When there is a discussion on the design of United States currency, there is no way to avoid politics. Politics drives the designs, composition, and the economic condition that goes behind every coin in your pocket. Politics governs the currency printed by the Bureau of Engraving and Printing, including the overall management of it through the Department of the Treasury.
Aside from my interest in the nuance of politics, beyond reports on cable news, it is why there is a monthly report on legislation that would effect numismatics. Whether it is a proposal for a commemorative coin or the creation of a commission to celebrate something in history, every bill introduced in Congress has the potential to change numismatics.
Paper currency is less regulated than coins. Coining money is mentioned in Article I Section 8 of the United States Constitution. The federal regulation of currency began with the National Bank Act of 1863. Whereas the Constitution says, “Congress shall have Power…to coin Money, regulate the Value thereof, and of foreign Coin,” there is no provision for paper currency.
The Constitution does not say that Congress should design the coins, but they do, sometimes to the detriment of the final result. But the design of the currency is left to the Department of the Treasury.
There is no set process that the Treasury goes through to decide on the design of the nation’s currency. The process changes for each new Secretary that heads the department. In the previous administration, Secretary Jacob “Jack” Lew, went through his version of the process to decide that the portrait of Andrew Jackson on the $20 Federal Reserve Note will be replaced with Harriett Tubman by 2020.
According to sources, although the Bureau of Engraving and Printing would have preferred a little more time to create the master engraving plates to make this change, the timing of the announcement would not present a significant problem.
Lew resigned as the 76th Secretary of the Treasury on January 20, 2017, with the inauguration of a new administration. Steven T. Mnuchin was sworn in as the 77th Secretary of the Treasury on February 13, 2017.
Steven T. Mnuchin, the 77th Secretary of the Treasury
Sources report that Mnuchin did not interfere with the BEP’s efforts to redesign the $20 FRN immediately. As the work continued, the BEP also continued to work on additional anti-counterfeiting measures for U.S. currency. Specifically, the BEP was looking into changes that would first impact the $10 note followed by the $5 bill.
The paper $5 note was a more significant focus for the BEP. In working with the U.S. Secret Service, they were finding that many counterfeiters were using bleaching products to remove the ink from the paper to use it to print higher denominations, predominantly $20 bills. One internal report suggested that the criminal would see a net gain of $14 for each $20 note they could produce.
Although it costs more to counterfeit $20 bills this way, it is a lower risk for the criminal. As we have seen, few people pay attention to the problem and those that do find that the currency passes the iodine pen test. After all, it is currency paper.
An example of a $100 Federal Reserve Note printed on a bleached $5 note (Image courtesy of Prescott Police Department via AOL.com)
Interference from Mnuchin came after his first three months in office. It started with a question from a reporter who asked the president about the change. The president’s statement was followed by a cabinet meeting where the president said something to Mnuchin about the change. Then, a source reports that the president said something to Mnuchin who agreed to do something without raising concerns.
Mnuchin did not directly interfere with the process. Instead, he used the budgetary process to direct funds away from the development of the proposed change in portrait.
Mnuchin was able to hide the change from the public because of the nature of Treasury’s budgetary process. Since the BEP is self-funded by the profits (seigniorage) that is deposited in its Public Enterprise Fund, all Treasury had to do was obtain Congress’s permission to use a set amount from the fund without providing details.
Treasury and BEP were able to hide the changes in the CFO’s Annual Report by using internal reorganization to obfuscate where the spending was going.
In short, Mnuchin ordered the BEP, which is lead by a career professional and not a politician, to move the resources away from the redesign and prioritizing other aspects of currency redesign. Mnuchin purposely slowed the redesign process in a way that gives Treasury and the BEP deniability.
A statement published on the BEP website, BEP Director Len Olijar wrote in response to the news reports, “BEP was never going to unveil a note design in 2020.” That was not the policy of the Treasury Department and the BEP when Secretary Lew announced the change. Mnuchin changed it at the request of the president.
