A Money Makeover

Alexander Hamilton’s image will be retained in some way on the new $10 bill, and that several options are being considered to include a woman’s portrait.

Alexander Hamilton’s image will be retained in some way on the new $10 bill, and that several options are being considered to include a woman’s portrait.

The U.S. Treasury’s pending currency facelift to enhance security

By Lisa M. Harteker

U.S. Treasury Secretary Jack Lew has announced the redesign of the $10 bill—the first in a new generation of comprehensive currency redesign that is likely to be the most complex and inventive ever undertaken. Few specifics about the currency’s redesign have been released; the process is lengthy, secretive, and involves several years of iteration and testing. But the known changes signal a notable departure.

“We were going to be putting out a whole new family of bills, not just the $10 bill. But we’re going to be redesigning the other bills in this new series,” Lew said during a National Public Radio interview this fall. “The security issues are paramount because the reason we redesign bills in a certain order is to make sure that our currency is safe and sound; it can’t be counterfeited.”

Large, high-contrast numerals and colors also will be added to each denomination. (U.S. law currently prohibits any design changes to the $1 bill, however.) The new $10 bill also will be the first bill with new security features as well as long-awaited features to help the blind and visually impaired tell the denominations apart.

Currently, all notes are the same size, with the same weight and feel (aside from the $100 bill, which uniquely has raised printing), and the available currency reader and mobile apps have frustrating limitations in use. With the redesign, bills will now include a raised tactile element unique to each denomination that will let people identify notes by touch.

The small amount of information about the currency redesign released thus far suggests that the $10 note’s new and enhanced security features and tactile elements will continue the direction the Treasury has already taken in recent years. Those changes have included adding to notes background colors, portrait watermarks visible under light, numeric watermarks, security threads that glow under ultraviolet light, micro printing, improved color-shifting ink and, on the redesigned $100 bill in 2013, a three-dimensional security ribbon and raised printing.

U.S. Treasurer Rosie Rios says that as the Treasury continues to design the next generation of currency, it will “explore new and creative ways” to update the other denominations too.

More notably publicized, for the first time since Martha Washington’s portrait on a silver certificate (1891—1896), U.S. paper currency will feature a woman. In an unprecedented move, the Treasury has opened the debate to the public over which woman to feature, and Lew says the outpouring of suggestions (more than 1.5 million so far) reflect “a very interesting moment where an awful lot of people have been paying attention to our history and why it’s important to us.”

Lew also notes that Americans are more interested in ideas than buildings, so the Treasury and the Bureau of Engraving and Printing are thinking about how to incorporate that interest in the design too. He stresses that Alexander Hamilton’s image will be retained in some way on the new $10 bill and that several options are being considered to include a woman’s portrait, including having two versions of the note, each with a different portrait. Lew plans to announce which woman will appear on the note later this year.

“It’s one of the more exciting announcements people are waiting to hear,” he says.

The revamp of the $10 bill also marks a shift in the production of currency: The silver plates that imprint the design onto bills will be changed, and the new notes will be printed in both Washington, D.C., and Fort Worth, Texas.

It is not yet known when the new $10 bill will be released into circulation, or which note will be the second to be redesigned, but the currency redesign itself is slated for release in 2020, the 100th anniversary of the 19th amendment that secured women the right to vote.


Lisa M. Harteker is a freelance writer in Colorado.

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