July 8, 2003 – The Puerto Rico branch of an international public relations firm hired to prepare the region for America's new, improved $20 bill apparently is unaware that the U.S. dollar is the legal tender of the commonwealth's nearest neighbor.
A release faxed from Burson-Marsteller of Guaynabo states that the newly designed $20 bill, which is to go into circulation in the fall, "is extremely important to U.S. Virgin Islands' economic activity, where the U.S. dollar is often used interchangeably with local currency."
The release, clearly intended for a variety of Caribbean island states and dependencies, also notes that the territory receives "hundreds of thousands of U.S. tourists every year, and the cash they use on local purchases is about to change. Caribbean institutions and businesses that handle transactions in U.S. dollars — banks, restaurants, shops and hotels, to name a few — must know how to identify the [bill's] new look in order to accept it as cash payment."
The concern, of course, applies equally well to a community in which the Bureau of Engraving's new, improved $20 bill will be introduced, probably starting in October, as part of its own local currency.
The redesigned bill, which continues the watermark, security thread and color-shifting features introduced in the 1996-2000 makeovers of most denominations, has added color features that give it a distinctly different look from the familiar "greenbacks."
Hold a current $20 bill (as opposed to one of the pre-1998 "old" ones) up to the light. From the front, you'll see the watermark, a second face, to the far right; and a single vertical line of small text, the "security thread," a thin strip of plastic embedded in the paper, about half a inch in from the left margin. At the lower right, the numeral "20" is in ink that appears to change from copper to black when viewed from different angles.
The soon-to-come $20 note, which was unveiled on May 13, definitely looks different, with green, peach and blue coloration in the background on both sides. It uses "the same but enhanced" portrait of Andrew Jackson on the front and image of the White House on the back. In addition to a security thread, a "more dramatic" color-shifting ink and the facial watermark, it features a blue eagle in the left background and a small metallic green eagle and shield to the right of Jackson's face.
Imbedded colors and watermarks are the sort of thing other currencies around the world, including the EC (Eastern Caribbean) dollar, have had for decades.
The new $20 bills won't buy you any more than the old ones, but according to Thomas Ferguson, director of the Bureau of Engraving and Printing, they should help prevent counterfeiters from getting away with passing bogus bills. The initial concern of federal officials of course, is that the genuine article, given its unusual appearance, may be rejected as a fake by the uninformed. And here, some pictures are definitely worth thousands of words.
For illustrations of the new design and more background, visit the U.S. Bureau of Engraving's New Color of Money Web site. On the main page, there are images of both sides of the bill that you can click on to see close-ups of the color enhancements. To see the special design and printing features, click on the left on "New currency" and then on "Interactive $20 bill."
According to the Bureau of Engraving, the redesigned currency "is safer, smarter and more secure: Safer because it is harder to fake and easier to check; smarter to stay ahead of tech-savvy counterfeiters; and more secure to protect the integrity of U.S. currency."
The government plans to issue similarly updated $50 and $100 bills in 2004 and 2005, respectively. "Decisions on new designs for the $5 and $10 notes are still under consideration," according to a release, "but a redesign of the $2 and $1 notes is not planned."
Each of the denominations will have its own background color scheme, which "will also make it easier to distinguish between denominations," the release said.
The last round of currency redesigns began in 1996 with the advent of the "big head" $100 bill that introduced the use of color-shifting ink, security threads and watermarks in U.S. currency. It was followed by the redesigned $50 bill in 1997, $20 bill in 1998 and $10 and $5 notes in 2000. There was no redesign of the $1 bill, possibly because of government officials' hope that it would be phased out in favor of the quarter-size Susan B. Anthony $1 coin introduced in 1979. The coin has never caught on except for use in change-making machines such as those at post offices and mass transit facilities.
"U.S. currency is a worldwide symbol of security and integrity. This new design will help us keep it that way, by protecting against counterfeiting and making it easier for people to confirm the authenticity of their hard-earned money," U.S. Treasury Secretary John W. Snow said in a release.
And if you are into conspiracy theories, do a Web search for "new $20 bill" and you'll find sites addressing the "amazing discoveries" that the new design can be manipulated to reveal images of the World Trade Center and Pentagon under attack.
Publisher's note : Like the St. Thomas Source now? Find out how you can love us twice as much — and show your support for the islands' free and independent news voice … click here.