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Archive for Monday, December 2, 2002

U.S. getting ready to make change with $20 bill

December 2, 2002

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— 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, etc.

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 fall.

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."

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, Tex. The Fort Worth plant is being expanded, providing room for the new presses and space for public tours, he said.

Green and black ink is now used on neutral-colored notes. 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."

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.

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