Can the U.S. go cashless?

Could the call to end the 1p and 2p coins in the UK have an effect in the US?

Could the call to end the 1p and 2p coins in the UK have an effect in the US?

There have been stories running around the Interwebs talking about the end of money.

Not necessarily the end of money but the end of physical currency.

With all the talk about ending the production of low value coins, whether it is the one-cent coin here in the United States, or the one or two pence coins in Great Britain, there seems to be movement to reduce the dependence of coinage.

Amongst the examples cited by those looking to make these changes are Canada, who ended the production of their one-cent coin in 2012, and Sweden, where physical currency makes up 3-percent of the economy.

Could the DC Metro’s Smartrip Card be the future of a cashless society?

Could the DC Metro’s Smartrip Card be the future of a cashless society?

Sweden is an interesting example that may not apply to the United States. The country that introduced the first banknotes to Europe in 1661 has transformed itself into a larger digital economy. Many shops and most banks have stopped handling cash. In areas that were traditional cash-related transactions, there has been a ticket or electronic system in installed. Busses require pre-paid tickets. Other mass transit relies on credit cards or pre-paid debit cards like the Metrocard in New York or the SmartTrip Card in Washington. These cards are less expensive to produce than paper tickets or tokens.

But could a cashless society work in the United States?

A key measure of the power of an economy is the Gross Domestic Product, the total cost of goods and services produced by the economy. As of 2012, the most recent statistics available, Sweden’s GDP is $184.8 billion (converted to US dollar equivalent) versus $1.56 trillion for the United States—eight times the Swedish economy. Sweden’s economy ranks 28th and the U.S. 2nd only behind the combined European Union.

For the record, China’s 2012 GDP, third on the list, was $8.36 trillion, just over half of the U.S. GDP.

The United States makes more money, spends more money, trades more money, and has more economic impact than any other country in the world.

The first problem with trying to replicate what Sweden is doing is one of scale. The United States has the single largest economy in the world. While the European Union has a larger GDP, it is made up of cooperating countries with their own sovereign interests. While some might say that it is the same as the 50 states, the federal structure of a single republic versus several cooperating republics of Europe makes like the equivalent of swallowing the ocean in one gulp versus several gulps controlled by cooperating governments in Europe. Even when European governments do not cooperate, they can individually work better than what has been going on in the United States.

Another key indicator is the poverty rate. It is important to consider those in poverty because they usually do not have the resources to participate in the advanced structures of society. People living in poverty do not have access to credit regardless of where they live, even if they do have some access to the technologies that support cashless access. Although companies are giving away smartphones in many poverty stricken areas, those customers continue to have problems paying their bills. These are the people who rely on cash.

What may account for Sweden’s low use of cash is their low percentage of its citizens in poverty. With a poverty rate of 3.97-percent, this may account for the 3-percent average currency usage. Poverty in the United States is 5-times more than Sweden at 20.59-percent. While this in itself may not be a definitive indicator, it could explain why there is a vocal opposition of anti-poverty groups when discussion turn to eliminating the cent or a cashless society.

Those who preach a cashless society and point to Sweden also fails to consider one factor that only few countries have faces: the United States has probably one of the most diverse populations. Current politics notwithstanding, the United States has historically been more open to immigration than most other nations. Sweden, while a wonderful place, has a lesser and more homogenous population. Swedes are rightfully proud of themselves, their heritage, and history and has a culture more conducive to working together.

When was the last time that we saw the United States all together? Even after the attacks of September 11, 2001, there were segments of the population that has called it a hoax and said that the government bombed itself to press an agenda.

1853 Braided Hair Half Cent Obverse

1853 Braided Hair Half Cent Obverse – The last lowest denomination coin eliminated by the congress.

Even those who want to end production of the one-cent coins and uses the end of the half-cent as an example of the U.S. ending production of a no longer needed low denomination coin gets the reasons wrong for the reasons why its production was ended. Those who know better reminds them of the reasons and many stammer in shame before puffing out their chests and saying they are right, anyway.

In 2015, the U.S. Mint and Bureau of Engraving and Printing produced more coins and currency than ever. Both government agencies produce their main products because it was ordered by the Federal Reserve, the central banking organization of the United States. Even though paper currency may be exported, most coins are circulated in the United States for domestic use.

If there is any indication that the United States is moving to a cashless society, then why is currency production at its highest in history?

