Color is coming to U.S. paper money - New designs will start with
WASHINGTON, Dec. 1, 2002— The last time Andrew Jackson got a makeover,
he ended up with a big head, slightly off-center. This time, he will
get a little color. The most noticeable features of the last redesign
of U.S. currency — the oversized, off-center portraits — produced
all kinds of derisive nicknames: funny money, Monopoly money, cartoon
COLOR IS COMING, and government money makers are hoping for a warmer
reception for the changes. The new $20, with its public unveiling
set for the spring, is supposed to be in circulation as early as next
Jackson is first in line for a makeover. After the new $20 makes its
debut, the new $50 (Ulysses S. Grant) and the $100s (Benjamin Franklin)
will follow in within 18 months.
In the works is a five-year effort, costing up to $53 million, to
educate people about the changes. An important goal is to help distinguish
between genuine greenbacks and bogus bills.
“If we learned anything from the issuance of the $20 in 1998, it is
that things that we get used to here, because we see it and work on
it, when it is first in the hands of the public it is seen as dramatic,”
said Thomas Ferguson, director of the Bureau of Engraving and Printing.
“Suddenly, we are asking them to accept something else.”
Portrait engraver Thomas Hipschen, who is working on the current redesign,
remembers spending countless hours during the last makeover meticulously
cutting into steel by hand the portraits of Jackson, Franklin and
Grant for the new bills.
Relieved at first when the work was done, he then worried about the
public reaction to the changes.
“You worry about what the press is going to do,” he said. “I have
an old clipping file about all the horrible things they said about
the portraits that I engraved. Some fun things, too.”
Everyone is a critic.
“Well, you are not going to please everybody. This is a situation
where everybody is going to weigh in on it,” Hipschen said. “You really
have to have a thick skin, I think. But I don’t really take it to
heart that much. When my artist friends come back and say, ‘What were
you thinking?’ — that kind of hurts to the quick. But the general
population, they are going to get on the bandwagon, one way or the
other, and I’m just going to have to live with it.”
To give the new bills color, the bureau has had to buy five printing
presses, to operate in Washington and at a bureau facility in Fort
Worth, Texas. To run the new presses, Ferguson said, some existing
workers are getting trained, and a few new people have been hired.
The Fort Worth plant is being expanded, providing room for the new
presses and space for public tours, he said.
Adding color to the notes is a challenge.
“It is new, and anything that is new provides another opportunity
to do well — or not,” Ferguson said. “There can be color variations
that we wouldn’t get with a single color ink, like when we use black
or green. So there are additional inspection requirements.”
Green and black ink is now used on neutral-colored paper. With the
makeover, color tints will be added in the neutral areas of the note.
Ferguson would not say which colors will be used, but said they will
vary by denomination.
Money makers want the new notes to have an American look and feel,
and not be confused with, for instance, the colorful euro, the paper
currency of the European Union.
“When we look at something as fundamentally revolutionary as adding
color, going from a currency system that has been monochromatic certainly
for all of our lives, our parents’ lives, ... we want to do it in
a responsible way that recognizes that tradition,” Ferguson said.
“So that when people around the world see that first new U.S. $20,
they will know it as a U.S. $20.”
‘CONTINUUM OF DESIGN’
Recent changes in paper money design have been driven by the desire
to thwart high-tech counterfeiters. Over the years, counterfeiters
have graduated from offset printing to increasingly sophisticated
color copiers, computer scanners, color ink jet printers and publishing-grade
software, all readily available.
Some anti-counterfeiting features included in the last redesign will
be retained, the bureau said. They include watermarks that are visible
when held up to a light; embedded security threads that glow a color
when exposed to an ultraviolet light; and minute images, visible with
a magnifying glass, known as microprinting.
The new notes may sport more distinct color-shifting ink. In the last
redesign, color-shifting ink that looks green when viewed straight
on but black at an angle was used in a spot on some notes.
Even after the greenbacks’ last makeover, which started with a revamped
Franklin on the $100 in 1996 and ended with new $5s and $10s in 2000,
some collectors still complained that U.S. currency is boring.
Ferguson has a different take.
“Our notes now, in the highest sense of the word, are utilitarian,”
he said. “U.S. currency is a continuum of design, versus a revolution
Under the redesign, the size of the notes will not change and the
same faces will appear on the same bills. But the portraits and buildings
may be presented differently.
Hipschen said if he were king for a day, he would put Duke Ellington
on one of the bills, would replace all the portraits with different
American figures and would make notes longer as they increase in denomination.
“We could have gone where no man had gone before,” he joked.