Bases for Dissatisfaction


Everyone knows the main problem of money, there's never enough of it. But there are a lot of everyday problems with money that most people overlook. Many people have given someone a ten dollar bill thinking it was a single and realize later that they did not get their expected change back. This is one main problem with money; the distinctive features that separate bills are hard to discern. They are all the same color, the same size and have similar appearance. Although the presidents on each bill are different, they are not distinctive enough so that someone can differeniate between bills at a glance.

Glance at the two bills below and see whether you can easily determine their denominations:

In this case both notes are in perfect condition and clearly visible. What if they are crumpled up in your wallet? This makes the task even more difficult.

Features for visually impared

We have already stated that it is difficult for an everage person to distinguish United States banknotes form one another. Now let us consider someone who has a low vision or even someone who is totally blind. There are an estimated 3.7 million people in the United States who are visually disabled, that is, who have corrected visual acuity no better than 20/70. This figure is a very good indiction that there has to be a way for a blind person to determine the value of a banknote.

At this point Committee on Currency Features Usable by the Visually Impaired has come up with the following proposals to change the design of the US currency:

  • Banknote size as a key to denomination. Variation of both length and height would allow for more reliable absolute judgment about denomination, while variation of a single dimension would require a secondary cue, such as a size template, to achieve the same level of reliability.

  • Large, high-contrast numerals on a uniform background. A large, open space will be required in the banknote design to allow for at least a single numeral, in a plain font, that is larger than one-half the current banknote height.

  • Different predominant colors for each of the six denominations printed. A single color should dominate at least one face of the banknote and should be sufficiently distinguishable from the other colors in the banknote sequence to remain identifiable even in low lighting.

  • Overt features that could lead to the development of effective, low-cost devices for examining banknotes. Inclusion of a denomination code is recommended to provide for development of devices for those who have difficulty using the recommended features and to add to the ability of visually disabled people to authenticate banknotes.

    There are several flaws in these proposals. First of all it does not seem very practical to change the size of the notes. This would mean that all the wallets and cash registers would also need to be changed. This, once again is not very practical.

    Devices for the blind to read the denominations of the banknotes also do not seem very practical. It would be much easier and cheaper to provide some features of the bills that can be sensed by touch, and vould signify a denomination.


    One of the biggest problems with money is counterfeiting. Although there are ways to tell if a bill is counterfeit, it is hard to determine. Cashiers can not tell by a simple glance at a feature if the bill is counterfeit. After the money is received, it can be inspected to see if it is counterfeit, but by that point it is too late to find the culprit. Counterfeit money can not be accepted by the bank and the store loses money. There are pens that are supposed to detect counterfeit bills, which work by simply drawing a line on the bill. If the line changes color, then the bill is counterfeit. This method is not always effective and if a lot of cash is coming in, not very practical. A more precise way to tell a counterfeit bill is needed. Although counterfeiting is not a psychological issue, it is one major reason for the re-design of US currency.

    The use of widespread paper currency is evident in almost every major nation to date. Because of improved technology, counterfeiting procedures have become increasingly more sophisticated which have given rise to inflation and general theft. As a result, national governments have developed several counterfeit protection features to be placed on currency. These features are fundamentally important when assessing the significant changes required for the modification of a currency design.

    U.S. currency has had essentially the same size, color and configuration since 1929 which makes it a primary target for counterfeiters. Nearly $135 million worth of bogus bills were confiscated outside the U.S. in 1994, up from just $30 million two years earlier. The problem is especially severe in Asian cities like Hong Kong, where seizures have increased four-fold since 1990. The $100 bill accounts for 60 percent of the U.S. currency in circulation, so invariably it is the note counterfeiters choose to reproduce.

    Using the standard $100 US bill, there are several features that make it difficult to illegally reproduce. The portrait on the bill is a lifelike picture distinctly different from the screenlike background. The paper has a very specific feel to it being comprised of a cotton/linen blend. The bill has red and blue fibers woven into it making the paper even more difficult to reproduce. The borders of the bill have intricate crisscrossing lines which are clear and unbroken which easily can be broken or smudged if counterfeited. The "greenback green" ink that is used is made of a secret mixture of pigments that never dries so that it can be rubbed off.

    Recent measures in counterfeiting protection include the addition of polyester security threads with the denomination denoted upon it. The use of holographic imaging also provides for a very visible method of determine the legitimacy of a bill. Both security threads and holograms cannot be duplicated through photocopying which is one method of counterfeiting. Miniature lettering in distinct locations on the bill will appear as a straight line to the naked eye and photocopiers as well, but under magnification reveals text. Finally, large picture sizes allow more detail to be added, making it harder to counterfeit. Large sizes are also designed to easily distinguish new bills from old ones and help people who are visually impaired. Shifting the portraits off center allow room for a watermark and reduces wear and tear from being folded.

    The measures mentioned above are just a few ways that the U.S. government protects itself against fraud. Counterfeit prevention is a global problem which had led to the development of other methods for determining authenticity. Some foreign banknotes use watermarks and as an addition measure, absorbs ultraviolet light. Intead of polyester threads, metallic threads are placed inside the banknote. Symmetry with artistic features has also been used to deter counterfeiters.

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    Last modified: Sun Dec 8 12:17:43 EST 1996