Change Aimed at Adding Security
Sunday August 26, 12:44 pm ET
By Martin Crutsinger, AP Economics Writer
Ben Franklin in Line for a High-Tech Face Lift
on $100 Bill
(AP) -- After six decades in which the venerable greenback
never changed its look, the U.S. currency has undergone a
slew of makeovers. The most amazing is yet to come.
WASHINGTON (AP) -- After six decades in which
the venerable greenback never changed its look, the U.S. currency
has undergone a slew of makeovers. The most amazing is yet
A new security thread has been approved for
the $100 bill, The Associated Press has learned, and the change
will cause double-takes.
The new look is part of an effort to thwart
counterfeiters who are armed with ever-more sophisticated
computers, scanners and color copiers. The C-note, with features
the likeness of Benjamin Franklin, is the most frequent target
of counterfeiters operating outside the United States.
The operation of the new security thread
looks like something straight out of the Hogwarts School of
Witchcraft and Wizardry. This magic, however, relies on innovations
produced from decades of development.
It combines micro-printing with tiny lenses
-- 650,000 for a single $100 bill. The lenses magnify the
micro-printing in a truly remarkable way.
Move the bill side to side and the image
appears to move up and down. Move the bill up and down and
the image appears to move from side to side.
"It is a really complex optical structure
on a microscopic scale. It makes for a very compelling high
security device," said Douglas Crane, a vice president
at Crane & Co. The Dalton, Mass-based company has a $46
million contract to produce the new security threads.
Larry Felix, director of the Bureau of Engraving
and Printing, confirmed details about the security thread
in an AP interview.
The redesign of the $100 is about one-third
of the way complete. The bill is expected to go into circulation
late next year.
Starting in 2003, splashes of color have
spruced up the $20 bill and other currencies. Those changes
followed the addition of a first round of security features
in the mid-1990s.
Benjamin Franklin's latest makeover was delayed
while the government searched for a high-tech security device
that would provide extra protection on the bill.
The $100 bill represents more than 70 percent
of the $776 billion in currency in circulation, two-thirds
of which is held overseas.
Holograms, used extensively on credit cards,
were considered for the $100. They were rejected because they
did not offer the strong visual signal the government wanted.
"We were looking for features that had
very distinctive types of actions so that we could tell the
American public, you will know that it is authentic if you
do this and the note does that," Felix said.
The new security thread is used on the Swedish
1,000 kroner note and has been selected by the government
of Mexico for some higher denomination notes.
Felix said many other devices expected to
be included in the $100 redesign will be similar to features
added over the past four years to the $20, $50 and $10 bills.
That means subtle pastel colors on the currency and patches
of micro-printing that are difficult to duplicate, along with
a touchup on Ben Franklin's portrait.
Originally there were no plans to redesign
the $5 bill. That decision was reversed once counterfeiters
started bleaching $5 bills and printing fake $100 bills over
the bleached paper; certain security features were in the
same location on both bills.
The new $5 design will be made public on
Sept. 20 and will go into circulation early next year.
The bleached bills represent the latest skirmish
in a battle with counterfeiters.
"Counterfeiting is becoming highly organized
and highly efficient," Felix said. He said some clandestine
printing plants in Latin America and Eastern Europe have been
caught counterfeiting not only the U.S. currency but other
The government says $118.1 million in counterfeit
U.S. currency was detected in 2006, an increase of 3.8 percent
While that is a fraction of the currency
in circulation, the Secret Service is concerned with the threat,
especially the challenge posed by new digital technology.
Digital copies account for about half of all counterfeit notes
passed in the U.S., compared with less than 1 percent of all
counterfeit bills detected in 1995.
"The quality of the counterfeit currency
has gone down, but the ease by which people can make this
currency and the access to the computer equipment has had
an impact on the rising numbers," Secret Service spokesman
Eric Zahren said.
To stay ahead of the counterfeiters, the
Bureau of Engraving and Printing plans to redesign U.S. currency
every seven years to 10 years. That is a far cry from the
practice for most of the 20th century -- from 1929 to the
1990s -- when the currency stayed the same without any major
"We had three generations of engravers
who spent their entire careers at the bureau and never saw
their designs hit the streets," Felix said. "Now
since 1996, we have all of these changes."
All the new security devices have added to
the complexity of making money. The government churns out
38 million notes each business day with a face value of $750
million at two facilities -- one in Washington, D.C., and
the newest one in Fort Worth, Texas.
By order of Congress, the $1 bill, which
accounts for 45 percent of the notes printed each year, will
not be redesigned. Lawmakers were concerned about the cost
to business if low-end vending machines that only take coins
and $1 bills had to be upgraded.
In addition to redesigning the money, the
bureau is putting in new printing presses with more capabilities
to handle the increasingly sophisticated security features.
The new presses can vary the size of the
bills being printed. That is something the American Council
for the Blind is urging the government to consider as a way
of helping the visually impaired distinguish between different
denominations of currency.
Felix says no decision has been made on such
a change. The government is appealing a federal court ruling
that could force such a redesign.
In its continuing effort to stay ahead of
counterfeiters, the bureau is reviewing a wide range of new
ideas such as adding a sense of depth to the designs.
"Currency is essentially a confidence
situation," Felix said. "You have to always stay
ahead in changes."