One day last week, The Washington Post ran a story about Bishop Walter (Sweet Daddy) McCollough of the United House of Prayer.
In the body of the story, it was stated that the bishop gets good financial support from his flock, with some contributions running $1,000 or more. At picture that accompanied the story showed a man handing something to the bishop. A line of type under the picture explained, "Bishop McCollough accepts $1,000-bill offering."
After the first edition came off the presses, Gene Bachinski, in the night city editor's slot, challenged the accuracy of the line. "Who said it was a $1,000 bill?" he asked. "And I wonder whether $1,000 bills are still permitted to circulate?"
Gene couldn't get the answers he wanted that night, so the underline was rewritten to avoid mention of a $1,000 bill. The next day, when better information was obtainable, we printed a correction. The contribution we had pictured involved a $1 bill.
But that left one of Gene's questions unanswered: Are $1,000 bills still permitted to circulate?
To learn the answer, I called Treasury's public affairs office. The woman who answered the phone got rid of me in mid-question. "You'll have to call the Bureau of the Mint for that information," she said.
Even as I hung up preparatory to dialing the Mint, I said to myself, "She doesn't know what she's talking about.The Mint makes coins. It doesn't have anything to do with paper money."
And that's precisely what a voice at the Mint told me. "What you want is the Bureau of Engraving and Printing," it said.
"But they just print the money, they don't regulate it," I protested.
"Well, I'm sorry." the voice said. "That's the only thing I can suggest."
So I called the Bureau of Engraving and Printing, which knew nothing about regulations governing the circulation of its bills. "All I can tell you," I was told, "is that we don't make any $1,000 bills."
On a hunch, I called the office of the Comptroller of the Currency. There I finally got the answer I was after.
Under th Title 31 of the U.S. Code, no United States paper money has been printed in denominations larger than $100 since July 1969. The $500, $1,000, $5,000, and $10,000 bills already in circulation were not called in, but as they reached Federal Reserve banks during the past nine years, they were burned. There are still a few in private hands, and those that survive are still legal tender. But it is plainly only a matter of time before nothing larger than a C-note will exist except in numismatic collections.
You and I should have bought up a few bundles of those big bills while they were still available.
The reason for discouraging the circulation of big bills was that cash leaves no easy trail for tax collectors to follow, and large amounts of hot cash were excaping taxation.
A companion measure made it mandatory for banks to report cash transactions of $10,000 or more - "either coming or going," as Harry Spie of National Savings and Trust described it.
Either a deposit or a withdrawal of that size must be reported to IRS.