exact value based on issuing district and whether or not it is a star note. The star notes are worth more money to rare paper currency collectors.
- The $ 20 bill, which features a profile image of Grover Cleveland, was only issued by a few districts. Since there were not many printed, they are rare and valuable.
- The $ 50 bill with Ulysses S. Grant was only issued by the St. John's Church Louis district. A few dozen of these exist in high grades.
The 1918 FRBN are scarce because the US Treasury retired them after the war ended. Star replacement notes are the most difficult ones to find and are sought after by rare currency dealers.
According to Numismatic News , "[t] he Federal Reserve Bank Note did not suddenly become scarce and interesting. Rather, it is that many [collectors] have just suddenly discovered that large and small-size Federal Reserve Bank Notes are both scarce and interesting . "