Interestingly, 2015 was the 50th Anniversary of clad, non-silver coinage except for the half-dollar that was produced with 40-percent silver until 1969. To this day there are people to decry the use of fiat money.

Regardless of what pundits say, the United States economy is more broad, diverse, and not as easy to control as in Sweden. If the United States ever gets to the point where it can support a cashless society, it might not be during the lifetime of anyone reading this today. These pundits do not see beyond their caramel macchiatos to understand the Real World.

Keep collecting this coins. Your great grandchildren may enjoy them but their grandchildren may find them interesting curiosities.

Image credits:

Pennies on a hot tin roof

Dollar-CentsOver the summer, a Harris Poll was conducted to understand how Americans feel about abolishing the one-cent coin and the paper dollar note. Even though there are pundits calling for these changes and even the end of physical currency, Harris found that those wanting to keep the lowly one-cent coin continue to hold the majority opinion.

Series 1935 $1 FRN Reverse Early Design

Series 1935 $1 FRN Reverse Early Design

According to Harris, 51-percent of those polled oppose abolishing the minting and use of one-cent coins versus 29-percent in favor. In 2008, 56-percent were opposed and 24-percent were in favor. While some will see a small movement to being in favor of eliminating the one-cent coin, the change is not significant when considering that the last poll was seven years ago shortly before the height of the recession and the beginning of the bank failures.

Every so often an article is written, usually by the political elite, about ending lower denomination coins for many reasons including the high cost of mintage or the inconvenience of their existence. Others point to rise of non-cash transactions and the rise of digitally created currencies as the future.

Those of us who work in areas outside the larger commercial world has experience with a cash economy that is not tied to economic status. One of those is the numismatics industry. While many dealers will take credit cards, and will pass along the fees along to the customer, many dealers have said that most of their off-line business is a cash-based business. While larger purchases are done using checks, most will leave shows with more hard currency than other types of payments.

1909-VDB Lincoln Cent

1909-VDB Lincoln Cent

Collectibles businesses are very reliant on cash. In my business, I do accept credit cards but when I do shows the overwhelming majority of my business is in cash. A few weeks ago I did a two day show and had one of my best weekends ever but only had one sale using a credit card.

There are people who are leery of using credit and debit cards for every transaction. We use cash to limit our exposure. In this connected world, the credit and debit card leaves a digital breadcrumb that is available to be hacked. I cannot tell you how many times I watched people in local convenience stores punch in their codes in a matter I could see them and then leave their receipts behind. This could be used to steal your money and your debit cards are not covered the same as credit cards. But the public does not see this.

A week does not go by without a report of the hacking of personal information that should not be made public. Unfortunately, it is getting to be like rain on the hot-tin roof, after a while the sound blends into the background.

According to the Federal Reserve, there was approximately $1.39 trillion in circulation as of September 30, 2015, of which $1.34 trillion was in Federal Reserve notes. That represents a lot of money that would have to be accounted for if we were to go into a cashless society. It would take a significant effort that would not make for good public policy.

The calls to make changes to change are beginning to drone on as background noise like rain on a hot-tin roof.

Images courtesy of The Harris Poll, Wikipedia, and usacoinbook.com.

POLL: What to do about currency design

History Instructing Youth

Series 1896 $1 Silver Certificate Education Note, History Instructing Youth (Fr# 224)

Since the Department of the Treasury announced that a redesigned $10 Federal Reserve Note will feature a woman starting in 2020, there have been more than a few articles denouncing everything about the idea from objecting to the removing of Alexander Hamilton to the fact that a woman will replace him.

The discussions have ranged from the reasoned (leave Alexander Hamilton on the $10 note because was our first Secretary of the Treasury) to the absurd (why change?) and the misogynistic that will not be repeated here.

I do not understand the the “why change” reasoning. There once was a time when there were regular changes to U.S. currency and there is no record of an uproar from the public. In 1929, the Federal Reserve reduced the size of the note from 7.375 x 3.125 inches to their present size of 6.14 x 2.61 inches. The change from Silver Certificates to Federal Reserve Notes and the color of the seals not withstanding, the designs have remained relatively the same since 1929.