The story of the “delay” of the redesign with Tubman’s portrait appeared in The New York Times. In the story, the Times used an image from the original announcement that depicted Tubman superimposed on the $20 bill. Sources suggested that Olijar, under orders from Mnuchin, was to try to discredit the story in any way possible. Rather than continue with the fact, albeit flawed compared to previous reports, the statement went on to pick on an inconsequential aspect of the story, the image published by the Times.
“The illustration published by the New York Times was a copy of an old Series note with the signatures of former officials, with a different image superimposed on it.”
As my source said, “let’s attack the messenger and not the message.”
Unfortunately, Olijar, a career government employee, is caught in the middle having to work with the politicians. He loses credibility by contradicting the previous reporting, which is unfortunate because sources have suggested that some other than Mnuchin “ordered” Olijar to issue the statement.
There is an old expression that one should never discuss politics, religion, and sex/money/pick something in polite company. It is impossible to be polite when talking about coins and currency before their manufacture. It spreads through the entire process. Or as George Orwell aptly said:
In our age, there is no such thing as ‘keeping out of politics.’ All issues are political issues, and politics itself is a mass of lies, evasions, folly, hatred, and schizophrenia.
Couple’s two-year-old shreds over $1,000 in cash! (Photo courtesy of KSL-TV by Tanner Siegworth)
The story of the week has to have come from Hollady, Utah where a couple’s two-year-old son shredded more than $1,000 in cash.
In a case where real-life intersects with “oh my gosh,” the toddler took an envelope of cash and passed it through the shredder. All the child knew is that mommy was passing paper through the shredder, it made a cool noise, and created small pieces. What the child did not understand was that mommy was shredding junk mail (a good idea) and he did not know the difference between junk mail and paper money.
The money was to be used to pay the husband’s parents back for season tickets to the Univerity of Utah football games. The Utah Utes are currently 3-2, 1-2 in Pac-12 play after defeating Stanford 40-21 in Palo Alto.
According to the BEP, the programs handles approximately 30,000 claims each year and recovers over $30 million in cash. But the process can take time. With the limited resources that the BEP has to work with and the time it would take for the BEP’s team to reconstruct the shredded notes, the family may have to wait at least two years.
They do not call it the “terrible twos” for nothing. Next time the family may either want to hide the cash in safer location or write a check. A check can be rewritten more quickly than sending the money to the Mutilated Currency Redemption program.
The Australian Royal Mint has issued AC/DC 50 cents, $1 and $5 coins to celebrate the band’s 45th anniversary. The band was formed in November 1973 by Malcolm and Angus Young in Sydney. The original lineup included bassist Larry Van Kriedt, vocalist Dave Evans, and one-time Masters Apprentices member Colin Burgess on drums. → Read more at themusicnetwork.com
If you have a social media account like Instagram, chances are you would have been offered up to US$10,000 (RM41,400) for old notes and coins by collectors. Does it sound too good to be true? The Royal Malaysia Police (PDRM) says it is and warns that you may end up losing your money as it could be another scam. → Read more at thestar.com.my
The story of Armistice Day. Credits: Images courtesy of Alexander Turnbull Library, Wairarapa Archive, Palmerston North Libraries, Archives New Zealand and the Auckland War Memorial Museum. From this month you may find a colourful new coin in your change. → Read more at newshub.co.nz
The owner of a Vancouver coin shop allegedly defrauded customers out of $1.3 million, according to a federal indictment announced Wednesday. Blue Moon Coins owner Aaron Michael Scott, 40, of Portland was indicted by a grand jury on 11 counts of wire fraud and five counts of mail fraud, according to a statement released by U.S. → Read more at columbian.com
"The products in our R+D Lab Collection are tried, tested and true examples of forward-thinking technology that could re-define the future of domestic and foreign coins," said Dr. Xianyao Li, Chief Technology Officer at the Royal Canadian Mint. → Read more at prnewswire.com
The Japanese love their cash. Cash as in physical notes and coins. Not the electronic variety that floats around in cyberspace instead of bouncing about in purses and pockets. Surveys show that we are totally behind the times in our attachment to the ¥10,000 and ¥1,000 notes and the way… → Read more at japantoday.com
Following the introduction of the Presidential $1 Coin program and the discussion about replacing the Federal Reserve Note with a coin, I wrote an article explaining how the situation will not change. Not much has changed in 10 years!
