Dollar facelift hits the wrong note

(First Edition)

THE MOSSY old greenback is due for a facelift that will make it shimmer like a rhinestone cowboy. But the multi-million-dollar question is, will Americans ever learn to live with funny money?

A few modernists would love to see Dolly Parton, Ollie North or Oprah Winfrey replace George Washington, Abraham Lincoln and Benjamin Franklin on the back of a bill - although this is not what the US Treasury has in mind - but most Americans are so serious when it comes to money that they like the greenback just as it is.

The Treasury's idea is to fool the counterfeiters with hi-tech security devices, adding iridescent ink dots and inserting coloured pieces of tissue paper into the bill's cotton fibres. A pattern of hidden wavy lines will appear as blurry as a striped shirt on a television set when reproduced on a counterfeiter's copying machine.

The portraits of the founding fathers will not only remain but be enlarged from their locket-size, and shifted a fraction to the left - hardly the way the country is going, but not exactly radical. But many Americans are unimpressed, and much as counterfeiting is talked up by the banks, it is really more an irritant than a threat, accounting for only dollars 21m (pounds 14m), compared with dollars 100bn of legitimate bills printed annually.

The greenback is a national icon. For all their devotion to glitz, Americans don't like gaudiness on their currency - no bright colours, no sea-to-shining-sea grand images. Dollar bills should be the same as they have been since 1929, small and dull in black and green.

'You screw around with the currency and you screw around with the symbols of the nation,' says Thomas Dibacco, an historian of money at the American University. He forecasts the new dollar bills will be rejected - in exactly the same way as Americans have spurned other attempts to introduce changes in the bills.

In 1976, the Treasury launched the dollars 2 bill, which Americans had always associated with the phrase 'as queer as . . .'. They refused to have anything to do with it. New Hampshire residents was especially upset. Treasury artists cropped John Trumbull's painting of the Declaration of Independence, eliminating six of the signatories, including the entire New Hampshire delegation.

Then there was the shining silver dollar of the 19th-century suffragette SusanBAnthony. The 1979 coin was cast to reduce costs: each year the Bureau of Engraving and Printing uses 5,000 tons of paper and 2,000 tons of ink, half of it on dollars 1 bills. But Americans rejected the coins, leaving 334 million locked in a vault in Washington.

The Treasury insists the counterfeiting problem is too big to ignore. Three years ago the dollars 100 bill, which is the one usualy faked, was issued with a polyester strip which read 'USA100' when held up to the light. But if the problem is so great, how about some really radical solutions?

Why not do away with Latin mottos, for example? Many Americans would undoubtedly like to rid the dollars 1 bill of the motto on the ribbon in the bald eagle's mouth - E Pluribus Unum, which refers to the one country formed from the 13 original American colonies. As everyone knows, this is not a Latin motto for civic and political unity but a phrase from an early Virgil poem giving a recipe for salad.

Besides, Latin has not been taught in America's public schools for years. So, instead of the motto that reads Novus Ordo Seclorum (a new order of the ages), how about the multi-digit phone number for calling Home Box Office on the information super highway? If the Treasury cannot make the dollar hold its value, it should at least make the bill useful.

And what about the unfinished pyramid on the back of the dollars 1 bill, symbolising the country's limitless growth and multiculturalism? Perhaps the time has come for the pyramid to be topped off: with the largest wave of immigration since the turn of the century many are saying, 'Enough already'.

Such radical ideas have been rejected by the traditionalists at the Treasury, in favour of Clintonesque mini-shifts to the left and little dots of colour. How about some broad brush-strokes? Why can't a dollar look more like a yen?

(Photograph omitted)

Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
  • Get to the point
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Recruitment Genius: Photographer / Floorplanner / Domestic Energy Assessor

£16000 - £25000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: A Photographer/ Floor planner /...

Ashdown Group: Front-End Developer - Surrey - £40,000

£30000 - £40000 per annum: Ashdown Group: Front-End Developer - Guildford/Craw...

Recruitment Genius: Customer Service Assistant

£13500 - £15000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: A Customer Service Assistant is...

Recruitment Genius: Sales Executive - OTE £35,000

£16000 - £35000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: An ambitious and motivated Sale...

Day In a Page

Not even the 'putrid throat' could stop the Ross Poldark swoon-fest'

Not even the 'putrid throat' could stop the Ross Poldark swoon-fest'

How a costume drama became a Sunday night staple
Miliband promises no stamp duty for first-time buyers as he pushes Tories on housing

Miliband promises no stamp duty for first-time buyers

Labour leader pushes Tories on housing
Aviation history is littered with grand failures - from the the Bristol Brabazon to Concorde - but what went wrong with the SuperJumbo?

Aviation history is littered with grand failures

But what went wrong with the SuperJumbo?
Fear of Putin, Islamists and immigration is giving rise to a new generation of Soviet-style 'iron curtains' right across Europe

Fortress Europe?

Fear of Putin, Islamists and immigration is giving rise to a new generation of 'iron curtains'
Never mind what you're wearing, it's what you're reclining on

Never mind what you're wearing

It's what you're reclining on that matters
General Election 2015: Chuka Umunna on the benefits of immigration, humility – and his leader Ed Miliband

Chuka Umunna: A virus of racism runs through Ukip

The shadow business secretary on the benefits of immigration, humility – and his leader Ed Miliband
Yemen crisis: This exotic war will soon become Europe's problem

Yemen's exotic war will soon affect Europe

Terrorism and boatloads of desperate migrants will be the outcome of the Saudi air campaign, says Patrick Cockburn
Marginal Streets project aims to document voters in the run-up to the General Election

Marginal Streets project documents voters

Independent photographers Joseph Fox and Orlando Gili are uploading two portraits of constituents to their website for each day of the campaign
Game of Thrones: Visit the real-life kingdom of Westeros to see where violent history ends and telly tourism begins

The real-life kingdom of Westeros

Is there something a little uncomfortable about Game of Thrones shooting in Northern Ireland?
How to survive a social-media mauling, by the tough women of Twitter

How to survive a Twitter mauling

Mary Beard, Caroline Criado-Perez, Louise Mensch, Bunny La Roche and Courtney Barrasford reveal how to trounce the trolls
Gallipoli centenary: At dawn, the young remember the young who perished in one of the First World War's bloodiest battles

At dawn, the young remember the young

A century ago, soldiers of the Empire – many no more than boys – spilt on to Gallipoli’s beaches. On this 100th Anzac Day, there are personal, poetic tributes to their sacrifice
Dissent is slowly building against the billions spent on presidential campaigns – even among politicians themselves

Follow the money as never before

Dissent is slowly building against the billions spent on presidential campaigns – even among politicians themselves, reports Rupert Cornwell
Samuel West interview: The actor and director on austerity, unionisation, and not mentioning his famous parents

Samuel West interview

The actor and director on austerity, unionisation, and not mentioning his famous parents
General Election 2015: Imagine if the leading political parties were fashion labels

Imagine if the leading political parties were fashion labels

Fashion editor, Alexander Fury, on what the leaders' appearances tell us about them
Phumzile Mlambo-Ngcuka: Home can be the unsafest place for women

Phumzile Mlambo-Ngcuka: Home can be the unsafest place for women

The architect of the HeForShe movement and head of UN Women on the world's failure to combat domestic violence