According to Q. David Bowers and David M. Sundman in their book 100 Greatest American Currency Notes, the only small-sized currency notes in the list are:

65. World War II Emergency Issue Series 1935A $1 Silver Certificate With “HAWAII” Overprint (Fr# 2300)
66. Series 1928 $10,000 Federal Reserve Note (Fr# 2203-A thru 2203-L)
76. Series 1928 $1,000 Gold Certificate (Fr# 2408)
77. World War II Emergency Issue Series 1935A $1 Silver Certificate With Yellow Seal (North Africa Note) (Fr# 2306)
92. Series 1928 $5,000 Federal Reserve Note (Fr# 2220-A thru 2220-L)
99. Series 1928 $1,000 Federal Reserve Note (Fr# 2210-A thru 2210-L)

Of this list, only two notes were issued for general circulation and those were emergency issues because of World War II. The others are high denomination notes not usually circulated for the general public. After all, carrying around a $1,000 note will be equivalent to carrying around $13,914.91 (according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics).

United States currency used to be beautiful. There was a regality in its design that represented the nation. Even the Education Notes from the Series of 1896 Silver Certificates were phenomenal in their design and artwork. Today’s note, while secure, do not compare to their past counterparts.

Let’s see if we can figure out what the best way forward.

What should the Treasury do about currency design?

Leave things the way they are. (34%, 10 Votes)
Change all of the portraits. It's time to give other historical figures a chance. (34%, 10 Votes)
Remove all portraits and use other designs. (21%, 6 Votes)
Designs of small size currency stinks. Leave the portraits and look at what other countries are doing for inspiration. (7%, 2 Votes)
I don't care. (3%, 1 Votes)
What difference does it make. Non-cash transactions (credit cards, e-currency) are the wave of the future. (0%, 0 Votes)

Total Voters: 29

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Leave any comments below!

Image courtesy of the National Numismatic Collection via Wikipedia.

Redesigned $10 to feature a woman

The current $10 Federal Reserve Note featuring Alexander Hamilton

The current $10 Federal Reserve Note featuring Alexander Hamilton

Secretary of the Treasury Jacob “Jack” Lew announced on Wednesday that a newly redesigned $10 Federal Reserve Note will feature the portrait of a woman. Lew will make the final decision as to who will appear on the note in accordance to 12 U.S.C. § 418.

The new note is scheduled for release in the year 2020, which coincides with the passage of the 19th Amendment that declared:

The right of citizens of the United States to vote shall not be denied or abridged by the United States or by any State on account of sex.

According to the Treasury Department, the $10 note was selected to be redesigned to add Advanced Counterfeit Deterrence (ACD) based on their study of counterfeiting activity. This decision was made by the ACD Steering Committee, an inter-agency group that monitors a number of factors that go into the maintenance of U.S. currency. One of the factors includes the ongoing discussion of features that will help increase accessibility for the visually impaired as part of the court mandated Meaningful Access Program. Treasury reports that the new note “will include a tactile feature that increases accessibility for the visually impaired.”

The last time Treasury changed the portrait on U.S. currency was in 1928 when Andrew Jackson replaced Grover Cleveland on the $20 notes. Alexander Hamilton first appeared on the $10 note in 1923 when his portrait replace Andrew Jackson’s. Although the portraits have been redesigned, the same men have appeared on U.S. currency during small-sized note era (since 1928).

Series 1886 $1 Silver Certificate featuring Martha Washington (Fr #217)

Series 1886 $1 Silver Certificate featuring Martha Washington (Fr #217)

The last woman to appear on U.S. currency was Martha Washington. Our first First Lady’s portrait appeared on the $1 Silver Certificate between 1891 and 1896.

Lew is asking the public to provide suggestions as to whom should be the new face on the $10 note. She should be a woman “who was a champion for our inclusive democracy,” according to the Treasury statement. You can submit comments on their new website thenew10.treasury.gov or make your suggestion on social media using the hashtag #TheNew10.

You can also visit the Bureau of Engraving and Printing in Fort Worth on June 24 and meeting with United States Treasurer Rosie Rios and Bureau of Engraving and Printing Director Len Olijar to give them your ideas. A similar event will be held at the Bureau of Engraving and Printing in Washington, D.C. on July 15. You can find more information on the BEP website.

Mockup of the $20 note featuring Harriet Tubman

Mockup of the $20 note featuring Harriet Tubman

The organization Women on 20s has been lobbying to replace Andrew Jackson on the $20 note. Their reason was that our seventh president was not exactly a nice guy and his treatment of Native tribes was less than humane along with other transgressions. In their online vote, Harriet Tubman was their popular selection. If Tubman was selected she would also be the first African-American to appear on U.S. paper currency (George Washington Carver and Booker T. Washington were the first African-American men to appear on coins; Duke Ellington was the last appearing the District of Columbia quarter).

