100 Proof: The New C-Note's Success
A Sharp Drop In Counterfeit Dollars Has Inspired The Redesign Of More Paper Money
By Caitlin M. Liu
But the next day, he realized that the weird-looking bill with the ballooned-up Benjamin Franklin face was indeed legal tender. Shelton has not rejected a $100 bill since.
Though often derided as "funny money" after their introduction 15 months ago, the new $100 bills featuring the jumbo, off-center Franklin portrait and improved security features have given the Treasury Department, which issued the currency, the last laugh. Not only have merchants and consumers, for the most part, come to accept the face-lifted greenbacks, which account for 40 percent of the $260 billion worth of $100 bills in circulation, but the government has seen a sharp decline in the number of counterfeit $100 bills, thanks in part to the way the bill is printed.
The success of the new hundred-dollar bills also has paved the way for the redesign of the $50, slated to enter circulation this fall. Unlike any other Treasury-issued currency, including the new $100, the new $50 note features a dark, magnified "50" in lower-right corner on the back of the bill to help the visually impaired.
Like the new $100 bill, the new $50 will display a larger, slightly off-center face, in this case a bearded Ulysses S. Grant, and offer beefed-up security measures to foil the criminally inclined.
"We have put in state-of-the-art techniques to stay ahead of counterfeiters, to make it harder so fewer people try," said Roger Anderson, Treasury's deputy assistant secretary for federal finance. The anti-counterfeiting features in the new bills include color-shifting ink (so that the bill appears green at one angle and black at another), an embedded security thread that glows when exposed to ultraviolet light, microprinted words and a watermark that can be seen when held up to light.
In recent years, equipment such as digital full-color copiers, personal computers, scanners and printers have become more sophisticated, making law enforcement increasingly nervous. In the early 1990s, the Treasury Department commissioned the National Academy of Sciences to study a possible currency redesign to improve security. The revised $100s, released in March 1996, were the fruits of those efforts. It was the first redesign of U.S. paper money in 70 years and cost about $765,000, according to the Treasury Department. That price included the cost of the NAS study as well as the cost of buying and testing security features, such as the special ink. The $50s' revision won't cost anything, though, because it will imitate the new $100s' style. A new $20 bill is expected to be unveiled next year, followed by the smaller bills. In a few years, all U.S. currency will be redesigned to mirror the changes made to the $100 bill, the Treasury Department said.
Those plans may not sit well with some people who still have not gotten used to the newfangled $100s. Barbara Autry, the head teller of Crestar Bank's downtown branch, said a few of her customers still insist on the old bills. "I had one customer last week who didn't want any of the new. She said, Give me the old. "
Kevin Garry, a computer consultant from Mount Pleasant, shares the same sentiments toward the new $100s. "They're ugly as hell," he said. "Graphically, the design is terrible. There isn't a sense of balance, a sense of composition. It looks like it was done by a kid in art class."
Though he prefers the "classic design" of the older bills, Garry said he uses the new bills and does not refuse them. "A hundred dollars is a hundred dollars," he said.
Others have taken a fancy to the new $100s' dramatic look. "I like it alright," said William Norfleet, a retired library technician from Columbia Heights. "The new kind has a little more flair to it."
Reluctantly or not, most people seem to be accepting the new. Ernesto Castedo, assistant manager of Famous Pawnbrokers in Rockville, said that some of his clients used to refuse to take the redesigned $100 bills, but a few months ago he noticed that people began accepting the bills without complaints.
And there are several groups loudly applauding the new, more readable $50.
"We think it was a good design," said Marc Maurer, president of National Federation of the Blind. "Not all blind people are totally blind; some have limited vision." Future denominations and new issues of the $100 will feature the jumbo numbers in the back corner to assist the visually impaired.
According to Phil Jones, a spokesman for the American Association of Retired Persons, 17 percent of people 45 or older in the United States -- about 13.5 million people -- are visually impaired. Many more under 45 also would benefit from the redesign.
The redesigned bills' anti-counterfeiting features also are appreciated by people who must handle large volumes of paper money. Mona Sargent, teller supervisor at the First Virginia Bank of Great Falls, said the redesign already has made her job easier. Before, it was harder for her and her staff to determine the authenticity of the $100s they received from customers. "With the new bills," she said, "I just hold them up to the light."
© Copyright 1998 The Washington Post Company