Although FRASER is an online-only library, it operates in many ways like a traditional research library: Our team of librarians carefully considers the development of our collections; each item is catalogued using a library or archival format appropriate for digital collections; and, although many people may not realize it, we run a virtual “reference desk” open to all FRASER users.
FRASER’s online patrons can use the “Contact Us” form to consult a reference librarian for help with their research. Questions are generally answered within two business days. While we strive to answer questions fully ourselves, we also know it’s sometimes best to seek out others with more or better information. Occasionally, we refer questions to library or research colleagues at other Federal Reserve Banks, the Board of Governors, or the many agencies whose documents are part of FRASER’s collection.
Although we get a wide variety of questions from a wide variety of FRASER users—economists, students, teachers, business people, and journalists, to name just a few—we often find ourselves recommending the same source materials again and again. To make those sources even easier to find for all current and future users, here are some common questions and a few of the “greatest hits” of the FRASER reference desk:
Question: I saw a chart that tracked the yield on the 10-year Treasury note going all the way back to 1790, but I can’t find the original data. Where would I look on FRASER for historical bond yields?
Answer: We’ve seen that chart! But we don’t have the citations either, so we’ve done our own sleuthing. The most complete historical data we have was compiled by the Treasury and included in the two volumes of the Board of Governors Banking and Monetary Statistics and in the two editions of Historical Statistics of the United States: Colonial Times to 1957 and Colonial Times to 1970. (The editions are over 600 pages each, so may take a few moments to load in your browser.) Helpfully, the Historical Statistics include source citations for every included series and are the best source we have for securities data prior to the mid-20th century.
We also often recommend that patrons interested in a deeper dive check out these resources:
- Treasury’s “History of Marketable Securities Products and Programs” timeline
- Treasury’s “U.S. Treasury Notes” timeline
- The 10-Year Treasury Constant Maturity Rate in FRED (1962-present)
- This 1977 Fed memo about the constant maturity yield series
- Series descriptions and methodology in Long-Term Economic Growth, 1860-1965
Finally, for anyone looking for 18th-century securities data, our best recommendation is Smith and Cole’s 1935 book Fluctuations in American Business, 1790-1860. Any data prior to about 1795 would likely need to be found in historical newspapers.
Question: I’m interested in historical bank balance sheet data. Is that something you have in FRASER? If not, where would I find it?
Answer: FRASER has some balance sheet data, but certainly not all. The “Call Reports” (also known as “Reports of Condition”) are available for the years 1916-1959 and consist of twice-yearly balance sheet reports for nationally chartered banks and for state bank members of the Federal Reserve System.
Another valuable resource is the Rand McNally Bankers Directories, which not only list banks around the country, but also include basic statements of assets and liabilities for each. We have only a handful on FRASER at this point (for various years from 1879 to 1920), but we are looking into expanding our collection. They may also be findable in public or academic libraries.
Some historical data are findable in FRASER in the Annual Report of the Secretary of the Treasury on the State of the Finances, available for 1789-1980, as well as more 19th-century data in the Annual Report of the Comptroller of the Currency, available for 1863-1980. The Board of Governors retrospective volume All-Bank Statistics, 1896-1955 has aggregated state-by-state data that may also be helpful, and FRASER has recently added a selection of early 20th-century state-government reports on banking. Contemporary data are available from the Federal Financial Institutions Examination Council (FFIEC).
Question: I’m looking for a particular Federal Reserve document that’s not already on FRASER. When will you add it?
Answer: FRASER is not a comprehensive collection of Federal Reserve materials. Given the many documents produced in the more than a century since the Fed’s founding, we may never find every document of interest to our users. Additionally, FRASER does not make non-public materials available and we follow library copyright best practices, making some materials unpublishable on our site. If the materials you are looking for are not already on FRASER, we recommend going directly to the individual Banks’ websites or to federalreserve.gov for Board of Governors information.
Question: I found a great data publication on FRASER. Do you have the data in spreadsheet format instead of just a scanned PDF?
Answer: No, but we might someday. We are looking into ways to efficiently make historical data easier for researchers to use, so adding spreadsheets if and when they’re available is a possibility. We recently made changes to the FRASER platform to support display and download of Microsoft Excel and CSV files, and we hope to have many uses for that functionality going forward.
Finally, there are questions we just don’t have the expertise or materials to answer, so we recommend that FRASER users also reach out to our partners and colleagues:
- For historical government records, including those of the Board of Governors, that have not been digitized for FRASER, try the National Archives and Records Administration.
- We often recommend our “older brother” FRED®; history buffs might find the NBER Macrohistory Database and Bank of England Millennium of Macroeconomic Data for the UK series on FRED particularly interesting.
- For images of historical currency, try the Newman Numismatic Portal at Washington University in St. Louis.
- For helpful modern summaries of events and people important to the Fed, try federalreservehistoryorg.
- For background on many of the laws in FRASER’s legislation collection, consult the legislative histories produced by the Law Librarians’ Society of Washington, DC.
If none of these answer your FRASER questions, or they only whet your appetite for more, we encourage you to contact us!
 Each of these questions melds multiple patron questions on similar topics, and none of them is a direct quote from a FRASER user.
 Our digitized copies come from microfilm, and the reels are divided based on the length of the microfilm, not date; for instance, reports for June 30, 1934, go from Reel 71 to reel 75. For more on the call reports, see this month’s Inside FRASER on the collection.
© 2018, Federal Reserve Bank of St. Louis. The views expressed are those of the author(s) and do not necessarily reflect official positions of the Federal Reserve Bank of St. Louis or the Federal Reserve System.