Whenever a proposal or law that creates a new dollar coin, there is always a discussion as to how to make the program more successful. In the past, the Gallup organization has polled the public on a few occasions asking about the potential acceptance of dollar coins.
Regardless of the questions asked, the only way to increase the circulation of the dollar coin is to stop printing the one-dollar Federal Reserve Note and begin to withhold it from circulation. It is a move that will force the people to use the coin as the population of the paper currency is reduced.
There are many emotional arguments on both sides of the issue. Whether one is for or against the printing of the one-dollar note, the US is one of the extreme few first-world countries issue its unit currency on paper. Looking beyond the emotional arguments, each side has dominant arguments to support their positions.
Those who want to eliminate the one-dollar note use at the cost of is production and the savings to the government as the dominant reasons. According to the Bureau of Engraving and Printing, 95-percent of all Federal Reserve Note printed for circulation are used to replace damaged and worn notes that are being taken out of circulation. Using BEP’s 2017 production report, 2,425,600,000 one-dollar notes were printed. With 95-percent being replacement notes, 2,304,320,000 notes were printed just to maintain circulation levels. With it costing 4.385-cents to produce one note of any denomination, the cost to just replace notes removed from circulation was $100,422,265.60 in 2017.
Rather than printing paper dollars, if the US Mint strikes coins the cost to replace those 2.4 billion notes would cost 21-cents per coin (according to the U.S. Mint’s 2014 Annual Report, the last documenting seigniorage for the dollar coin). The total production cost would be $483,907,200.
But do not let the 381-percent increase in cost fool you. For the real picture, the costs have to be predicted over time. According to the BEP and the Federal Reserve, the lifespan of a one-dollar Federal Reserve Note is 5.8 years. When the U.S. Mint makes plans for circulating coinage, they accept that the lifespan of a coin is 30-years. To help with the calculation, it will be assumed that the price of manufacturing coins and currency s will stay constant. In order to keep the $2.4 billion of one dollar notes in circulation for 30 years, it will cost the BEP $522.6 million dollars.
By comparison, since the U.S. Mint will be striking new coins for circulation and (theoretically) not replacement coins (not including the coins already in storage), the U.S. government would save about $117 million over 30 years. The following table illustrates these costs:
Number of Replacement Notes
Cost of Production for Replacements
Cost of Replacements over 30 years
Paper Dollar (2008)
Paper Dollar (2018)
Coin Dollar (2008)
Coin Dollar (2018)
While this might be a compelling argument to stop printing one dollar notes, such a move has political ramifications for some powerful members of Congress. With over 1500 people working in the Eastern Currency Facility in downtown Washington, DC, they are represented by several leaders of both parties. When it comes to jobs in their districts, members of Congress will not allow anything that will reduce the production capacity of the Bureau of Engraving and Printing and where constituents could lose jobs.
Before Congress changes the law to stop the printing of the one-dollar note (31 U.S.C. §5115(a)(2)), the BEP will have to supplement production in order to protect jobs. The way this could be done would be to print foreign currency. However, it seems that the BEP is having problems selling their services to foreign governments.
Although the Bureau of Engraving and Printing has experimented with polymer notes and other printing substrates, the Federal Reserve has said that it does not consider these alternatives viable for United States currency. However, the Federal Reserve and Bureau of Engraving and Printing has been testing rag-based paper from companies that can produce new anti-counterfeiting features.