Politico notes:

In fact, Hamilton shared his bed with more than one woman – making him one of the first subjects of a political sex scandal.

While his wife, Elizabeth, and kids were staying with relatives, Hamilton began an affair with a young woman named Maria Reynolds in 1791. He was secretary of the Treasury at the time, and Reynolds and her husband started extorting money from Hamilton. Hamilton eventually confessed to the affair in full detail in a pamphlet that also featured letters between him and his mistress.

Interestingly, according to Bloomberg news, “The $10 bill is the third least-circulated among the seven major denominations, accounting for 5.2 percent of 36.4 billion notes in use at the end of last year.” The $100 note is the most circulated of all U.S. currency notes.

Image of the current $10 note courtesy of the Bureau of Engraving and Printing
Image of the Series 1886 $1 Silver Certificate courtesy of Wikimedia Commons
Mockup of Harriet Tubman on the $20 note courtesy of Women on 20s

New numismatic-related jobs in Philadelphia and Denver

United States MintIn an early morning press release, the U.S. Mint announced that they would be going from a two-shift operation to a three-shift operation citing increased production requirements for circulating coins.

The main job of the U.S. Mint is to supply circulating coinage to the Federal Reserve banks. These Federal Reserve branch banks then circulate the coins to member banks and distributors where they will eventually enter daily commerce. As part of their operations, the Federal Reserve will order coins from the U.S. Mint to supplement the money supply and provide the a forecast for the next 12-months. In order to meet the production requirements, the U.S. Mint uses the forecast to adjust their operations.

During the downturn in the economy, the U.S. Mint adjusted to a 4-day, 10 hours per shift schedule. Halting production so that the machines do not run on Friday saved money by lowering the electricity requirements and allowed for a broader maintenance program. Along with the schedule adjustments, the U.S. Mint instituted production efficiencies that have lead to lower costs. The result has been a an increase in seigniorage for the agency even during the downturn in the economy and the rising cost of base metals that have lead to debates over coin composition.

With this move, the U.S. Mint is likely going back to a 5-day, 8 hours per shift schedule. This will make the U.S. Mint a 24-hour operation again. It also means that they will have to hire people to work at the world’s largest coin factories in Philadelphia and Denver. The U.S. Mint anticipate that an additional 46 people will be hired in Philadelphia and 40 in Denver. They will be hiring quickly since they want to be up and running with their third shift by the mid-June to July timeframe.

If you are interested in working for the U.S. Mint, the positions will be posted on the federal government’s jobs website usajobs.gov. You can also visit the U.S. Mint’s online careers page to learn more about working for the U.S. Mint.

Summary of April 2015 coin-related legislation

For those of us who are political junkies, April was a relatively quiet month. At least there was something to watch that was more related to the hobby than the usual partisan bickering. Here are the coin and currency-related legislation moving through congress:

S. 925: Women on the Twenty Act
Sponsor: Sen Jeanne Shaheen (D-NH)
• A bill to require the Secretary of the Treasury to convene a panel of citizens to make a recommendation to the Secretary regarding the likeness of a woman on the twenty dollar bill.
• Introduced: April 14, 2015
• Referred to the Senate Banking, Housing, and Urban Affairs Committee

Track this bill at https://www.govtrack.us/congress/bills/114/s925

S. 95: A bill to terminate the $1 presidential coin program
Sponsor: Sen. David Vitter (R-LA)
• Introduced: January 7, 2015
• Discharged from Senate Committee on Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs by Unanimous Consent on April 14, 2015
• Referred to the Senate Committee on Banking, Housing, and Urban Affairs on April 14, 2015

Track this bill at https://www.govtrack.us/congress/bills/114/s95

S. 985: United States Coast Guard Commemorative Coin Act
Sponsor: Sen. Christopher Murphy (D-CT)
• To require the Secretary of the Treasury to mint coins in commemoration of the United States Coast Guard.
• Introduced: April 16, 2015
• Referred to the Senate Banking, Housing, and Urban Affairs Committee

Track this bill at https://www.govtrack.us/congress/bills/114/s985

Do we dump Andy for a woman?

$20 Series 2006 ObverseDuring the course of searching for information, I stumbled upon the website for Women on 20s. It is a site dedicated to replacing the image of President Andrew Jackson with a woman by 2020. The group has targeted the $20 Federal Reserve Note to be replaced 2020 because it is the 100th anniversary of the passage of the 19th Amendment that granted women the right to vote.

