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Greenback takes note of changing times

WASHINGTON - The portraits will remain the same (with the exception of Abe Lincoln on the dollars 5 bill), that politically incorrect white-male group of landed gentlemen and slave-owners who founded the United States of America, writes Rupert Cornwell.

Come the year 2000 they will be about the only familiar part of America's currency. The humble, outdated greenback is to be reborn as an irridescent, security- threaded concoction, intended to be a counterfeiter's nightmare.

Rumours of the plan have been swirling for months, but yesterday the Treasury Secretary, Lloyd Bentsen, made it official. For the first time since 1929, when they were reduced in size and their format standardised, the six notes still in circulation are to undergo a revamp, in all likelihood the biggest in the history of the currency.

The changes will probably start in 1996 with the dollars 100 and dollars 50 bills, the main targets of the laser printers and copiers used by today's hi- tech forgers.

By the turn of the century the dollars 20, dollars 10, dollars 5 and (assuming it is still in existence) the dollars 1 will have joined them. No final decisions have been taken on the redesign. But word is that the portraits, from dollars 1 George Washington to dollars 100 Ben Franklin, will be enlarged and shifted to one side of the bill, with a fiendishly complex watermark on the other.

Among other safeguards will be copier-proof security threads, inks which change colour and tiny, micro-printed emblems. Mr Bentsen insisted the changes were not a panic measure but a 'pre-emptive strike' against forgers. Thus does the US intends to save the dollar from the forgers. Now it has to save it from the markets.