If there was a change to the supplier of currency paper, that would raise concern by the Massachusetts congressional delegation whose constituents include Crane Currency, the subsidiary of Crane & Company. Crane has been the exclusive supplier of currency paper to BEP since 1879. Although BEP has tried to open the competition for purchasing currency paper (see GAO Report GAO-05-368 [PDF]), the cost of entry into the market has prevented other manufacturers from competing for the business. If BEP would stop printing over 2 million one dollar notes without replacing it with similar paper production, the Massachusetts-based company could lose significant business.
Regardless of the measures taken by the US Mint to increase the circulation of the one-dollar coin, public perception is that the one-dollar paper note is easier to use than the coin. Unless key congressional leaders agree that ending the printing of the one-dollar note is in the best interests of everyone, including their political careers, the political reality is that printing of the one-dollar note is here to stay until a significant event causes a change in policy.
Summertime is a busy season for everyone. There is a lot going on. For me, I just opened my new business and have been busy trying to make sure it begins smoothly. So that I have more time to work on the business, once per week I will be looking back at articles I wrote in the past that are still relevant today. I will edit the article but point to the original.
Our first look back returns to April 2006 where I was able to examine the design changes of the $20 Federal Reserve Note following a visit to the ATM.
Money has always been a fascination because the design can reveal something about history. It interesting to look at a series of the same denomination and see the evolution as the times change. I had the chance see the evolution first hand when my bank’s ATM gave me three generations of $20 Federal Reserve Notes (FRN). Although I am not a banknote collector, I find their images and devices interesting.
First, I found is the Series 1990 note with the signature of Treasury Secretary Nicholas F. Brady and Catalina Vasquez Villalpando, the Treasurer of the United States. Both Brady and Villalpando were appointed by President George H. W. Bush and served until the end of his term. Brady also served for six months under President Ronald W. Reagan.
The second is a Series 2001 note with the signatures of Treasury Secretary Paul M. O’Neill and Treasurer Rosario Marin. They were appointed by President George W. Bush during his first term. The third note is from Series 2004 with Marin’s signature along with Treasury Secretary John W. Snow, who succeeded O’Neill.
The $20 FRN was first designed for the Series 1929 small notes as an evolution of earlier designs for large currency. There is a lot of ornate and fine engraving with a green hue. The fine engraving has been a staple of bank notes since their inception as a means to prevent counterfeiting. The “greenback” was used to prevent copying using new photographic technologies which had a difficult time reproducing the green color. Although modern technology does not have the same reproduction issues, the green color remains out of tradition.
The newer notes do not feature a lot of fine engraving. The portrait of President Andrew Jackson appears on all of the notes but was enlarged on the newer notes with the border around the portrait removed on the Series 2004 notes. Another difference is the addition of color with a darker green hue and peach on the front.
The reverse on all of the notes features the White House. The Series 1990 note uses an image taken from the south lawn near the ellipse while the newer notes use an image from the north lawn that could be seen from Pennsylvania Avenue. The engraving of the White House is smaller on the new notes and the borders removed to allow the watermark and security thread to be easily seen.
I like the front of the latest note, but I don’t like the color. I also miss the indication of the Federal Reserve Bank for which the notes were printed. Although the designation of the issuing Federal Reserve Bank is not relevant anymore, it adds to the collecting pursuit for some people.
I like the south lawn portrait better than the one from the north lawn. I am disappointed with the starkness of the reverse. I am not sure that BEP can change this given the nature of the security features.
Finally, the attempt to colorize the notes is not working. It looks cheesy. If BEP colorizes the note, it should be more than just a gradient on the background. Many countries use color in their banknotes as part of the devices, not just to splash some color around to say “look at the color.” I think BEP can do better.
More than 150 years ago, four-subject sheets of Demand Notes, printed by a private firm, were delivered to the Treasury Department where they were individually signed by clerks, and trimmed and separated with scissors by women.
I thought it was a cool picture and wanted to make sure it is shared in the community!
Image courtey of the Bureau of Engraving and Printing.