Jackson is being targeted because as we look back through the long lens of history, he was not exactly a model person judging by today’s standards. During the War of 1812, Jackson led U.S. Army troops against native tribes working with the British against the United States to regain the lands taken following the colonies’ independence. It was said that Jackson’s troops were brutal against the native tribes on his orders, killing them rather than taking prisoners.

After beating back the British in the Battle of New Orleans, Jackson declared martial law in New Orleans and used his troops to enforce martial law. Aside from having a magistrate arrested who sided with a newspaper reporter writing who was arrested for writing negatively about his rule, he had members of the local militia who sided with the British executed without trial and went on to use it as propaganda to allegedly maintain order.

As president, Jackson’s policies to relocated native tribes lead to the Indian Removal Act that codified his policies. This lead to the “Trail of Tears” that forced the relocation of Cherokee, Muscogee, Seminole, Chickasaw, and Choctaw nations from their ancestral homelands in the southeast to an area west of the Mississippi River that had been designated as Indian Territory. It is considered the most violent and brutal act against the native tribes in United States history.

To have Jackson’s portrait on the United States central banks’ currency is also a bit ironic. Jackson was against the concept of a central bank and refused to renew the charter of the Second Bank of the United States and vetoed the bill to continue its charter. After winning election in 1833, Jackson withdrew all of the country’s funds from the bank limiting the bank’s ability to conduct business. He gave power to local banks to lend money and issued the Specie Circular, an executive order requiring government transaction be done in gold and silver coin (specie).

Poster issued by the Whig Party blaming Jackson for the Panic of 1837

Poster issued by the Whig Party blaming Jackson for the Panic of 1837

With the western expansion and federal lands being made for sale and the requirement that duties were to be paid in gold and silver, this created a run on banks that could not provide the hard currency necessary for people to exchange their banknote. Although Jackson paid off the country’s debt in 1835, the only year it has ever been paid off, the squeeze on currencies, lack of central management of money, corrupt bank practices, and reckless land speculation by railroads lead to the Panic of 1837. The resulting depression lasted five years and included the default of many banks and the treasuries of many states. Remember, this was long before the deposits were insured by the federal government.

The Women on 20s organization does not believe that this should be the legacy honored on U.S. currency. But if we look into the history of all of the men on U.S. currency, there are aspects of their pasts and personal lives that would make some blush, including Benjamin Franklin’s common law wife and illegitimate son.

1999 Susan B. Anthony DollarWomen on 20s do recognize that suffragette Susan B. Anthony did appear on a one dollar coin but the coin failed because of its confusion with the quarter. They also recognize that Sacagawea, the Shoshone guide to Meriwether Lewis and William Clark, appears on the current one-dollar coin. Aside from the 2003 Alabama State Quarter, no other woman has appeared on circulating coinage (they do not count commemorative issues). Since neither dollar coin has circulated well and since the Alabama quarter was a temporary issue, the organization believes a better tribute is warranted.

In what looks like an addendum to their argument, they mention that a portrait of Martha Washington appeared on the Series 1886 (Fr. #215) and 1891 (Fr. # 223) $1 Silver Certificates. Both Martha and George Washington appeared on the reverse of $1 Series 1896 Educational Series note (Fr. #224).

To decide who they will try to lobby to appear on the $20 note, the organization started with 15 candidates. Voters were asked to select thee of the 15 candidates in this preliminary round. The top vote-getters will be subject to another final voting round.

2012 First Spouse coin featuring Alice Paul

2012 First Spouse coin featuring Alice Paul

In the first round, the 15 candidates were Alice Paul (appeared on the 2012 First Spouse gold coin), Betty Friedan, Shirley Chisholm, Sojourner Truth, Rachel Carson, Rosa Parks, Barbara Jordan, Margaret Sanger, Patsy Mink, Clara Barton, Harriet Tubman, Frances Perkins, Susan B. Anthony (appeared on the 1979-1999 dollar coin), Eleanor Roosevelt (appeared on the 2014 First Spouse gold coin), and Elizabeth Cady Stanton.

