It turns out Jay-Z isn’t the only one with a new $100 bill these days, not to mention a highly-anticipated release date. The Federal Reserve recently unveiled plans to introduce a revamped $100 note this October. And while you obviously can’t use it to purchase the soundtrack for the new Great Gatsby movie – which was executive produced by the rap mogul and features his track “100$ Bill” – (at least not yet), the Fed believes new security features will help thwart increasingly advanced counterfeiting techniques.
“The redesigned $100 note will begin circulating on October 8, 2013,” according to a Federal Reserve press release. “This note, which incorporates new security features such as a blue, 3-D security ribbon, will be easier for the public to authenticate but more difficult for counterfeiters to replicate.”
Let’s take a closer look at these new security features as well what goes into developing, producing, and distributing redesigned money.
New Security Features
- 3-D Security Ribbon: Threaded into the note rather than being printed on top of it, the new 3-D security ribbon contains images of bells that transform into 100s and move up and down or side to side, depending on how you move the note.
- Bell in the Inkwell: Upon first look, both the inkwell on the bottom right of the new $100 and the bell within it appear copper. Tilting the note, however, changes the color of the bell to green, making it appear as if it’s moving.
“Motion is revolutionary. Its level of innovation seems to be beyond anything our currency has ever seen,” says Jason Kersten, an expert on counterfeiting and author of the acclaimed book The Art of Making Money. “You can’t print that with over the counter tech or a traditional offset press, which is how counterfeiting is currently done – and offset counterfeiting has been done successfully forever. Neither plates nor Photoshop will work with Motion. It’s both material and processed based. It defeats all traditional methods of counterfeiting.”
- Different View of Independence Hall: Instead of the traditional front-facing view of Philadelphia’s Independence Hall, the back of the new $100 sports an image of the building’s rear end.
- Time on the Clock: No longer will the clock in the bell tower at Independence Hall read 4:10; the new $100 says it’s 10:30.
- New-Look Ben: The main portrait of Benjamin Franklin will have a textured feel on the new note and his collar will sport (in miniscule lettering) the words “United States of America.”
- Symbols of Freedom: To the right of Ben’s portrait lies text from the Declaration of Independence as well as an image of a quill.
“None of the other features are technically ‘new’ – there’s just more of them,” Kersten says. “The new bills will have everything the old bills had, plus the new features. It’s layers upon layers of technology and history. The more layers, the more hoops a counterfeiter has to jump through.”
Production Costs & Impetus of Redesign
Each of the new $100 bills costs 12.6 cents to produce and has an expected life span of 15 years, according to Katherine Dibling – a public affairs specialist with the Federal Reserve Bank of Philadelphia. While that might seem like a bargain, those 12+ cents far exceed what’s typically required to make standard currency.
"The cost to produce currency varies by denomination," Lydia Washington, a public affairs specialist for the Bureau of Engraving & Printing, said. "The BEP receives an annual consolidated currency order from the Board of Governors of the Federal Reserve," and it delivered around 35 million notes per day during fiscal year 2012, at an average cost of 8.7 cents per note. In other words, the BEP spent around $1.11 billion printing currency last year.
The notes coming off the presses aren't always quite right either. For example, the government wasted some $120 million printing flawed notes in 2010, and who’s to say that doesn’t happen again? Besides, production costs alone don’t explain the overall cost of introducing new currency.
“I expect a lot of money was spent in R&D,” Kersten said. “It takes years to research, select, and implement a new design, especially if it involves new technology. There are endless discussions and arguments before a decision is made, conferences attended, a lot of takeout pizza. They are designing something that the vast majority of the world’s population will hold in their hand, so they don’t rush into anything.”
At the end of the day, you just have to wonder: Why should we spend any money at all on money that we already have when government funding for other, perhaps more important initiatives is so scarce? The answer, according to Washington: "Currency is not redesigned for aesthetic purposes. It is redesigned to thwart recognized security threats, to deter counterfeiting, and to stay ahead of advances in reprographic technology used by counterfeiters."
"While less than 1/100th of one percent of the value of all U.S. currency in circulation is reported counterfeit," Dibling added, "the $100 note is the most widely circulated and most often counterfeited denomination outside the U.S.”
You can trust Dibling on that too, seeing as the Federal Reserve is tasked with examining old and excess currency deposited by banks for, among other things, signs of counterfeiting. However, it’s the Secret Service whose main job it is to combat counterfeiting in this country. That’s why the Fed sends evidence of foul play their way. (Policing the currency was actually the Secret Service’s primary original mandate, as roughly a third of all U.S. notes were fake when the agency was formed in 1865).
Impact on Counterfeiting
While counterfeiting affects only a very small percentage of all the U.S. currency in circulation, that doesn’t mean it’s not a big problem. In the past two years alone, the Secret Service has confiscated roughly $254 million in fake currency and arrested nearly 5,000 counterfeiters.
Criminals are obviously still attempting to plant their own money trees, and the hope is that new security features will add yet another hurdle to this endeavor, presenting a barrier to entry for people contemplating a life of crime and making those who end up trying their hand in the fake money business easier to spot. It’s fair to expect that such expectations will eventually be realized, but we could still see an uptick in counterfeit activity in the meantime. “Whenever the currency is redesigned, it presents a unique opportunity for counterfeiters,” Kersten warned.
Not only will the public’s initial unfamiliarity with the new $100 bill entice some forgers into making knockoffs while few can tell the difference, but others will likely ramp up production of the old version while it’s still being accepted. Still others will view the new $100 as a counterfeiting challenge too good to pass up.
“For the truly ambitious and gifted counterfeiters, the redesign represents the ultimate challenge—and the ultimate reward,” Kersten said. “Counterfeiters who can replicate the Motion feature convincingly have the potential to reap huge profits. The fact that it’s such a distinctive feature means that fakes that replicate the motion just enough will pass easily at first. This happened with the Series 1996 New Note, and it will happen again—the only question is on what scale. Anyone who says that this bill is counterfeit-proof doesn’t know the history of counterfeiting. It will happen.”
The new $100 bill is the last step in a redesign process that began in 2003 and included new $5, $10, $20, and $50 notes. It certainly won’t be the last facelift that U.S. tender undergoes either. Nevertheless, the new 100 will be in the spotlight for the foreseeable future and its eventual success, or failure, will certainly affect the design and ultimate tenor of future notes.
As such, we can safely say that it is indeed all about the Benjamins these days.