The last time the government shutdown, because Congress did not do their job, was on September 30, 2013. Over the weekend, the major impact will be the recreational-based activities including the National Parks and the Smithsonian Museums—although many of these agencies will remain mostly open using what is called “carry-over funding” which are services whose bills are paid but the agencies are owed the services. It is an accounting trick that can help some agencies up to 72-hours during a shutdown depending on the amount of money and to whom it is paid.
Thankfully, the Washington, D.C. government will pick up the trash and provide basic cleanup services on the National Mall and other areas that would normally be taken care of by the National Parks Service.
Should the shutdown last through Monday, both the U.S. Mint and Bureau of Engraving and Printing will be operational. Both organizations are funded from their profits (seigniorage) which is held in their respective Public Enterprise Funds. The only responsibility that Congress has in their funding is to authorize the spending of the money. That authorization is not impacted by the shutdown because these are not (technically) taxpayer funds.
Since the U.S. Mint and Bureau of Engraving and Printing are self-funded, they are also not subject to the debt ceiling issues.
Although the U.S. Mint and Bureau of Engraving and Printing has not made a formal announcement, it is likely that facility tours will be suspended during the shutdown. This is because the security personnel are Treasury employees and not direct employees of the bureaus. Some will be designated as “essential personnel” and continue to work to help maintain security at all U.S. Mint and Bureau of Engraving and Printing facilities.
Security for the Bullion Depository at Fort Knox, Kentucky will not be impacted by the shutdown.
Since the Federal Reserve is an independent organization and not subject to congressional appropriations, they will remain open during a shutdown. The Office of the Comptroller of the Currency (OCC) will probably also remain open. OCC is funded by the Federal Reserve to help regulate banks.
All independent government organizations not subject to congressional appropriations will continue to operate including the United States Postal Service.
Representatives of these agencies may contact me to provide additional information. Government employees who work for these agencies that want to provide additional information may also contact me. Please note that I do respect the confidentiality of all sources!
NOTE: Although I no longer work as a contractor to the federal government, my views on the government have changed only in my level of disgust with their practices. I am not a member of any political party. I am a supporter of government employees who makes up a very dedicated workforce and do not deserve the way they are treated by elected and appointed officials.
Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin, right, administer the oath of office to Jovita Carranza, left, as the 44th Treasurer of the U.S., Monday, June 19, 2017, at the Treasury Department in Washington. Jovita Carranza’s daughter Klaudene Carranze, holds the Bible and her goddaughter Lily Hobbs stands second from right. (Carolyn Kaster/Associated Press)
Through the din of Washington, it was lightly reported that Jovita Carranza was sworn in as the 44th Treasurer of the United States on June 19, 2017, by Secretary of the Treasury Steven Mnuchin. Joining Carranza at the ceremony was her daughter Klaudene Carranza and goddaughter Lily Hobbs.
Since the appointment of Georgia Neese Clark by President Harry S. Truman in 1949, there have been 16 women appointed as Treasurer of the United States. Carranza is the seventh Latina to hold the job and the fourth straight since the appointment of Rosario Marin in 2001 by President George W. Bush.
Carranza will oversee the Bureau of Engraving and Printing and U.S. Mint. Since there have been problems reported with Cabinet secretaries getting senior officials to be accepted by the head of the presidential personnel office, the current structure at the U.S. Mint will stay in place. Carranza will take an active role overseeing the mint until a director is appointed.
Did you know that someone made a movie about the $2 bill?
I was looking for information about early $2 notes and an Internet search discovered the page for The Two Dollar Bill Documentary.
Basically, it is a 1 hour 43 minute documentary about the $2 bill. Written and directed by John Bennardo, who has one other film to his credits, writes on the website that he wanted to learn more about the stack of $2 bills he kept in his desk draw. A year and several interviews later, Bennardo had a documentary.
It does not appear that the documentary had a wide distribution since I did not find anything about its showing. But for the low sales price of $9.99 you can by a DVD through their online store. It might be worth spending the $10 just to check out the documentary.
