Cashing out - For 40 years, five $1,000 bills have sat locked away. Now, S.J. puts them on the auction block.

STOCKTON - Forty years ago, San Joaquin County government peeled off five $1,000 bills to prime a new revolving fund for employees to use to pay expenses when traveling on official business.

It was a cash fund, meant to put money in the hands of employees who needed it before they headed out on their trips. It was 1972, after all, so cash had all the convenience before technology allowed the use of credit and debit cards to explode.

But the county treasury held lower denominations of bills, too. So the $1,000 notes stayed locked in the vault, and nobody, presumably, was forced to find a place to eat lunch in Sacramento that would break a $1,000 bill.

The bills themselves have been out of print for about 80 years and are a rare sight in circulation, so the county is hoping to get more than face value at auction now that officials are closing the fund. It's a move to modernize the function for efficiency's sake and replace the relic from the time the fund was first set up in the 1970s, officials said.

"It was kind of old school," Assistant Treasurer-Tax Collector Phonxay Keokham said. "It's a little piece of history."

The five bills themselves are crisp and flat, though some are in better condition than others. Each one bears the portrait of Grover Cleveland, who was elected as both the 22nd and 24th president of the United States in the late 19th Century. (Benjamin Harrison served between Cleveland's two terms.)

Appraisers have estimated the total value of the bills at $7,250. The cash will be auctioned on the Internet.

U.S. currency currently tops out at the $100 denomination, but that hasn't always been the case, according to the U.S. Treasury Department.

There have been $500 (featuring William McKinley); $1,000; $5,000 (James Madison) and $10,000 bills (Salmon P. Chase), but they haven't been printed since 1945. The main purpose of these large bills were for transfers among banks, but more secure methods of transfer replaced the need for these notes, according to the agency's website.

The largest note was a $100,000 Gold Certificate (Woodrow Wilson), printed by the Bureau of Engraving and Printing for a brief time in December 1934 and January 1935. They were used only for transactions between Federal Reserve banks.

The Feds continued to issue the rest of the big bills for decades after the last were printed. The Treasury and the Federal Reserve Board announced that would stop, and reserve banks would start removing the currency from circulation, in 1969.

That was right before San Joaquin County used five of the bills to start the then-brand-new travel fund.

It was not as common for individuals to have bank accounts back then either, said Treasurer - Tax Collector Shabbir Khan. He said he's seen technology change vastly since he started at the Auditor-Controller's Office in the 1980s. It had been equipped with manual typewriters and just one computer, Khan said in an interview in his office, where he had been reading a Retirement Board agenda on an iPad.

On Tuesday, the Board of Supervisors voted to terminate the fund. The change allows the Auditor-Controller's Office to cut a check that comes out of the budget of the county department doing the traveling. It also means employees getting a travel advance don't have to pick up potentially large amounts of cash.

It's safer and more efficient, officials said.