Originally created 04/12/98

Most used big bill changing its look



WASHINGTON -- The $20 bill -- the largest denomination most Americans use in their daily business -- is getting a new look.

Like the $100 and $50 notes before it, the $20 bill is being updated with anti-counterfeiting features, including an enlarged, off-center portrait.

Andrew Jackson, the nation's seventh president and hero of the 1815 Battle of New Orleans, will retain his spot on the front of the double-sawbucks -- so named because the Roman numeral XX on 19th century versions of the bills looked like two sawhorses. The White House still will be portrayed on the back.

The Treasury Department said Monday that Secretary Robert Rubin and Federal Reserve Chairman Alan Greenspan would reveal the new design May 20, but the bills won't show up in automated teller machines and cash drawers before fall.

In the meantime, the Treasury Department is preparing a public education effort to persuade Americans to stop and look at money they receive before tucking it into their wallets.

Even the most sophisticated anti-counterfeiting features don't work if cash handlers don't check for them. After the introductions of the new $100 note in March 1996 and the new $50 bill in October, bankers said some businesses were stuck with bogus bills simply because employees weren't familiar with the new designs.

"In a way it's a tribute to the job the Secret Service does that people don't give a thought to the bills they receive," said Howard Schloss, assistant Treasury secretary.

"But one of the things we'll be stressing is that people should take a couple of moments to authenticate bills. ... It's impossible to replicate all of the security features," he said.

Like the portraits of Benjamin Franklin on the new $100s and Ulysses S. Grant on the new $50s, Jackson's will be surrounded by very fine, hard-to-duplicate concentric lines. And, like the $100s and $50s, a watermark in the shape of the portrait, only smaller, will be visible when the bill is held up to a light.

An embedded polymer security thread also will be seen when looking through the bill. When exposed to ultraviolet light, the $20s' thread will glow green. The thread glows yellow in the $50s and red in the $100s.

The $20s also will have a numeral on the front printed in color-shifting ink, as do the other new bills. The ink looks green when viewed straight on and black when viewed from an angle.

Like the $50s, but not the $100s, the $20s will feature a large dark numeral on a light background on the bill's back. Eventually, the $100s also will incorporate the feature, designed to ease bill identification for people with low vision.

The Treasury Department and Federal Reserve conducted public education campaigns with the introduction of the $50s and $100s, but the effort on the $20s will be broader and more intense, reflecting their wider use. They are the bill most often dispensed by ATMs.

At the end of December, there were 4.4 billion $20s in circulation compared with 960 million $50s and 2.9 billion $100s.

Since two-thirds of the $100s circulate overseas, the Treasury Department focused its public education effort in countries such as Russia where U.S. currency is widely used.

The focus of the campaign for the $20s will be domestic and will include training seminars, videos and CD-ROMs for cash-handlers and millions of brochures and other printed material.

Bankers will use the material to "walk their tellers and cash-handling people through the new notes, feature by feature," said Kawika Daguio, payments system expert with the American Bankers Association.

"But to a great extent ... it (counterfeit detection) is a kind of intuition, fostered by a lot of experience, and that just takes time," he said.

Also, the Bureau of Engraving and Printing is working with change machine users to ensure a smooth transition. That wasn't an issue with the $50s and $100s.

"Some machines are easy to reprogram. You say, 'Read this,' and it reads the new bill. The metro (subway) system here in Washington is like that," said James C. Benfield, executive director of The Coin Coalition, a lobby group for coin-operated industries. "But with some machines, it's not so simple. You need a new computer chip ... so there may be a bit of a lag."