The Two Dollar Bill Documentary teaser trailer
All images courtesy of “The Two Dollar Bill Documentary.”
The White House announced on Friday that Jovita Carranza will be nominated for Treasurer of the United States. Carranza had been a member of Trump campaign National Hispanic Advisory Council met with Trump in December about a position. Currently, she is acting director of the Small Business Administration.
The following biographical note was released by the White House:
Ms. Carranza currently is the Founder of JCR Group which provides services to companies and non-governmental organizations. She previously served as Deputy Administrator of the U.S. Small Business Administration (SBA) under President George W. Bush, after receiving unanimous confirmation. Prior to her service in SBA, Carranza had a distinguished career at United Parcel Service where she started as a part-time, night-shift box handler and worked her way up to be the highest ranking Latina in company history where she served as president of Latin America and Caribbean operations. Ms. Carranza earned her MBA from the University of Miami in Florida. She also has received executive, management and financial training at the INSEAD Business School in Paris, France; Michigan State University; and the University of Chicago.
Sen. John McCain (R-AZ) once again introduced the Currency Optimization, Innovation, and National Savings Act of 2017 (COINS Act). Similar to the same bill he introduced in the last congress, the COINS Act (S. 759) proposed to end the production of the $1 Federal Reserve Note, reduce the production cost of the five cent coin by changing its composition, and eliminating the one cent coin. Mike Enzi (R-WY) is a co-sponsor.
“With our country facing $20 trillion in debt, Congress must act to protect the American taxpayer,” in a statement issued by McCain’s staff. “By reforming and modernizing America’s outdated currency system, this commonsense bill would bring about billions in savings without raising taxes.”
Of course “common sense” has a very different definition in Washington than the rest of the country. The first attempt to introduce a bill to end the production of the $1 note started in 1991 by then Rep. Jim Kolbe (R-AZ) and died at the end of the 102nd Congress. Kolbe introduced the legislation every session until his retirement in 2007 following the adjournment of the 109th congress. McCain has introduced the bill in the last three sessions of congress.
“Change can be hard sometimes, but switching to a dollar coin could save our country $150 million a year,” Enzi said. “Our country is in a difficult financial position because we didn’t value the cost of the dollars we spent. We can’t afford to keep that up, and these innovative opportunities are a way to save taxpayer money that is really just being wasted with each new dollar we print and penny we mint.”
I am sure that the usual arguments about eliminating the paper dollar will come up again. Even though a GAO report has shown that eliminating the paper dollar could save the government about $4.4 billion in production and handling costs, economic surveys have claimed a potential $16-18 billion benefit for the government.
When the public is asked about eliminating the paper dollar, the arguments usually line up along generational lines. Surveys have shown that Baby Boomers (those born before 1964) and those older are overwhelmingly not in favor of eliminating the the paper note. The GenXers, those born 1965-1980, are almost evenly divided while the Millenials, those born since 1980, do not care because they are mostly tied to their credit and debit cards.
The Baby Boomer that writes this blog is in favor of eliminating the paper dollar. In the past, he was in favor of eliminating the one cent coin but is beginning to have second thoughts.
For the longest time, the Massachusetts delegation have held these types of bills back. This is because the Dalton, Massachusetts based Crane & Co., the maker of currency paper, has been the exclusive currency paper supplier to the Bureau of Engraving and Printing since 1879. Although Elizabeth Warren (D-MA) has become a more powerful figure in the Senate, she is not a favorite amongst the majority and is tolerated by the more centrist members of her own party. Sen. Ed Markey (D-MA) does not have the gravitas either of his predecessors, the late Ted Kennedy and John Kerry, to yield influence. The only power the Senators have would be to filibuster any measure that would eliminate the $1 note. Sen. Warren has railed against military-related spending for non-essential equipment so that members of congress could keep these jobs in their districts. Would she be willing to follow her lead that could reduce the revenue of a company in her home state?