Ben Franklin is bigger, slightly left of center and maybe even looks a little more youthful on the new $100 bill.
The new-look founding father was on display Wednesday as the government took the wraps off its new bill to launch the first overhaul of U.S. currency in nearly 70 years.
The goal is to thwart increasingly sophisticated counterfeiters worldwide - not to improve aesthetics, officials said.
“We must stay ahead of the rush of technology,” said Treasury Secretary Robert Rubin. Modern computers and color scanners could pose a threat to the greenback if the United States failed to act, he said.
Federal Reserve Chairman Alan Greenspan, on hand for an elaborate unveiling ceremony by the Clinton administration in the Treasury Department’s ornate Cash Room, said there is little cause for concern. Fewer than one of every 100,000 bills of all denominations in circulation is found to be counterfeit, he said. The Fed distributes currency through its regional banks.
The government is concerned mainly with forgers overseas, where about two-thirds of the $390 billion in U.S. paper money is in circulation. Greenbacks account for about one-fifth of the world;s currency supply.
Under tight secrecy, the Bureau of Engraving and Printing has been producing the new $100 bills for 10 days. It will be early next year before the general public can get its hands on them.
And it may be the turn of the centruy before all the smaller denominations - right down to George Washington on the $1 bill - are remodeled.
The government picked the $100 bill for the first makeover because of its favored status with counterfeiters.
The portrait of Franklin, a pioneer in campaigning for paper currency, is 50 percent larger than on existing bills.
His likeness has been moved left of center to protect against wear and tear when the bills are folded and to make room for a watermark portrait of Franklin that is visible when bills are held up to the light.
Franklin also appears a bit younger, but officials said only because his hair looks darker for reasons of contrast. The engraving is from a painting that the National Portrait Gallery said probably was completed in 1785, five years before the statesman-inventor died.
Of the numerous security features in the new bills, some are hidden while others change the appearance of the notes dramatically.
In the lower right-hand corner, the denomination of the bill has color-shifting ink. The number 100 changes from green when viewed head-on to black when seen at an angle.
The watermark portrait of Franklin at the far right can be seen when held up to the light but does not reproduce on color copiers or computer scanners.
Some traditional identifying marks help retain the distinct look and feel of U.S. currency in both the $100 bills and the plans for other denominations. The size is unchanged. They still say, “In God We Trust.” And the colors are the same, black on the front, green on the back.
One hard-to-see change will be that the vertical security threads, introduced in 1990, will be placed in different positions, depending on the denomination.
Officials stressed that no currency will be recalled and all bills in circulation remain legal tender. They predicted it will take years until all old bills are out of circulation.
Critics said failure to recall the old bills could blunt the anti-counterfeiting drive. Forgers can duplicate the traditional notes as long as they are around, they said.
But the administration has said recalling old bills could destabilize the economies of foreign nations, particularly in Russia where greenbacks are hoarded as a hedge against inflation.
The last major change in U.S. currency was in 1929, when bills were reduced in size and given a uniform look. There were some small changes in 1990, including the first use of microscopic type.
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