Although you might not guess it from the name, the Mimeograph Letters and Statements of the Board is one of the most interesting collections in FRASER. This archival collection holds mimeographed[1] copies of more than 9,000 letters, memos, and telegrams sent from the Board of Governors to the regional Federal Reserve Banks between 1914 and 1942. The letters and their attachments (sometimes nearly 30 attachments per letter) were collected in the records section of the Board and bound in six-month, chronological volumes, earning the name “Redbooks” from their distinctive binding color.[2]

The Redbooks feature press releases, legal memoranda, budget information, banking supervision guidance letters, legislation and regulation information, transcripts of speeches by Federal Reserve officials, and a variety of other documents from the operations of the Fed in its early years. Although much of the material in this collection is also available organized topically at the National Archives, this collection is unique in its chronological organization, allowing researchers to more easily trace trends and developments over time. However, because the bound copies are old and digitization of mimeographs is difficult, full text searching is not always reliable. Each item in the volumes has therefore been given a separate title to allow researchers to more easily browse and search the collection.

The collection illustrates the growing pains of the Federal Reserve System and its shift from a strongly regional to a more centralized system, as in this snippet from “Questions Submitted by Governor Aiken (Boston),” November 13, 1914:

 

Excerpt from "Questions Submitted by Governor Aiken (Boston)" 11/13/14

The text reads, “Assuming that Federal reserve notes are to be issued at the opening, what will the reserve Bank of Boston do if it receives on deposit a Federal reserve note, for example, of the Dallas Federal reserve bank? Answer: It shall send this note at once to the Dallas bank for credit or redemption. Such a note could not be paid out by the Boston bank except upon a penalty of 10%.”

 

There are a number of regular reports and documents that show trends in the banking and financial history of the U.S., including the X-1530 reports (new Federal Reserve member banks), the X-3962 reports (closed banks), “Statement for the Press re Business and Financial Conditions,” and statements from the Bureau of Engraving accounting for Federal Reserve notes. Like the similar collection of New York Fed Circulars, the everyday business communications of the Fed vary from the mundane (“Payment of Telegram Charges“) to the astonishing (“Letter From the Governor re Confidential Report on Certain Bank Failures and Their Connection with Communist Party in the United States“).

The main drawback of this collection is the illusion of completeness. Although we have faithfully replicated the bound volumes and have presented the volume and page number for each item so that researchers can see the sequence of the material, there are gaps. Organizational choices in the physical books mean that the items in sequence may or may not have any relation to one another or be in a seemingly logical order. Some items are undated and untitled.

Letters in the Redbooks cover World War I (including the resignation of Paul Warburg, influenced by anti-German sentiment) and the beginning of World War II, along with other significant historical events; however, they have very little to say about what we now call the Great Depression. Nevertheless, although this collection may not have full runs of reports or may be missing significant context, when used in conjunction with other collections like the Federal Reserve Statistical Releases, the Papers of Benjamin Strong, Jr., and the New York Fed Circulars,[3] you can get a surprisingly rich picture of the first few decades of the Fed.

 

[1] See https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Mimeograph

[2] These are different from the later Redbooks, issued from 1970 to 1983, which were precursors to the Beige Book.

[3] See the earlier Inside FRASER on this collection: https://insidefraser.stlouisfed.org/2016/09/the-new-york-fed-circulars/

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