Women on 20s reported that 256,659 people had cast ballots when the first round ended on April 5, 2015. They reported that Eleanor Roosevelt, Harriet Tubman and Rosa Parks were named by as many as half of the voters as one of their top three. They added Wilma Mankiller to the final ballot. Mankiller, the first female Chief of the Cherokee Nation and the first female to be a chief of a native nation, was added because of a claimed “strong public sentiment that people should have the choice of a Native American to replace Andrew Jackson.”

Wilma Mankiller, the first female principal chief of the Cherokee Nation

Wilma Mankiller, the first female principal chief of the Cherokee Nation

Voting is open at the time this is being written. There is no closing date listed on their website.

Since congress does not control the design of the currency, Women on 20s will have to convince the Federal Reserve to change the design of the $20 Federal Reserve Note. If the Federal Reserve, whose chair is Janet Yellen, agrees to the change, they will work with the Bureau of Engraving and Printing for the design and the U.S. Secret Service to ensure that the appropriate anti-counterfeiting measures are included.

Design changes to any Federal Reserve Note can take 3-5 years to complete.

NOTE: I contacted the Women on 20s organization for comments via email. That email has not been returned at the time of writing this article. If they answer my questions, I will publish them in a follow up post.

Image of the $20 FRN and Whig Party poster courtesy of Wikimedia Commons.
Coin images courtesy of the U.S. Mint
Image of Wilma Mankiller courtesy of the Native American Encyclopedia.

Budget? What budget?

FY15-BudgetIn celebration of a reoccurring activity but the government, on Groundhog Day the President released his Fiscal Year 2016 (FY16) budget request. Forgetting the usual politics surrounding congress’s reaction, the budget for numismatic-related production is largely irrelevant. Since 1950, the Bureau of Engraving and Printing has been funded using income from operations, mostly sale of currency to the Federal Reserve (Public Law 81–656, 31 U.S.C. § 5142). The United States Mint Public Enterprise Fund was established in 1996 to better manage the seigniorage earned from coin production (Public Law 104-52, 31 U.S.C. § 5136).

In short, both money production bureaus will be able to withdraw the money from their respective funds to fully support their operations.

Department of the Treasury requested that the BEP be allowed to withdraw $863 million for operations. The BEP have a total outlay of $918 million but will leverage $50 million from their current operating funds to make up the difference. Using projections from the previous years, the BEP anticipates an order for 8.3 billion notes or a 15-percent increase. Of the area that the BEP will be concentrating on includes additional research into anti-counterfeiting methods, make currency more accessible to the visually impaired, and modernizing the production process in Washington, D.C.

The budget does mention that the BEP was given legal authority to print currency for foreign countries with the approval of the State Department in 2005. However, the BEP has yet to be contracted by any country for this service. Many countries appear more interested in using the polymer substrate produced by the Reserve Bank of Australia than continuing to use cotton-fiber paper, which is favored in the United States.

Funding for the U.S. Mint is different in that while the Federal Reserve pays a fixed fee per currency note to the BEP, they pay face value for the coins they purchase from the U.S. Mint. Even though it costs more than face value to produce the one-cent and five-cent coins, the deficit is more than made up on the quarter dollar, the workhorse of the U.S. coin economy.

To fund its $3.59 billion operation, the U.S. Mint will be allowed to withdraw up to $20 million from their Public Enterprise Fund. That appropriation is only a cushion in case there is a shortfall in the anticipated $4.14 billion revenues. Although the U.S. Mint is now being run by Principal Deputy Director Rhett Jeppson, the organization is unlikely to reverse the production improvements implemented by former Deputy Director Richard Peterson.

One notable statement says, “The 2016 Budget includes a proposal to require the silver coins in United States Mint Silver Proof Sets to contain no less than 90 percent silver. Under current law, the half-dollar, quarter-dollar and dime coins in these sets “shall be made of an alloy of 90 percent silver and 10 percent copper.” Allowing the Mint to have flexibility in this composition will improve efficiency in the production process, lowering the costs for these products.” It appears that the U.S. Mint is asking congress to allow them to use another metal than copper while not changing the silver content. With the cost of copper rising to historic levels, using a less expensive metal on a coin that is not intended for circulation could be a cost savings.

While there will be political fireworks over other aspects of the president’s budget, those of us concerned with the money production by the Department of the Treasury can sit back and worry about other issues.

Image courtesy of AP/J. Scott Applewhite from Government Technology.

How easy is it to pass counterfeit currency

How an iodine pen reacts depends on the type of paper used.

How an iodine pen reacts depends on the type of paper used.

