George, Abe, Ben to get U.S. face lifts

July 14, 1994|By Nelson Schwartz | Nelson Schwartz,Contributing Writer

WASHINGTON -- Historical portraits that are 50 percent larger, moved off-center. Watermarks. Blue and green iridescent spots. And ink that changes color when viewed from different angles.

For the first time in two generations, America's money is changing face. Spurred by a new wave of high-tech counterfeiters, the Treasury Department is proposing a redesign the greenback that could be in your wallet in just two years.

The rise in counterfeiting has set off fears on Capitol Hill and elsewhere that an influx of fake money could undermine the dollar's value and destabilize the U.S. economy. The designs under consideration, Treasury Secretary Lloyd Bentsen said yesterday, are "a pre-emptive step to protect U.S. currency from high-tech counterfeiting."

The new features proposed for the currency would be nearly impossible to counterfeit, Treasury and Secret Service officials said yesterday. Even high-tech copiers, they said, would be unable to duplicate the iridescent dots and watermarks accurately.

Last year, more than $160 million in bogus U.S. bills was confiscated, both here and abroad, according to testimony at a Capitol Hill hearing at which the proposed changes were unveiled. The Secret Service expects such confiscations to increase by $40 million this fiscal year.

The Treasury, which has authority over the design changes, hasn't settled on any final versions but intends to complete the first re-drawn bill -- the $100 note -- next year and release it into circulation in 1996.

It would be the first new design for paper money since 1929, when the current set of $1, $5, $10, $20, $50 and $100 bills was introduced.

Redesigns of the lower-denomination bills would follow. Treasury officials said they hoped to finish the process by 2000.

The size, paper and greenish tint of America's money will remain the same.

The most noticeable change will be the historical portrait, moved slightly off-center and 50 percent larger than the images on notes now in circulation.

Ben Franklin, for one, is expected to sport a new look, courtesy of a different portrait on the $100 bill. But the same historical figures will appear on the nation's currency.

A watermark matching each bill's portrait is also planned, and will be visible in the center of the note when it is held up to the light.

The tiny iridescent dots, called planchettes, will shine blue and green and other colors that will be visible to the naked eye but that cannot be reproduced by photocopiers, according to the Secret Service, which is in charge of fighting counterfeiting.

Planners haven't decided just how to use the color-shifting ink, but one strategy would be a seal that changes from green to gold, depending on the angle.

Other changes being studied include:

* Polyester threads running through the bill that can be detected by both machines and the naked eye.

* Microscopic printing that the Treasury hopes will be impossible to reproduce.

* Fine, little-noticed background patterns that become wavy and stand out when copied.

Peter H. Daly, director of the Bureau of Engraving and Printing, said that while the changes "will be more dramatic than seen in many years, we believe it essential to keep as much of the traditional design so as to minimize any confusion which may develop during the initial phases of the changeover."

Emphasizing the need for stability, the officials insisted that no recall or cancellation of existing currency is being considered. "The redesigned currency will be introduced over a period of years, and no U.S. currency will be demonetized, devalued or recalled," Mr. Bentsen said.

Several legislators at yesterday's hearing of the House Banking Committee raised concerns about attempts overseas to turn out phony U.S. money.

More than half the $357 billion dollars in circulation is overseas, some in countries where the dollar is preferable to the local currency. Much of the overseas cash consists of $100 and $50 bills, the most frequent target of counterfeit attempts.

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