Regular readers know that in real life I work in information security as a contractor to the federal government. My knowledge of security and understanding what has gone wrong with the various merchants that experienced attacks has had me reconsider the use of electronic transactions. While I do not know the exact details of every system, I know that the state of current practices makes using a credit card more dangerous than carrying cash.

As I was waiting to checkout, the person running the cash register was having difficulties with someone whose credit card was not being accepted. It did not matter what the problem was, the issue was holding up the line. While waiting, the gentleman next on line turned to me and said, “This is why I pay in cash.”

Apparently, my fellow line waiter and I had one thing in common, we both visited the bank prior to doing our shopping. He paid for his purchase with crisp, new currency. Just like my new currency, they were mostly $20 Federal Reserve Notes in serial number order fresh from a pack that was opened in the bank.

When the cashier counted the money, she picked up a pen and drew a line on each note. The pen was a counterfeit detection pen that contains an iodine-based ink used to determine whether the paper used is counterfeit.

These iodine pens test whether the paper is legitimate by checking if the iodine reacts with the starch that is used in commercial paper to make them look brighter. If the paper contains starch, then the ink turns dark indicating the paper is not real currency paper. Otherwise, the mark stays amber on the normal cotton bond paper.

There are two problems with this method of counterfeit detection. First, it is relatively easy to defeat the iodine pen by washing and bleaching a low denomination bill and reprinting a higher denomination on the same paper. By using legitimate currency paper, testing it with the iodine pen will not detect that it is counterfeit.

I remember there was a story on one of the television networks about how counterfeiters bleached $5 notes and passed them off as $20 notes after reprinting them. While searching, I found the following video of NBC’s Chris Hanson as he reported about this on Dateline:

Another problem with using iodine pens is that merchants that use them put their customers in danger who have iodine allergies. Those of us with severe iodine allergies can experience anaphylaxis, a serious reaction whose rapid onset can be so severe that it can cause death. As one of those people with severe iodine allergies, I watched this scene in horror.

Following a discussion with the manager, I consented to using a credit card since this was not one of those retailers that have been in the news for being hacked.

After all the Bureau of Engraving and Printing does to ensure that the new currency is more difficult to counterfeit and how the criminals are getting around these iodine pens by using real currency paper, it is incredible to think that these stores are still using tried but untrue measures for counterfeit detection.

In the meantime, the more serious counterfeiters are bleaching and overprinting $5 notes because as the criminal in the video says, nobody looks!

Image of iodine pen courtesy of The Calladus Blog.

Why 7.2 billion notes

Bureau of Engraving and PrintingLast week, the Bureau of Engraving and Printing announced that the Federal Reserve had ordered the printing of 7.2 million Federal Reserve Notes for Fiscal Year 2015. This represents over $188 billion in currency.

According to the Federal Reserve, the number of notes they order depends on the predicted growth in demand and the predicted number of notes that have to be destroyed because they are not usable any more. Both growth and demand are predicted to include world-wide usage of the United States Federal Reserve Note as it is the standard currency for many transaction. In addition to the demand and destruction is the predicted replacement of the old $100 Federal Reserve Note with the new note that has more advanced currency features. While the Federal Reserve will not recall the old $100 notes, they are removing them from circulation as they arrive back into the Federal Reserve system.

The following table is how the Federal Reserve says they broke down their order for 2015:

Denomination Number of Notes Dollar Value
$1 2,451,200,000 $2,451,200,000
$2 32,000,000 $64,000,000
$5 755,200,000 $3,776,000,000
$10 627,200,000 $6,272,000,000
$20 1,868,800,000 $37,376,000,000
$50 220,800,000 $11,040,000,000
$100 1,276,800,000 $127,680,000,000
Total 7,232,000,000 $188,659,200,000

Included with the order are the notes that the Bureau of Engraving and Printing will sell to collectors. These are the same notes that collectors can purchase online at moneyfactorystore.gov and when the Bureau of Engraving and Printing attends shows.

As part of the announcement, the Federal Reserve released a video explaining how they decide the amount of currency to order.

[videojs mp4=”http://coinsblog.ws/library/videos/Question_4_FAQ_Video.mp4″ ogg=”http://coinsblog.ws/library/videos/Question_4_FAQ_Video.ogg” poster=”http://coinsblog.ws/library/videos/Question_4_FAQ_Video.jpg”]
Video courtesy of the Federal Reserve and the Bureau of Engraving and Printing

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